Judging by the investments made in wearable technologies over the last couple of years – Google leading a massive $542 million round into Magic Leap and Facebook buying Oculus Rift for a staggering $2 billion – it would appear that some of the tech world’s most forward-thinking minds are staking at least part of their fortunes on a significant change in the way that we interact with technology.
Anyone with a Fitbit or Apple Watch would tell you that there has been a transition in technology that we wear rather than technology that we carry. And yet, despite these headline-grabbing investments, the adoption of wearables has been slower than was originally predicted.
In part, this is because wearables today tend to carry out just one individual task well, whether that’s counting the number of steps we take or monitoring our heart rate. Even if one device can do two things well, it is still limited, still working in a silo, and still proving a distraction in our everyday lives.
Wearable technology is only at the very beginning of what will be a massive shift in the way we interact with technology. Because of this, we feel as though technology is taking over our lives, but in truth we are still at the first stage of connecting computers with ourselves.
Think of a virtual reality headset, for example. For many, it brings to mind a ‘cyborg’ vision of the future. What happens to us when we are wearing the headset? Are we plunged into a different, digital world where we lose touch with real human interaction? Likely not, but the fears are understandable.
What we need to do is take the leap from seeing ourselves at the mercy of storming technical innovation and instead envision an environment in which we manipulate technology to quietly serve our needs naturally and intuitively.
Handled with care, omnipresent wearables could perform multiple tasks quickly and silently, so while they are still a part of our lives, we have firmly put them in the background to allow us to focus on what is important to us as human beings.
Whether we are interacting with VR headsets or smart watches, the better the interface, the less distracting the technology is in our lives. New interfaces are being designed to respond to what we are doing in the real world and eventually these will be smart enough to understand what we are looking at, thinking about, and what we plan to do next.
It is not unthinkable that over the next decade a wearable device will be designed to read our biological signals to the extent that, for example, it can warn us to take a break if we are too tired while driving.
Or, a search engine connected to us through a wearable device will pre-empt our thought patterns and deliver information that is pertinent to what we are working on, or the task we are carrying out, at that exact moment. Instead of distracting us, these actions will become spontaneous, supporting us, making us more focused and efficient, and ultimately saving us precious time.
And don’t underestimate the importance of saving time. It is one of the reasons that wearables will ultimately succeed. Why? Because as applications for watches, glasses and other wearables develop into the mainstream, it will quickly become obvious that they are easier and more time efficient to use.
Similar to eyewear, a watch is simple to access and positioned for instant convenience, but a phone has to be taken out of a pocket or located in a handbag or purse before the appropriate app can even be opened.
Saving time and ease of use is everything – it is the reason that the introduction of the Graphical User Interface back in the 1980’s turned computing on its head. Suddenly the technology made sense because a real desktop was virtually represented on the screen.
We were able to connect our analogue mental models of information organisation and interaction with technology. Processes that we’d previously carried out manually suddenly became faster and more efficient.
Wearables have the potential to bring together the computing power we rely on in our connected world with unprecedented ease of use and instant interaction. Forget the cyborg vision of the future – we are on the cusp of developments that are much more subtle; more in tune with our human instincts so that with a flick of the wrist or a blink of the eye we can both summon and dismiss technology to suit our will and our individual requirements. Always on, always ready, but only at our command.
Sourced from Stephen Lake, CEO, Thalmic Labs