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.

1 comment:

Greg Linden said...

This is a longer version of a Google+ post.