Everybody is hopping on the wearables bandwagon. Since the publication of my HBR article on wearables, I’ve been asked a number of follow-up questions from executives, tech analysts, and most especially from entrepreneurs.
Though the questions vary, they generally fall into three buckets.
“Aren’t Head-up Displays (HUDs) like Google Glass where the market is going?”
No. Not necessarily. Pricey (and for now, socially awkward-looking) HUDs will likely be a sliver of the nearly half-billion units that will ship by 2018. By comparison, most other types of wearables will be relatively cheap, and as socially unobtrusive as a ring or wristband.
No doubt, there will be well-defined segments of HUD wearers. For instance, emergency first responders and many disabled people will immediately benefit from additional contextual information the tools display that enhance safety and the ability to navigate tricky situations. The more you consider real data and use-cases, the more you see wearables’ potential to support humanistic aspirations.
However, as I suggest in my HBR piece, we should vigorously question the ethics and effectiveness of any “asymmetrical” uses of HUDs. The presumption that a Google Glass wearer has a right to ascertain information from others who haven’t opted in isn’t necessarily socially acceptable. (HBR editor Scott Berinato calls Glass wearers who point their devices at others who haven’t opted in “glassholes”). It may not even be legal. In the work place, any use absolutely must be accompanied by clearly stated benefits to the employee (not just the employer) and ensure her data privacy. Otherwise, it’s Orwellian.
Aren’t wearables basically just a hands-free PC or smartphone?
Some wearables are indeed the next stage in the evolution from PCs to smartphones to tablets. Samsung’s watch, for example, tethers to its phone and lets you take and receive calls and texts. But many others tools and applications, such as the one I describe below, are discontinuous. They support radically new ways to improve work and society. The opportunity in the discontinuous space is probably bigger, and certainly some of the killer apps for wearables haven’t even been conjured yet. Something will take us by surprise.