Computers on your face are not the future of wearable technology. The hundred billion dollar opportunity is on your wrist.
Glasses, goggles and heads up displays will have a market niche – but those niches will be defined by highly specialized solutions for specific circumstances – for one critical reason: when a computer is in front of your eyes, it will be destructive to your social interactions.
On your face, ‘ubiquity’ means ‘in the way’
Arguably one of the most annoying things about smartphones is they are pulled from your pocket at the wrong times and have a negative impact on your direct personal interactions. For all the problems smartphone solve, this is a problem smartphones have created.
Arguably the most powerful attribute of a wearable technology is effortless ubiquity. These two things – ubiquity and interruption to direct social interactions – are directly at odds with each other. For wearables, their strength threatens to be their weakness and the tension between ubiquity and social interaction can give a powerful signal for what the breakout wearable technologies will look like.
To illustrate the point, take a look at this video.
Notice that every person in the video is wearing large blacked-out smart-glasses. Is this the future we see? 10 years from now, will we live in a world where everyone wears a pair of augmented reality glasses all the time? Is this type of device the ubiquitous wearable tech of the future?
I doubt it. I do not want to live inside a computer. For short bursts, maybe. But for the majority of us, I doubt this is something we want.
This is a matter of human interaction, not fashion
One of the biggest criticisms of Glass is that it’s unfashionable, an artifact of the socially unconscious tech community. But is this truly the correct observation? Irrespective of how fashionable the device is (or its creators!), do we truly want a screen that’s always between us and other humans?
How can the answer to this be “Yes”?
The human eye is considered to be the portal to the soul. How can we read each other’s emotions when we are looking at them through 2 layers of glass – one on our eyes and one on theirs? Does this not take the problem of wandering mobile eyes and make it ‘2 x 4-eyes’ worse?
Imagine trying to talk to your spouse or children – and both of you are wearing glasses. How can you be sure they are really talking to you? How many times will you say “take those damn things off and talk to me”? The glasses will become a problem for human interaction.
Instead, glass will take on a solitary use case when social interaction is not at all important. You are using your eyes to DO a task that the glass assists with.
This is not a ubiquitous use case. This is not a wearable device that is always with you. It is nearby, on standby, when you need to do something. It is not a new way of living life, because arguably the best moments in life involve interactions with other people, not technology.
A face computer is an either/or proposition
You can’t have a relationship with your face computer and another person at the same time.
The only way for the tension to be resolved is for the device to be invisible – to the wearer and to others – when it needs to be. So a critical question becomes “can the face computer become invisible”? Pondering the question presents new difficulties when the very nature of a face computer is to be in front of my eyes, and therefore by definition, visible.
Oh yeah. And it should also be silent. Because if the primary input on any of these devices is voice, no one will know who you’re talking to.
For these reasons, the watch will win
The biggest mistake the wearable tech industry will make is forgetting about people.