5 minute read.

Wearable Computing Will Likely Become Mainstream. Here’s Why I Hope It Doesn’t.

Paul Anthony / November 27, 2013

Posted in: Archive

Wearable computing isn’t a pipe dream and the technology isn’t going away, in fact, more and more technology companies are embracing the trend, getting on the band wagon now, and developing for it before it goes mainstream.

Some of the software being built on top of wearable computing devices:

Duke University’s Reporters Lab – Developing Pebblewire , a news wire to bring news headlines to Pebble Watches.

Yelp – Developing a Pebble app to find five-star restaurants in proximity of your location

iControl Networks – Developing a home automation system on Pebble.

Foursquare – working on a check in application to compliment their platform.

Fancy – Its Glass app allows users to snap a picture of objects they see in the real world, then finds them matching or complementary items with similar styles and colour they can purchase, making it one of the few applications actually making money directly on the platform.

Golf Sight by SkyDroid for Google Glass.

Wordlens for Google Glass:

Strava – Strava for Glass makes it easy to track your rides, visualize your progress, and challenge your friends, all while keeping your hands on the handlebars.

There are sites out there now listing and reviewing the applications available. Dedicated Google Glass App Development Companies are popping up left right and centre, hoping to capitalise on the next trend, positioning themselves as dedicated developers. Business Insider predicts that the market opportunity is huge, once Google get over the cultural barriers. i.e. Looking like a complete Dork wearing them.

The following is what Google Glass looked like during development:



and this is what it looks like now:

MIT reports – a Research arm at Samsung has managed to mound a LED on an off the shelf contact lens.

A group led by Jang-Ung Park, a chemical engineer at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, mounted a light-emitting diode on an off-the-shelf soft contact lens, using a material the researchers developed: a transparent, highly conductive, and stretchy mix of graphene and silver nanowires. The researchers tested these lenses in rabbits—whose eyes are similar in size to humans’—and found no ill effects after five hours.

Google X Labs are undoubtedly  working on similar technologies to make Google Glass even more discreet than its existing design. True smart contacts with heads-up displays are still quite a few years out, however — the “display” on the tested lens was only one pixel.

Experiences from Google Glass Explorers:

Although you can take promotional videos from Google with a pinch of salt, you can see that this technology does have genuine utility. A quick search on Twitter  #throughglass yields tons of examples.

Now I’m a fan of cool tech as much as the next guy. However we are hollering and whooping  over applications that continue to overload us with information.  There has already been serious sociocultural effects of mobile phones. Researcher Hugh Mackay writes:

“You have this sense of continuous connection; it’s like being in a strand of a web which is continuously vibrating. But if you’re contacting people using a mobile device, you are further away from them; the richness of interpersonal encounters is largely lost if you rely on a mobile connection. In doing so, we lose something quite precious in the richness of our encounters”

Look around you. In almost any social setting, you’ll find people engrossed on their mobile phones. At lunch time, or during the morning commute 90% or higher will be using their mobile phones, without any interaction with others. Mobile phones provide escapsism from social realities, and make it easier for people to walk around in the own media consuming bubble. Recent research from the University of Essex on the impact of mobile phones on social interaction and intimacy has  similar finding.  Amazingly, they found that simply having a phone nearby, without even checking it, can be detrimental to our attempts at interpersonal connection.

“All things considered, this research presents interesting empirical findings that inform the billions of conversations that take place daily, as many are accompanied by a phone placed casually on a table or bar. These results indicate that mobile communication
devices such as phones may, by their mere presence, paradoxically hold the potential to facilitate as well as to disrupt human bonding and intimacy.”

Maybe I’m getting old, but of late I’ve started to try and disconnect more and more. I leave my mobile phone unattended when I’m at home, and during lunch hours at work. I turn my phone off for the journey home. Shocking. I know. Perhaps not so shocking, is that millions of people text, Facebook and Drive, again locked in the cycle of getting a social fix. Comedian Louis CK on the phenomenon:

“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away. The ability to just sit there. That’s being a person.”

As we become increasingly insular in our social interactions, caring only about the latest happenings with our immediate social circle, will wearable computing enrich our lives or the opposite? Esquire Magazine recently pushed the boundaries of what you shouldn’t do, giving at least some insight into how wearable computing could be used. If you think people losing social skills from having their nose in a mobile phone is bad, then getting distracted during conversations whilst we get reminders, or turn to Google when we-can’t-quite-think-of-the-word we want will only make the intrusion of technology into our lives more apparent.

With Google Opening the Glass API to more developers this week,  we’ll likely see more and more applications and use cases in the next while. I only hope developers are conscious of the responsibilities they have to wider society if and when wearable computing becomes the norm.

  • google glass
  • platform
  • wearable computing

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