Glass Killed the Smart Watch
Smart watches seem like they could be the next big thing right now. The Pebble kicked off the craze, kicking previous failed attempts such as Sony's SmartWatch into a void where they should be quickly forgotten. The concept of the Pebble clearly appealed to many - after all, it became one of Kickstarter's most funded projects - with the thought of your notifications in a quick, simple and easy to reach format being its main selling point. But the smart watch isn't a particularly new idea; it's been a sci-fi fan's dream to talk via his wrist-mounted communicator - the thought of this dream finally being realised is tantalising.
But Glass has killed that dream.
When Project Glass was unveiled last year, I cast my smart watch dreams aside. As weird as it may sound, I've been practising the usage of Glass subtly since its announcement, with the occasional flick up into the top corner of my glasses, as if I'm checking Glass' screen. I didn't quite realise what Glass meant for the future, however, until I read Josh's article on what wearing Glass is actually like. Whilst a smart watch, in principle, seems undeniably cool, it ultimately pales in comparison to the prospect of Google Glass. Why? Because, in effect, a smart watch is simply an extension of your smart phone. It can do nothing without your phone, bar perhaps actually acting as a watch. Google Glass is, and can be, so much more.
Perhaps that's a flawed argument. Maybe you're saying, "Smart watches just need the apps." I get that. Apps will undoubtedly expand the range of uses available for the smart watch. But in all honesty, it's not the software that's the issue here, it's the actual concept which is at fault. The advantage of a heads up display like Glass is that it allows you to be more human with how you interact with, in reality, life. That's Google's aim: remove the electronic barrier which separates us from what we should just be enjoying. A smart watch does nothing to solve that issue but instead offers another opportunity to separate us from what is going on. With Glass, your hands are free to do whatever they please - with the smart watch, you'll just be another person poking with your head down.
I hope it doesn't seem odd to draw comparisons between the heads-up display and the smart watch. They are different devices, after all. Yet they've been such a part of sci-fi culture for years now that their harmonious relationship has to be questioned. The smart watch basically does the same job as the heads-up display. It can answer calls, show you messages, send you notifications and, of course, it'll tell you the time. However, it does so in an awkward manner. If you have a phone in your trouser pocket, then there isn't much point to you owning a smart watch - either way you have to move your up to see what caused the device to buzz.
But whilst the smart watch will show you a snippet of an article or email, the smartphone will show you the full thing. And if there's no point to having a smart watch if you have a smartphone in your pocket, what's the point in the smart watch existing at all? The common example is the person on their bike who has their phone buried in their bag. Instead of missing out on that notification, they receives it on their smart watch. Fair enough, but that will still distract said cyclist from what he's doing at the time - cycling. Glass is hands-free, so you'll be able to receive (and answer) that notification with a flick up of your head. With Glass, to quote Steve Lee from Josh's video, "You just live your life."
In reality, there's only one advantage to smart watches over Google Glass, and even that is a flawed argument. Smart watches will probably be cheaper than Google Glass. That's probably going to be true, what with rumours suggesting that Google Glass will cost about the same as your average smartphone, but Glass has some major advantages which will make that price a reasonable one. Firstly, Glass can run independently from your smartphone. You won't get the advantage of nationwide cellular access (and even then you could use a MiFi box to solve that issue), but you will still be able to use more than just the device's clock screen. Secondly, Glass' most prominent feature is its camera. The ability to simply say, "Okay Glass, take a picture" and take a picture of almost exactly what you're seeing through your eyes will be Glass' shining selling point. And journalists at CES will have a much easier time - Glass will allow you to record video whilst keeping both hands free for a gadget hands-on, without the need for a tripod. You won't be able to do either of those things with a smart watch; you'll still be looking through that electronic barrier to take a snapshot of what you should just be experiencing with your own eyes.
But perhaps most importantly, Glass won't just be a single device. It, like smart watches, will become a platform; others will build on the initial steps taken by Google to fine tune the device so that it can fit a wider range of people's needs. That will lead to a gradual reduction in price of the Glass platform, thus increasing the likelihood that Glass will justify said price. I'm certainly not dismissing the idea that Apple might join in the heads-up display competition. Of course, they won't choose to use the Glass platform, but with their own platform potentially undercutting the price of Glass, it'll drastically decrease the price for consumers across the entire heads-up market.
If the smart watch did manage to become fully independent from the smartphone, might it become relevant once more? I don't know. If the smart watch were to do such a thing, there'd probably be a cellular model of Glass to combat the potential growth of it. The smart watch may find a small group of supporters, but in reality, Glass is simply a more ergonomic, elegant and fluent concept.
It's a sad truth, and it's sad for me to say this, but Google Glass has near enough killed the smart watch. Our sci-fi wrist-mounted communicator dreams can't co-exist with our visions of slick heads-up displays.
The watch is dead. Long live Glass.