Thursday, June 6, 2013

Through the looking glass
By Antonio Zugaldia (via Wikimedia commons)
Dear Diary,
I have been recently been following the discussions around Google Glass with great interest.

Many people, including the CEO of a certain fruity tech company seem to think that this is just a fad and that it will not stick.  They look dorky, regular people wont wear them, yadda yadda.

I respectfully disagree.

Not with the idea that Google Glass looks dorky.. they kinda do but compared to its ancestors Glass keeps a remarkably low profile.  And if I'm right, Glass is only the beginning of the consumer head-mounted display era.  Remember how chunky and homely mobile phones used to be?  Look at them now with more screen real-estate than ever yet also slender and sculpted.

What I disagree with quite strongly is the notion that regular people wont wear head-mounted displays like Glass and here's why...


People want information, they want it now and they want it right before their eyes.  What better way to do this than with a display which rests on your head and is always in front of your eyes no matter which way you turn?

Books, television, computers all fill this desire for information and consequently are part of our everyday lives.  eReaders offered the same capability as books and hence were widely adopted, tablets offer the capabilities of all three and more, and will supersede eReaders if they haven't already.  But all of these devices are bulky &/or heavy to varying degrees.

Mobile phones have evolved from their origins as mere oral communication devices into miniature eReader/television/computer/camera/MP3 player combos putting all that information at our fingertips and before our eyes.  You probably don't carry a book or your tablet with you everywhere but I'll bet there aren't many places you deliberately go without your mobile phone these days.

And mobile phones continue to evolve and incorporate or even inspire new functionality, but they are hitting their limits in one key respect...


The reason you carry your phone everywhere but not your bookcase / TV / laptop or even tablet is size and, particularly in the case of the first two, weight.  Mobile phones are light and easily carried in a pocket / purse / belt pouch.

They are also holdable and, for the most part, usable in one hand.  Unfortunately this limits their size and thus the size of their screen.  Manufacturers are already bouncing off those limits and in the case of Samsung seeing just how far they can stretch it.  But the limits are there: our hands are not going to magically get bigger.

Yes, you can increase the resolution of the screens but you can only make the text so small before it becomes difficult to read and even the fine detail of graphics becomes indistinguishable after a certain point.  (So-called "retina displays")

A head-mounted display like Glass which projects an image into your field of vision has the potential to increase in both resolution and perceived screen size way beyond the limitations of a phone screen.  Think big: TV screen... projection screen... even movie theater screen, filling your whole field of vision.


Mobile phones weren't always fashion accessories.  Heck my first phone, a Nokia, was commonly described as a "brick" or "candy bar" phone.  Functional but not exactly fashionable.

Remember the original Motorola Razr flip phone?  America woke up one day and suddenly it was the thing to have!  Who knew a mobile phone could become a mainstream fashion accessory?!?  In a range of colors even!!

No I didn't have one, I was busy geeking out on Symbian smartphones.  Back then smartphones were cool if you were a techie but barely even recognized by the mainstream.  Then along came Apple with their iPhone and all that changed.

Today head-mounted displays are geek-chic and a source of amusement (or even fear) for the mainstream.  But if they do indeed pass the tests of utility and ergonomics, they will continue to evolve and one morning in the not-too-distant future, you will wake up to find that they are "the in thing".  A year or two later, you will have forgotten what it was like to have to squint at your phone screen to browse the Internet or watch a movie.

That is my prediction.

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