Today, tech giant Apple added a new kind of product to its lineup: a 21st-century wristwatch that combines the functions of a smartphone, timepiece, and wristband fitness trackers like Jawbone.
Will it succeed? Not everyone is sure. Smartwatches have been gaining momentum recently, getting smaller and more versatile, but they still haven’t shaken their nerdy, decoder-ring aura.
In an interesting piece on Ars Technica this summer, however, tech reviewer Ron Amadeo argued that as wearable technology becomes more common, the wrist is the right body part to bet on — and offered a thought-provoking enumeration of the ways smartwatches are likely to crowd out the other big innovation of the past couple of years, Google Glass.
Amadeo compared Glass with smartwatches and observed that in terms of pure function, a smartwatch can do basically all the same things Glass can do: respond to voice commands, synch with your phone, and provide more immediate access to information than you get with any other kind of device.
More importantly, smartwatches achieve these things without disrupting basic social norms or challenging the ingrained, biological way we process other people’s faces. It’s surely weird to talk to someone with a computer dangling just above his eyes, especially a computer that could be recording you.
Amadeo says the product is no sweet ride for users, either, noting that the upward eye movements required to activate Glass are a migraine in the making. To top it off, Glass carries these costs without delivering the truly unique potential benefits of a face-mounted computer: facial recognition (deemed too creepy, at least for the moment) and fully “augmented reality,” which would annotate your field of vision with relevant information.
When word of Google Glass first trickled out, there was a sense that the future was arriving decades ahead of schedule. Now, though, it seems that wearable technology may chart a less invasive course. If that’s the case, we’ll have to flip the way we regard Glass. Instead of the start of something big, it may go down as a grand but ill-fated idea, like Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose, or as a concept ahead of its time, like Da Vinci’s helicopter sketches.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at email@example.com.