Forget Glass: Vertical is the future of wearable computing

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: Emerging Tech, Hardware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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  • Actually such thermal vision is already available...

    Though it is still bulky, and very expensive.

    They have been used for night time military operations to identify targets at a distance...
    • Kinect 2

      It also exists in millions of homes that have an Xbox One.
    • Thermal Immage is old hat

      The first unit I worked on was off the side of an O2B flying out of Pleiku in 1971 It looked like a suit case with a tv monitor on the outside and binoculer eye pieces on the inside This was an attempt to replaced the 200 lb unit on the side of the AC119H Gunships flying out of DaNang My point is Military usage will shrink Google Glass and probably improve it faster then civilian market.
      • Great example, no?

        To your point, this is really how it all works. Some things work from the vertical side, some from the consumer side. Both work off each other and speed up development and increase value. No doubt we'll see advances sooner than later in form factors, value and effectiveness.

        It's a good think Google Glass didn't start off at 200 pounds :-) Think what Jason's article would be like.
  • On Target...

    Very perceptive and well said. Thank you.
    jmb codewriter
  • all I can say is Huhhh

    I think Mr. Perlow dose not understand the meaning of word "brandishing" if he can compare Google Glass with a gun.
    it's a nice analogy, but still wrong.

    it's not illegal in most places to carry an unconcealed weapon.
    in fact it is illegal in most places to carry concealed weapon.

    as per quote below "brandishing" means to show-off, not simply to have in your possession or to carry.

    when you "brandishing" a weapon you are holding it in your hand(s) in a manner that suggest you will/want to use it to scare or to shoot/stab someone. other than that you are wearing it or caring it.
    when you "brandishing" an item other than a weapon, you are showing it off.

    with GG you are wearing it not brandishing it.

    gerund or present participle: brandishing

    wave or flourish (something, especially a weapon) as a threat or in anger or excitement.
    • Since we're going to pick nits...

      In point of fact, it cannot be illegal for a citizen to carry a weapon, concealed or unconcealed, anywhere within the United States. This, of course, does not stop municipalities and States from violating said citizens' Constitutionally protected rights.
  • Someone has too much time on their hands

    Jason, please.

    You've over-thought this, and - if your tone and words are any indication (and they should be) - you're not the only one who's been thinking about this. And, frankly, you're really behind the curve.

    As mentioned in other comments, development continues in verticals and in consumer, and there are already many versions of wearables heading in their own, market-needs direction.

    It's not the hardware and software we have to reconsider the metrics of success on. It's *only* the cultural integration. And, again, don't lose any sleep over it. Human history is laden with similar concerns about how technology will impact our loves of freedom, expression and privacy. Just spend a little time on the history of the printing press. Any focus on concern should be for the law.

    The devices and uses will - and are - working themselves out. Glass itself will do just fine. It's just a baby! Everyone - including Google - already knows where the current hard issues reside. Remember, Jason, we're in a free market, and free markets will ultimately dictate what is valuable and what is not. Not that "we" always make the best decisions... But, so far, not too bad.

    And ten years? It'll be much sooner. The moment a company creates the right combination of form factor and high-value usage, we're off and running. And that is coming very soon. I'd posit we only have 2-3 market cycles before this takes off. Don't forger, really big money is involved here.

    And, as we are *all* consumers, we'll see development overlap throughout, just like transportation, just like computing, just like law, just like...everything. If a technology fills a need for individuals, it will serve a need for organizations. Since, you know, organizations are run by individuals.
    • Too much time? I'd prefer to put some actual time into a thought experiment

      Then phone an article in. But I disagree that social acceptance and integration is the only metric we should be concerned about.
  • about social acceptance

    Many, many years ago, if you were an engineering student, you had - and used - a slide rule. We carried them on a belt loop. Thinking back on it, perhaps it was like a light saber, but we had not heard of Star Wars back then. Even tho' it seems dorky in hindsight, it was quite acceptable because every engineering and architect student on campus had one.
    We see an awful lot of people who have an iPhone case attached to their belt these days and don't think much about it. If it is really useful, people will probably want to use it, cool or dorky or not.