Apple rumor sites have been running stories about an expected iWatch complement to your iPhone or iPad – with Apple being typically tight-lipped about it – while Google has been eagerly dropping hints about its Google Project Glass, including photos of CEO Sergey Brin wearing a prototype. Each is touted by tech enthusiasts as “the next big thing,” but how close to reality are they?
Google has been the most out front in terms of promoting Google Glass, a pair of glasses with a small screen placed in front of one eye that serves as a viewing screen. The image could display content such as GPS information, e-mail or text messages, a video, or serve as the viewfinder for a video camera. The company recently held a contest inviting people to compete to receive one of the early editions of Google Glass for $1,500. The first public appearance of Google Glass was at a Google conference in June 2012 in San Francisco where Brin appeared onstage wearing a pair. Besides Google, Apple and Microsoft also have secured patents for products similar to Google Glass.
Slideshow: Images of Project Google Glass
But at the IDC Directions 2013 conference Tuesday in Santa Clara, IDC senior research analyst Linn Huang told me commercial products such as the glasses and Dick Tracy-like watch are a ways off.
“I think it’s definitely approaching but … it doesn’t appear that either of those is on the horizon immediately,” said Huang during an interview at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
Both the smart wristwatch and eyeglass display technology have been under development for some time, he said, particularly within the US military. The glasses deliver what’s called a “heads-up display” that pilots and operators of ground vehicles, for example, use to see vital information about their surroundings. And some smart watches are already available for athletes, which display their vital signs while running or doing other workouts.
But adapting Google Glasses for consumer use raises some questions for Huang because it would affect the way people normally use glasses.
“When you [use] your glasses, you don’t look at your glasses, you look through them, and that’s one of the usage difficulties that I have a difficult time with,” Huang said. In other words, looking at the image on the Google Glasses would require the user to focus on the foreground and then have to refocus through the glasses on where they are going. At the least, it would take some getting used to.
The challenge for the iWatch, meanwhile, would be how to adapt the Apple iOS ecosystem onto the wristband form factor. According to various reports, though, Apple has about 100 product designers working on the iWatch project.
Both innovations serve the emerging market for “wearable computers,” said IDC’s Huang, whose growth may also depend on the still nascent technology of “flexible displays.” Samsung showed off a prototype flexible display at the Consumer Electronics Show in January that could be used in a coming generation of smartphones or on other wearable devices.
But that technology is also not yet ready for prime time.
A foldable smartphone or other display may have some appeal, but wear and tear on internal components in the flexing could affect reliability, he said.
As I told Huang during the interview, these innovations, while compelling, may be “point-five” versions of the products and not yet version 1.0 or 2.0.