Why the natural next step in mobile is wearable

A week spent in Mountain View last month gave me an opportunity to try Google Glass. Only made publicly available to a few developers ("Explorers", as Google likes to call them) very recently, media reactions to Glass have set up camp at opposing ends of a scale: naysayers versus evangelists.

Google Glass: physically intuitive, emotionally awkward
Google Glass: physically intuitive, emotionally awkward

This is practically a ­tradition with major technology launches, but before trying Glass, personally I would have put myself in the middle of that scale, at best a curious sceptic. That ­curiosity has since moved up a notch closer to fascination. Here’s why.

A wearable computer with head-mounted display, Glass is physically very light to wear and easy to use. It is operated mainly by voice commands, plus head gestures and a touchpad on the side to control the device.

What feels astonishing is the image quality. The size of the screen just above your eye is deceptive – far higher resolution than one would expect, it is the equivalent of a 25in HD screen from eight feet away, according to Google.

It integrates with Google platforms well. Want to search or have a Hangout live from Glass, to show others what you’re seeing? All possible. ­"Mirror", the web-based Glass API, is deliberately open, with the fundamentals still to play for; at a hackday in New York City, a developer created GlassTweet, a rough-and-ready app to tweet straight from Glass, while another has created Winky, an (unofficial) app that enables the user to take a photo simply by winking.

If Glass already feels physically intuitive, emotionally it feels awkward. Right now, issuing instructions out loud to a pair of glasses in public is either fabulously nerdy or embarrassingly so – you decide.

Not to mention the inevitable bugs of an early release and, more profoundly, the questions surrounding privacy, which will only grow as Glass reaches mainstream distribution; I don’t want my conversations with a Glass user recorded and cheerfully shared without my permission. But one imagines those issues will be ironed out by a combination of new product releases, new user etiquette, and, if that all fails, new legislation.

Google says it is creating "not so much a product, but a category", and it’s that ambition that’s most interesting. The fact is, once you’ve tried Glass, your mobile phone feels, well, clunky. And whether Glass – or the competitor products hitting the market soon – is your thing, or you’d prefer to hold out for a "smartwatch", like Apple’s purported iWatch, or even smart contact lenses instead, it seems inevitable that wearable computing is the natural next step in mobile.

A handset suddenly looks and feels akin to an old-fashioned magnifying glass: if you habitually needed one to read, would you use it in the same way once spectacles came along, allowing you to be hands-free?

Four things to think about now

1. Imagine not having to "stop real life" to read or send a message. This will start happening soon: Glass is due on the market as a consumer device by the end of the year.

2. Video didn’t kill the radio star. It is most likely that people will use wearable technology in concert with other devices (depending on their usage location), not instead of them.

3. This is another example of technology permeating our mobile lives: indeed, as marketers, it makes "mobile first" start to feel like a preliminary step.

4. For now, advertising or even charging users for "Glassware" (Glass services) is not permissible, but these devices will bring useful contextual data about a user that will come into their own once push notifications are enabled and personalised.