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What wearable computing is really all about

Mike Elgan | Aug. 19, 2013
Wearable computing gadgets aren't toys for lazy geeks or harbingers of a dystopian future. Here's why you're going to love wearable computing.

Crunched on remote, Internet-connected computers, and passing through your smartphone to Google Glass or your Apple iWatch, or whispering into your ear through some kind of tiny in-ear Bluetooth headset, your virtual assistant will gently but constantly interrupt you to let you know what's going on. When you have a question about anything, just ask and the answer will be spoken to you. This will increasingly work not just for objective, Wikipedia type information ("What's the population of Los Angeles?"), but also personal information ("When is Steve's birthday?") and combinations of the two ("Where should I take Steve for his birthday?").

This virtual assistant feature will also enable combination queries combined with agency ("Buy Steve that shirt I saw today in his size, gift-wrap it and send it to his house to arrive on his birthday"). In this scenario, you won't have to know offhand the birthday, the shirt size, the mailing address or the credit card information. Your virtual assistant will take care of all that.

This will be great for wearable computers because it will enable them to be very light and small and ubiquitous.

Your smartphone as traffic cop

The biggest challenge yet to be solved before we reach wearable WPAN nirvana is the management of functions, features and data.

Your smartphone will have to act as an air traffic control tower for all the apps and messages and notifications flying around. For example, you say a Google Now command — who's going to take that? The Google Glasses on your face, the wristwatch on your arm or the smartphone itself? And where does the result come in — on the watch screen or as a voice answer?

Thousands of apps will each want to take over as the main interface and will demand to be given priority. You don't want to be interrupted 10 times a minute, so your phone will have to decide which notifications are green-lighted and which are stopped.

Ultimately, phone operating systems will have to learn how to learn — watch what you do, how you respond to notifications — and figure out how to manage the various devices, multiple apps and notifications coming from every direction.

Why we'll all be wearing wearables
The arguments against wearable computing will fade away over the next year or two, as wearables become socially acceptable and their utility apparent. One big reason is that, unlike now when wearable devices seem like some kind of sci-fi fantasy or geek delusion, wearable computers will be showing up outside the general consumer market in vast numbers.

First, they will be heavily embraced by various professions. Police will wear head-mounted cams. Doctors will embrace Google Glass. Industry will put Google Glass on workers who need Internet connectivity while they use both hands.


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