Posted by Ashleigh Allsopp 02 May 2014
The future of apps for smartglasses
There has certainly been a buzz surrounding wearable tech in recent months, but most of the spotlight has been taken by wrist-worn smartwatch devices. However, the other type of wearable tech that's emerging from companies including Google (Google Glass) and Sony (Sony SmartEyeglass) is smart glasses – head mounted displays that are generally controlled using voice commands.
Smartglasses aren’t exactly mainstream yet. Arguably the most famous of the bunch is Google Glass, but those are still only available in the US through the Explorer Program that's designed for testing the prototype. The prototype costs $1,500 (around £900), so they're not what we'd call widely accessible.
With all of these devices currently being tested and improved, it's not going to be long before we begin seeing them released for businesses and consumers to use, but what exactly are we going to be using smartglasses for?
We spoke with three experts on the subject from app design agencies already investigating smartglasses apps to find out what they think the future holds for smartglasses, and what kinds of apps the new technology could be best for.
Will anyone actually use smartglasses?
Matt Pollitt, director at digital design agency 5K which is currently working on a sailing app for smartglasses, suggests that the technology will eventually be as popular and game-changing as smartwatches, if not even more so.
"Smartglasses will not just be a scaled down add-on to existing devices, but an augmentation of a user's primary sense," he tells us. "It will open up an entirely new market of wearable devices and their corresponding apps, which we are really excited about!"
Right now, one of the major things holding smartglasses back is the way they look, but Matt has high hopes for the future. "As with all mobile technology, it will miniaturise, become more discreet and sophisticated and therefore, more popular," he says. "However, at the moment one of the main barriers we feel as being currently prohibitive to wide-scale adoption is the fact that the technology is still so prominent on your face."
We've certainly noticed...
"Unfortunately, no matter how cool tech-wise some of these products are, when it comes to wearing one for 10-16 waking hours of the day I would feel like a complete wally," he adds, and we have to agree. "Once this barrier is removed, with the introduction of smart contact lenses or some other non obtrusive way of having a HUD (head-up display), we really think they will become something people will use all the time."
Richard Goodrum, COO of Race Yourself, a fitness app designed for Google Glass, also believes smartglasses will be popular in the long term. "Smartwatches have for now taken centre stage. However, given that the technology is there and that so many companies are working on smartglass technologies, I believe it's only a matter of time."
"We are likely to see smart glasses break into industries first, so I believe we'll see the technology being used in areas such as engineering, surgery and also in labs before it hits the high street," adds James Deakin, technology director at service design company Fjord. "It is going to take time for smart glasses, in their current form, to break down social conventions and reach critical mass."
"Currently smart glasses are little more than a notification system for your smartphone, and until we start to see real everyday benefits for this type of technology, whether that be in a corporate setting or for consumers, it is going to be hard for people to understand the benefits," James explains.
What kinds of apps will smartglasses run?
Above: Recon's video for its Jet smartglasses provides some app inspiration.
If smartglasses do eventually take off, it'll be largely because of the apps that they can run. After all, the hardware is nothing without the software to make it useful.
There are many different types of apps that can work well with smartglasses. So far, we've seen everything from maps, games and photography apps to fitness, home automation and cooking apps.
"It's an exciting time for smart glasses and their apps," says Matt, adding that it's a completely different kind of app that needs to be built for smartglasses, as they have parameters that are so vastly different from any other device on the market.
"Exploring new technologies that can change the way people react with content is always a fantastic thing," Matt continues. "Only by taking on these new challenges can you start to push the boundaries of what's possible. Glasses and HUDs are just another platform with specific environmental and contextual considerations for delivering new and exciting digital experiences."
Richard adds that it'll be practical applications that offer the end user real value that'll be successful for smartglasses. "For example, when I use Google Glass, I particularly love the directions and cooking apps," he explains. "It's incredibly useful to be hands free during both activities and not having to look down at my phone."
It is a little early to tell exactly what apps will be successful and which will be complete failures. "Smart glasses aren't accessible to all, so it's hard to predict how they will be used and what consumers will demand from smart glasses," says James.
"We see sport and fitness as a massive area," Richard goes on to say. "Both amateur and professional athletes are huge fans of fitness apps, however the reality is that they can be dull and do a little to motivate. We're looking to change that in a big way with visual real-time feedback."
"The possibilities are vast," agrees Matt. "There are new avenues to explore with regards to a wholly hands-free experience. Voice activation for example and a truly barrier-free augmented reality with seamless integration of real and virtual worlds leads to hundreds of new possibilities."
"We are building a digital fitness platform across mobile and wearables," says Richard as an example, referring to the Race Yourself app (shown above). "Our games and challenges motivate racers to achieve their personal best by allowing them to live-race a three dimensional avatar of themselves (previous run/cycle), their friends, celebrities, or even flesh eating zombies pursuing at their target pace. Race Yourself will provide you with real-time on-screen encouragement during your exercise."
Meanwhile, Matt's app, VELA (below), is designed for sailing enthusiasts. "It's a sailing tool that sits across your tablet and the Recon Jet to provide a connected ecosystem for the sailing community, both on and off the water. The tablet experience allows you to plan, share and sync your sailing activities, giving you access to live information through the Recon Jet glasses as you sail."
"The reason we chose to use Recon Jet as the smart glass platform is that it is designed for a specific use case – sporting activities," Matt continues. "The glasses are designed to be used when performing a specific task, so it doesn't interfere with general social interaction and becomes a really focused experience, augmenting existing aides."
"Coupled with the fact that the Sony Xperia tablet is waterproof, it seemed like a great marriage. However, it's important to note that the glasses are not the whole story," he notes. "They extend the eco-system we are trying to evolve with the VELA community as a whole, allowing them to attach pictures they have taken to the adventures they go on and giving updated weather and nautical information in a way that lets them keep their hands free and focused on the sailing."
There are limitations that come with smartglasses, though, all of which can make developing apps for the wearable technology particularly challenging.
"The most obvious one is battery," says Richard. "For example, Google Glass can last up to one day with careful usage, however the reality is that it can drain much faster than this."
Matt thinks that the biggest challenge is how people actually interact with smart glasses. "Google have chosen voice commands but there are plenty of situations where this isn't appropriate or potentially even quite rude. Cultural acceptance is key to wide scale adoption of technology. No one wants to have to sit next to the crazy guy on the train ranting to himself and tapping the side of his head repeatedly."
We've only just become accustomed to people talking on their phones using their microphone-equipped headphones, so it's likely to take a long time for us to feel comfortable around those talking to their glasses.
"I am hoping that other control methods can be developed, such as non-obtrusive controls on your wrist or in the palm of your hand," adds Matt.