Forget Glass: Vertical is the future of wearable computing

Summary:The consumer is not always the litmus test for validating the worthiness of various technologies.

Art: Q-Warrior from BAE Systems

In a previous article, " Fixing a Broken Google Glass ," I touched upon a number of issues that are plaguing the acceptance and success of wearable computing in the mainstream. 

I think we need to reconsider what the success criteria is for emerging technologies such as wearables, as well as recalibrate our expectations accordingly.

We also need to acknowledge that for a device form factor that is still clearly in its infancy, the best place for the tech to be exploited today is in vertical market applications.

In vertical industries it is much easier to define functional requirements and a market for apps than it is for consumer electronics applications

We should not be so quick to declare that wearables are a victim of infanticide because early efforts in making them viable consumer products have been less than stellar.

Despite this incessant (and shall I say it, often misplaced) focus on the mass-consumerization of tech within the mainstream media, the consumer is not always the litmus test for validating the worthiness of various technologies.

We have decades of computer history and strong examples from other industries that prove that technologies can be successful and establish markets long before they see the light of day in the consumer space.

And I suspect that due to social acceptance issues and various other unresolved problems, that is where we are with wearables today. But that doesn't mean the technology is dead, it just means that it has a ways to go.

In the context of consumer technology, most wearable form factors have the air of nerdiness or social weirdness about them which makes them difficult to accept in traditional social settings.

And if we're talking about devices like Glass, the low-end eye displays cannot be used for extended periods without causing significant eyestrain, and the daily battery life of Glass is less than half of a typical smartphone, about five hours maximum, if the video recording function is used sparingly.

With much more higher-end devices targeted towards vertical markets, these sorts of concerns are not an issue, because nobody cares (for the most part) about how much they cost, how fashionable they are, or how well they fit into social situations. They are concerned about performance and functionality above all else. 

Still, we can learn a great deal from applications of wearable technologies in vertical markets before it sees the light of day in the consumer realm.

Medical is a no-brainer, and so is the hospitality industry (restaurants, hotels). Defense, aerospace as well as other engineering industries already use them with aplomb. All of these would benefit from hands-free operation of a computer, as well as reality augmentation applications where information needs to be presented in an overlay format.

Just take a look at the BAE Systems Q-Warrior that is being tested by NATO, which I've put in the article header illustration. It's not exactly a fashion statement. But what it actually does can give our soldiers key advantages in situational awareness on the battlefield.

In vertical industries it is much easier to define functional requirements and a market for apps than it is for consumer electronics applications, particularly since you are not necessarily dealing with the issues of app monetization and the advertising that consumer devices would by necessity have to bring along with it in order to justify the application development.

It's one thing to justify the development and then sell a $10,000 patient information and medical records app for a bedside wearable, because the volume is less of a concern and the market is clearly defined.

Putting the level of effort to develop a sophisticated augmentation application for a consumer wearable that either has to be free or has to sell for a very low price in high volumes with in-app purchases to enhance or upsell its capabilities is something else.

Next Page: How to address challenges for wearbles in the consumer space

Topics: Innovation, Hardware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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