Saturday, 8 June 2013

Why iWatch Excites Me More Than Glass

Since last year, tech enthusiasts have gleamed at every drop of news on Google Glass. Heck, I was among them myself. But over the last few weeks, I've thought a lot about what having Glass would be like, and thought too about the rumoured smart watch that Apple could be working on. Maybe it's the exciting leading up to WWDC. Maybe it's hearing Tim Cook at D11 last week. Or, maybe its just that Glass is not as exciting as we all think, and watches could actually do the same thing better.

Credit: Huffington Post

The biggest problem for Glass to succeed in the market is going to be it's intrusiveness. As sleek and as lightweight as it may be, that device is still an intrusion on your face. I only had the opportunity to wear Glass for the brief period of less that 1 minute, and in that time I didn't notice anything uncomfortable or intrusive about it. However, the more I observe pictures of Glass Explorers and various Googlers wearing the device, the more I think it's kind of silly. I think it was on the Engadget podcast from several weeks back, where a presenter noted that Glass is a good idea, but will only be cool when it is directly implanted into your thoughts. Until all the tech is completely hidden in the power of your brain, this idea isn't good enough.

It also sounds like there are some real problems with the device. We've heard that when video recording, the device gets hot. Battery is a particular weak point too. From what early users are saying, it's becoming clear that the video Google released in April last year is not really possible at all. In this video (see below), the user would need to use GPS, Hangouts, a good bit of either Wi-Fi or mobile data, and he takes Glass out with him all day. By the time he's playing the tune to his special friend at the end, we can bet his battery is on it's nervous edges, along with his phone battery from all the tethering. The title of this video then still rings true today: One day we will have a device this good, but it's not today, or even this year.

Ok, no more lamenting about Glass. Let's talk about watches.

Watches already have an established place in mind of the mainstream consumer. They've been around with us for centuries, and like phones, have a central function that all the smart features can revolve around. And like few mobile phones serve mainly as a phone, I'm fairly confident that in a few years, few watches will primarily function as a watch.

Watches have more advantages over Glass. They are off the face, so have no problems when it comes to the intrusive look or the fashion statement they might send. Okay, they might have some fashion implication, but it's probable that with enough function behind a smart watch, and with the design focus Apple brought to the iPhone and iPod, we could see the fashion implication become smaller over time. Watches are also easy to access, like Glass. They are easier than using your phone, for instance, to check messages, missed calls, directions etc. I think a big misconception with Glass is that it will offer some sort of augmented reality, and that having it right in front of your eye is critical for this. This is not true; Glass doesn't do this. It's just a screen, placed next to your eye for convenience. I'd argue that a watch face on your wrist is just as convenient. It's going to be far easier to ignore when you want to, and it will appear less rude to someone you're talking to when you check your watch, than if you flick your eyes up every 6 or 7 seconds. This comes back to watches already having an established place in our world.

I don't know if Apple is working on a watch, we've only heard rumours. If any company is going to open up this category of devices though, it should be them. It potentially suffers the same pitfalls of Glass when it comes to battery, but we've seen Apple execute the incredibly small iPod nano (previous generation), so it would seem possible. Since they don't have to cater for the photo/video requirements that Glass is currently trying to live up to, a good battery life is completely feasible.

Glass is exciting, but I don't think it's ready yet. We are several iterations away from seeing a truly magical experience with Glass, but the smart watch space is ripe for the taking. The technology is feasible, real use cases exist, and the fans are just waiting for Apple to do something awesome again.