Financial News

  • 11 April 2014, 13:51

Google's Race To Lead Wearable Tech Future

The race to crack wearable tech continues.

After a few widely criticised offerings, Samsung is releasing its newest bits of kit: a selection of Gear Fit smartwatches.

And in a not-very-well-concealed attempt to steal away the publicity, Google has just announced that from next week it is selling a limited number of its "Glass" devices to the US public.

Previously, Glass was only available to a select group of volunteers called "explorers".

This week it has also been reported that the improbably named BATMAN (Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided Knowledge) Human Performance Wing of the US Air force is testing Google Glass for use.

And even New York City Council is getting in on the act, proposing a bill requiring food hygiene inspectors to wear Glass during visits to restaurants.

If the bill is passed, the Council will join the NYPD and many other organisations, both public and private, who can see the potential of wearable technology and are trying to work out how best to use it.

To find out what all the fuss is about, we visited Google's Glass "basecamp" in a Manhattan loft space.

The secretive company let us in to watch "guides" teach "explorers" how to use Glass using only voice commands or gentle taps.

Each explorer has paid nearly £1,000 for their device.

It is made up of a traditional glasses frame, with a tiny computer screen and camera that sits just above your right eye.

Guide Danielle Murdoch told Sky News: "Glass has all the capabilities of your smart phone, but the beauty of it is that it allows you to be hands free and heads up.

"So you can still make calls, you can do Google searches to get quick information, you can send text messages and emails, you can even get directions, but it's different from your phone as it's actually on your face, from your perspective."

Guide Sunil Pragji said: "It is hands free, so literally I could tilt my head up, take a picture, share it instantly to Facebook and Twitter without even touching my phone as long as it's connected via bluetooth."

But I've been an "explorer" for a month or so now, and using Glass in real life doesn't always match the sales pitch.

Sometimes the device works really well: I get a steady stream of news updates, I can check and reply to emails using voice commands, and I can gather and share stills and video astonishingly quickly.

There are also lots of exciting uses for journalists, citizen and otherwise.

Livestream has just released an app which allows the wearer to live webcast what they are viewing, as well as receiving real time messages on screen from people who are watching.

But often Glass is temperamental, runs out of battery very quickly and overheats.

It also makes people who aren't wearing Glass feel uncomfortable.

Many people were deeply suspicious and asked me if I was recording them.

Some even insisted I took the device off.

One woman, who wanted a go, looked at me and instructed Glass to find out my identity.

That is not as far-fetched as it sounds.

Developers are working on the ability to pick up other discoverable devices and work out if you've ever connected with them via social media, automatically bringing up a profile of that person on your screen.

Google is not even close to being the only big player in wearable tech.

Facebook just spent $2bn (£1.2bn) on a virtual reality company called Oculus VR, Samsung and Sony are fighting for a foothold, and rumours are swirling that Apple might release an iWatch.

Technology journalist Sarah Shearman said: "I think for any technology company, the idea of being anywhere, anytime, with a consumer is the holy grail.

"It's not clear how the advertising is going to work on these devices ... but there is certainly going to be an opportunity for brands there.

"With all these big companies putting so much investment behind it, it's not just going to be a fad ... but there hasn't really been a huge consumer appetite for it, so I think there needs to be a lot of innovation in the space for it to really become the next big thing.

"Currently it's the sort of thing we don't really want to be seen wearing and I think once design improves it might be more mainstream.

"I think another reason why (wearable tech) hasn't really taken off yet is because there isn't really a killer use or a killer app, you know at the moment wearable tech is a lot about fitness tracking, which is fine for fitness enthusiasts, but for those people who aren't that interested, there aren't that many use cases."

Google has already announced a planned collaboration with eyewear designers to improve the look of Glass.

And new uses are being discovered all the time.

Doctors have used Glass to broadcast, share and view operations.

Firefighters are piloting an app which allows them to see floor plans of burning buildings as they move around them.

And the basketball team the Sacramento Kings has used it to get fans literally right in the action.

Developers are trying to work out how to beam instant replays, player stats and point of view footage right to fans wearing Glass in the audience.