Without a doubt, Google and Apple are the technological titans of the 21st century. With Google’s total assets at $93 billion and Apple’s at $176 billion, we live within a digital realm controlled by two very different entities. Whether or not you realize it, they are fighting a great war for our technological souls. Having already infiltrated our ears, eyes, and hands, they’re both seeking to become an indispensable part of our very existence. Of course, they’re going about this in very different ways.
If you’re unfamiliar with the project, Google Glass is a voice-activated heads-up display built into a pair of eyeglasses. Its brain and display rests on the top right of the right lenspiece. It’s controllable by voice, or via a rocker button on the right frame. It looks futuristic, but also a little ridiculous. Google plans to have Google Glass ready for public consumption by the end of 2013 (or early 2014), priced at less than $1500. To get a taste of what Glass can actually accomplish, consider the promo video:
Unlike Google Glass, Apple’s iWatch doesn’t exist, as far as we know. The iWatch, a term used for lack of an official name, is complete rumor at the moment. It’s possible that Apple may have been planning such a product line for quite some time. It’s more probable that Pebble’s immense Kickstarter success, to the tune of more than $10 million, grabbed Cupertino’s attention and alerted them to a massively under-tapped market for wearable technology. Like Glass, the fan-created mockups look futuristic, but a little ridiculous.
The rumored iWatch would likely sync with your iPhone via Bluetooth, allowing for a host of second-screen possibilities, like controlling your music, finding directions, tracking health statistics, and paying via near-field communications. In other words, the iWatch is Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio coming to real technicolor life.
Why Glass and iWatch Matter
One of the main stories of the last decade was the battle for the living room. Microsoft, Sony, Tivo, and many smaller companies battled for living room supremacy. They wanted their specific boxes to be the singular place you consumed content. While this led to confused consumers unsure of what services they could get on which boxes, it also led to a more open marketplace, where content producers worked to get their apps included with as many services as possible. Eventually, you could bank on Netflix, at the very least, being available on your new Apple TV or Roku box. In terms of choice, the consumer won this battle.
Now that mobile computing has replaced traditional desktop use, the war has shifted from the living room to the living body. As evidenced by Fast Company in 7 Reasons Why Wearables Are Poised to Disrupt Our Lives, wearable tech is the next great technological evolution. Though Apple touts all of their products as revolutionary, wearable technology as a category unto itself will be the next, true revolutionary product. Like all major shifts, this has its pros and cons, both of which are evident when considering Google Glass and Apple’s iWatch.
Wearable tech gets us one fearful step away from implantable tech à la The Matrix. Much could be written about the benefits and drawbacks to such a world. Even so, with Google Glass constantly on our eyelids or the iWatch constantly attached to our wrists, one can easily imagine finally getting to the tipping point where seamless technology, i.e. that which blends in with our everyday routines and is automatically available at our every whim, becomes a reality. This is the point where productivity becomes more about what you’re able to accomplish with the time you’ve saved by using these devices rather than productivity becoming about how well you use these products. If these products can actually increase personal interaction with each other (no heads bowed into phones) while still providing the technological benefits we’ve come to expect, Glass and iWatch could transform culture for the better. But, I’d have to admit, that’s an awfully optimistic projection.
At a more realistic level, Glass and iWatch will matter because people want new tech. Early adopters and teens with too much of their parents’ money will buy these items for their coolness catchet. Journalists may flock to Glass for its instant-on reporting abilities. Health nuts and James Bond wannabes may buy iWatches in droves. While the masses want a new phone every year or so, I doubt that many would call current smartphones a revolutionary upgrade from their current phone. At best, they’re intermittent upgrades. iWatch and Glass are whole new categories of products, and people will clamor for them. Still, the products face definite hurdles.
Why Glass and iWatch Won’t Matter
Remember how iconic white headphones once were? How the news would report on subway passengers getting robbed because they were seen sporting the iPod’s distinctive cables? What happens when such conspicuous consumption goes to another level? What happens when Google Glasses start getting ripped off of faces? Will Google install an auto-record feature for such occurrences, auto-uploading the footage to YouTube as soon as the theft occurs? Will an iWatch know its owners’ wrist and fail to function on any other?
Even more than the possibility of such new tech being stolen from its early adopter owner, it’s the aesthetics of the products that may prevent millions from adopting their usage. Personally, I think the products look cool, but would I actually wear either of them? I’m not so sure. It’s encouraging to hear about Google’s partnership with Warby Parker, as if the folks at Mountain View got a hint from their design-savvy “friends” in Cupertino. On the other hand, who’s still wearing bluetooth headpieces? (No offense if you’re one of the dozen still doing so).
Aside from the technological frontrunners, who in the general public has more bandwidth in their life for more tech? Couldn’t one assume that what the public has now does sufficiently enough for them? It’s a little bit like social media fatigue. If I’m already updating five social networks, why would I put more effort into a sixth or seventh social media site? If my smartphone already provides me with exactly what I’m looking for, why would I need to spend more money on unnecessary accessories like Glass or iWatch? Both Google and Apple will have to do a superb job of marketing in order to showcase exactly what these products can help a person accomplish that they can’t already do with their phones.
The cost of these wearables will have to cater to the masses. I just don’t see thousands dropping $1500 for Google Glass. I have more faith in Apple finding a proper price point for iWatch, but we all know that there’s still a markup for any product with an Apple logo on it. Should the prices of these products fall into the realm of the casual tech user, like the Wii’s initial low price, Glass and iWatch may have a chance at wide cultural adoption.
Lastly, don’t we think that Glass may be more like this, with the iWatch likely being as intrusive?
Who knows? For all the pros and cons listed above, this next step in revolutionary technology is more about our wallets than anything else. It’s about Google and Apple making a costly play to be the digital realm we exist in, hoping that their product will be the one we choose, regardless of whether it’s a necessary addition to our arsenal of tech.
The Joy of Tech may have put it best in a recent comic strip:
What do you think about Google Glass or Apple’s rumored iWatch? Will you be buying one or both? Do you think there’s room in the market for these products? Do you think they’ll do as well as these companies’ other products?