Google Glass: Tech Leaders Are Ready For Wearable Computers, But Are You?

If there was one thing on everyone’s mind at the annual All Things D tech conference held last week, it was Google Glass … and more broadly, the future of wearable computers

For those who don’t know, a “wearable” is exactly what it sounds like — a tiny device that you wear (say, above the nose, clipped to a shirt, or on the wrist) that does one or more functions. Nike’s much-touted Fuelband was an early example, are are some watches. But with the launch of Glass, many people are looking to Google and other leaders for next steps — and some are predicting a soon-to-be exploding market for tiny wearable devices to do everything from directing us home, to snapping pictures of friends, to identifying strangers on the street.

“I think there will be tons of companies playing in this space,” Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said at the conference. “I see [wearables] as a very key branch of the tree.”

When pressed about Glass, he seemed lukewarm. “I think there are some positive points in the product,” he said slowly. “I think it’s probably more likely to appeal to certain vertical markets…I wear glasses because I have to. I don’t know a lot of people that wear them that don’t have to.” 

He seemed tentatively excited about the wrist, though avoided saying too much about what some have already dubbed the “iWatch,” which is expected to be released later this year. 

“I think the wrist is interesting,” he said. “The wrist is natural.”

Many became excited when Corning Glass, maker of the super-strong Gorilla Glass, announced they had made a “Willow Glass” that bends as easily as paper. “You can certainly make it wrap around a cylindrical object and that could be someone’s wrist,” said Corning CTO Pete Bocko. “Right now, if I tried to make something that looked like a watch, that could be done using this flexible glass.”

Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester analyst, says it’s only a matter of time before the race to make the computer on your body becomes just as fierce and competitive as the race to make the phone in your pocket. “Devices are diversifying and the human body is a rich canvas for the computer,” she writes. “Wearable devices … have enormous potential for uses in health and fitness, navigation, social networking, commerce, and media. Imagine video games that happen in real space. Or glasses that remind you of your colleague’s name that you really should know. Or paying for coffee at Starbucks with your watch instead of your phone,” Epps explains. “Wearables will transform our lives in numerous ways, trivial and substantial, that we are just starting to imagine.”

Not everyone is as excited, and many have already begun citing privacy concerns as a large potential drawback. Nick Bilton, writing for The New York Times, describes how unnerving it is to have a conversation with a person and their all-knowing, never-blinking Google Eye.

“I was startled by how much Glass invades people’s privacy,” Bilton writes, as if Google had become the unwelcome third-wheel, “leaving them two choices: stare at a camera that is constantly staring back at them, or leave the room.”

Hackers have already gotten past Google’s attempt to make the device transparent, with a quick patch that allows users to simply blink to take a picture (previously they had to use their voice). Many restaurant and bar owners in California have already banned the product on their premises, concerned about other patrons feeling uncomfortable. And many of us can imagine a host of places where Glass will just never fit in (airport security, government offices, restrooms, movie theaters, and strip clubs … to name a few).

Still, many are excited about a potential new frontier of computing. Jeff Jarvis, journalist and author of Public Parts, notes: “When you’re in public, you’re in public. What happens in public, is the very definition of it. I don’t want you telling me that I can’t take pictures in public without your permission.”

“There are lots of gadgets in this space right now, but there’s nothing great out there,” Cook continued, adding that the space was “ripe for exploration.”

What do you think? Would anything convince you to wear a computer on your body, interacting with it throughout the day? Would you feel comfortable talking to someone else who was wearing one? Feel free to sound off below.