Wearable Tech and the Web Posted by: Lauren on 11/07/2013

Wearable Tech and the Web image

Wearable technology has been an industry buzzword for quite some time - but how can we make sense of the plethora of smart watches, glasses, armbands, and other innovations in this sector?

What is wearable technology?

The idea of ubiquitous computers that integrate into our accessories and clothing has been around for decades (or centuries if you include the wearable ‘abacus ring’ invented in the Ming dynasty in China). Since the advent of personal computing corporations, the military and enthusiasts alike have been experimenting with different ways to enhance our capabilities with computers, and with the release of Google Glass earlier this year the idea of wearable computers has gained some real traction.

In case you missed it, Google Glass is a tiny computer with an optical head mounted display (ie. a pair of glasses with a screen and a camera). Google Glass is hooked up to a smartphone and users can interact with their phone via voice commands and a display that is mounted over the eye. They can record video, take pictures and browse the web. Currently Google Glass is in what is called ‘Explorer Edition’ which basically means that Google are still testing how people will use it and ironing out any flaws. Although not yet widely available, at this year’s SXSW festival, a number of third party apps were announced which have been designed to work directly with the hardware (apps from the likes of Evernote, Skitch and the New York Times). Google Glass is scheduled for general release by the end of 2013.

Of course Google Glass isn’t the only wearable computer that is in the pipeline. Smart watches, i.e. watches that hook up to your smartphone and display information, have been around for a while. Other devices such as bracelets and Nike+ FuelBand are used to monitor physical activity and collate and relay performance metrics and information back to the user. This information can be used to improve athletic performance or by medical professionals to monitor the physical activity of patients.

But, what could this mean for the web?

The obvious impact that a device like Google Glass has for websites is the screen real estate. Google Glass has a basic version of the Android browser and the eyepiece screen has a resolution of 640x360. There is a variety of controls available on the device to allow users to navigate, however gesture controls (swipe / pinch etc…) do not work (http://mashable.com/2013/07/02/google-glass-browser/).

If your website is responsive - and it should be (have a look at my previous article on What is responsive web design and when should you use it?) - then it should look fine on the Google Glass display. However, there is an argument that the limited real estate and highly contextualised nature of users interacting with your website via Google Glass means that a rethink of the content you offer, and the way you offer it, may be necessary.

“Google Glass requires you to rethink your app or website. Don’t just offer the same services you have on the web and/or on a mobile app. Be smart, simple, accurate and deliver info at the right time without interfering with user’s life” - http://www.stephensmalldesign.com/blog/web-development-and-google-glass/

If wearable devices become the norm, how will applications source the content to display to the user? Micro formats, HTML mark up to semantically define certain types of content (for example, addresses or events) are already utilised by search engines to highlight specific data to users and future advances in contextual searching could drive up the use of micro formats to ensure that websites are returned in contextual search results.

What is the future for wearable devices?

For all our conjecture on how wearable devices will affect the future, what is the future of the devices themselves? In an interview at the D11 conference (28th May 2013), Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said of Google Glass “The likelihood that it has broad appeal is tough to see.” He later added that while computing glasses are likely to be a difficult sell, wearable technology has a lot of potential: “I think there are lots of things to solve in this space, but it’s an area that is ripe for exploration, it’s ripe for us all getting excited about. I think there will be tons of companies playing in this” (http://www.sitepronews.com/2013/05/29/wearble-technology-ripe-for-exploration-but-google-glass-nothing-special-cook/)

Estimates of the current market size vary. According to IMS research, the market for wearable devices is poised to grow from 14 million devices shipped in 2011 to as many as 171 million devices shipped by 2016, with ABI research estimating that the wearables market will be 485 million annual device shipments by 2018 (http://www.sfgate.com/technology/businessinsider/article/WEARABLE-COMPUTING-Inside-The-New-Mobile-Market-4652328.php). Couple this with the news that Dell is considering a move into wearable computing as a potential growth area, amidst sinking PC shipment (first quarter shipments down 13.9% according to IDC http://mashable.com/2013/07/04/dell-wearable-computing) and it seems that the wearable device market is on the rise.

It certainly seems that wearable technology is on the rise and will play a significant factor in the future of the web. However, it still seems as though there is a long way to go before we get any definitive direction regarding how many users will be looking at your website on these devices such as Google Glass and how that will affect web interaction.


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