Sunday, January 19, 2014

Shouldn't wearable computing let you be super human?

Wearable computing so far seems to be going after mimicking a tablet, but I wonder if the real success will be in augmented perception.

Current smartwatches are clumsy. They require an impossible tradeoff between having enough space for a touchscreen and not having a brick on your wrist. The early prototypes of smart glasses like Google Glass are similar, focusing on screens floating in front of your vision and existing smartphone features like recording video and taking pictures, but having difficulty cleanly handling input and the tasks you would use a smartphone or a tablet for. Some of this may be solvable with sufficiently perfect voice and gesture recognition, but that remains impossible with any tech that looks likely to be available in the next few years.

What no one seems to be asking is, do people really want a tablet on their wrist or tablet-like screen floating in front of their vision when they already have a smartphone in their pocket? Why would they want something they wear that is just like the smartphone they already have?

But what if you could put on a pair of normal-looking glasses (or contacts) and insert a small device into an ear, and then suddenly you are subtly superhuman?

I bet a lot of people would like to be able to see in infrared, have telescopic and microscopic vision, and be able to hear outside of the normal range of frequencies and volumes. I bet people would like to be able to see microexpressions, pupil dilation, skin flushes, and pulse rate changes easily. I bet people would enjoy small informational hints when they walk around like being reminded of names and who people are when they are in meetings or important road or directional cues brightened and enhanced.

From a tech perspective, this avoids a lot of the hard I/O problems plaguing the UX on current attempts at smartwatches and on Google Glass. You don't need a large touchscreen on your wrist. You don't need to type. You don't need perfect voice and gesture recognition to make this work. Augmented perception may be closer to achievable with what we already have: tiny HD cameras, virtual displays, and access to computation. And it provides something useful that we don't already have. Shouldn't augmented perception be the goal of wearable computing?

Tablets are pretty good at being tablets. And smartphones are pretty good at being smartphones. Wearable computing, like glasses and watches, shouldn't be mimicking what's already out there. They should let us do something new, something we cannot currently do.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Quick links

What caught my attention lately:
  • Windows 8 has caused a big drop in PC sales to businesses, most of which has been picked up by Google Chromebooks, not by Apple ([1])

  • Eric Schmidt said, "Every once in a while a perfect storm occurs. Your competitors make some mistakes. You end up with the right product at the right time. There are really no other good choices of products ... That's what happened with Android." ([1])

  • Both the Google Nexus 5 and Moto G are being reviewed as the best phones on the market at half the price of the competition ([1] [2])

  • The iPhone wasn't created because Apple wanted to build a great phone but as a defensive move to protect iPod sales ([1])

  • Interesting experiment: "Zappos is going holacratic: no job titles, no managers, no hierarchy" ([1])

  • Great summary of Netflix's internal practices: "Be honest, and treat people like adults" ([1] [2])

  • Simple and apparently extremely effective idea for combating click fraud, just consider anything with bad ROI for the advertiser to be click fraud ([1] [2])

  • Hal Varian says, "Small datasets will become increasingly inadequate to deal with new problems." ([1] [2])

  • A big difference between our machine learning systems and how humans learn is how to correct errors. "You don't lock [a friend] in a room with terabytes of training data and ask him to spend a week updating his parameters." ([1] [2])

  • Computers make noises when they work harder, and you can use that to crack encryption ([1] [2] [3])

  • That clickthrough agreement you just accepted? Now your computer is owned and mining bitcoins for someone else. ([1])

  • Sounds paranoid, but it appears to be true that the government has a trail on your location (where you have been and where you are) if you have your cell phone on ([1])

  • "The Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies ... half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts ... repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft" ([1])

  • A/B testing international aid ([1])

  • "The results consistently showed that drugs and exercise produced almost exactly the same results." ([1])

  • Entanglement works by punching a hole through space-time? ([1])

  • Xkcd on hashtags: "The cycle seems to be 'we need these symbols to clarify what types of things we're referring to!' followed by 'wait, it turns out words already do that.'" ([1])

  • "Chase execs probably thought they were going to be inundated with questions, like, 'What steps can I take to try to become as totally awesome as all of you?'" ([1])

  • The Onion mocks internet ads: "This entire industry we call journalism exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to sell ads. Lots of ads. Big, stupid ads." ([1])

  • Impressive demo video of an unusual means of motion: "A cube that can jump, balance, and walk" ([1])