Apple CEO Tim Cook spent a decent chunk of time on Tuesday talking about the future of wearable computing and outlining the key split between his company's development approach and Google's.
At the D11 conference, Cook said Google Glass isn't likely to be mass market, but could "appeal to certain markets." Wearables as a sector will be significant, and Cook cited the Nike FuelBand as an example of a product that already works well.
Cook added that most good wearable computing approaches today focus on doing one thing. That's a typical Apple approach — Cook has been down on the hybrid laptop/tablet strategy pushed by the Windows 8 ecosystem and so far has been right.
The wearable computing issue today looks like a novelty act, but over time will be big, and Cook said there are a lot of areas ripe for exploration with wearable computing. Indeed, we've caught word of a few enterprises already wondering how wearable computing will fit in with corporate bring your own device strategies. Nevertheless, some observers like Zack Whittaker swear Google Glass will never have a business use.
I've been using Google Glass for a few weeks now off and on, but it's hit the point where it's mostly off. Here are my observations on Google Glass, and Apple and Google's likely approaches to wearable computing.
I don't like wearing glasses. Period. The problem with Google Glass is that when the novelty wears off, I'm still wearing glasses that are a pain in the temple. In addition, sometimes Google Glass can be an overheated annoyance — that navigation bar can run hot if shooting video, for example. Cook noted this glasses issue when he said, "I don't know a lot of people that wear them that don't have to." At Google I/O, Google Glass almost looked normal, but I was in a developer Petri dish. For someone as blind as a bat (that would be me), it was odd to see people willingly wearing bulky devices on their face for giggles.
What will happen? Google Glass' future is likely to revolve around a licensing model for people who wear glasses. Some folks, but not many, will choose to wear glasses just for computing: think specific industry uses and techies looking to make a statement.
Glass lacks a killer app. Photos are the closest thing that Google Glass has to a killer app. I've had trouble navigating applications and bouncing around between Twitter, TheNew York Times, photos and other items. Cook pointed to single-use strategies with wearables, but Google is going for a multi-use approach and leaving a lot up to developers. The fact that Glass does a bit of everything can be jarring. For instance, I don't really want my text messages going to Glass, but they were there when my phone was paired with Bluetooth. I never found the option to turn the texts off.
What will happen? Glass isn't the vehicle for multi-purpose use, but it's way early. Glass is a proof of concept. Like the smartphone, though, there will be jack of all trades wearable devices.
Fashion will matter. The one thing Cook got was that fashion plays a role with wearable computing. The Apple CEO thinks that the wrist is interesting as a wearable computing target. The problem? Most younger consumers don't wear watches — or anything for that matter — on their wrists. The wrist is the flipside of Google's glasses conundrum. In many cases, Apple and Google will have to create something so game-changing that you're willing to wear it.
What will happen? I don't think the wrist or glasses approach quite works. Over time, I think computing will be embedded in multiple places such as clothes, shoes and the like.
The bottom line here is that wearable computing is a big deal and the applications are just getting started. For now, companies like Google and Apple will be happy to court developers for the front end: wearable computing is all about the software developers. On the back end, you're likely to see everyone from IBM to HP to SAP play along with the wearable computing theme, aligning business use cases and melding sensor data from the internet of things with people. Society will ultimately have to figure out when things get too creepy.