Google Glass: making wearable computing mainstream?

Could Google's connected glasses suggest a future where we're surrounded by wearable tech? And what does that mean for our mobile phones?

My earlier scepticism about Google Glass is beginning to erode under a battering of upbeat, positive reviews of it as an idea, after the spectacular demo at GoogleI/O last week.

Nick Bilton for the New York Times’s Bits:

To continue our history lesson, another huge shift occurred in the late 1800s when the motion picture was invented. It enabled visual storytelling and at a mass scale unimaginable before.

The equivalent to that moment, of a technology that works regardless of age, education, literacy or intelligence, is happening right now with the advent of wearable computing. These wearable technologies like Google’s glasses that project information right where a person is looking will have the same effect on smartphones and computers as the motion picture did on books.

The headline asserts that the glasses let “technology slip into the background”. Sounds quite post-digital, doesn’t it?

And then there’s Steven Levy for WIRED’s Gadget Lab, quoting Google’s Babak Parviz:

Parviz: We want people to be engaged with the physical world. We want to untether them from the desktops and laptops. You want to have something where don’t feel like you’re wearing technology. Where your eyes are pretty much open to the environment, your ears are open, your hands are free — but you can engage with the technology if you need to.

It do find the idea of our connection with digital tools being less focused on individual devices, and being more of a personal “cloud” of devices that surround us. The glasses could be one element, alongside watch-like devices, and technology integrated into clothes.  And, indeed, objects in our homes or our cars.

There’s one prerequisite for all of this, though: our data moves into the cloud. Rather than direct transmission of data from device to device – like downloading photos from you camera to your laptop – the data streams up to the cloud and back down again. Apple’s photostream, part of iCloud, is an example of that. You send photos from one device to another in your house, via a data centre in North Carolina. The advantage of this, of course, is that it’s asynchronous. It happens constantly, and in the background, so you don’t have to actually do anything to make it happen. You also don’t need to transfer files repeatedly if you want them on multiple devices. As devices proliferate, that becomes critical. No-one wants to spend half an hour in the morning synchronising everything.

The only question left is how this is all mediated. Do all devices have their own internet connection? Are our glasses, watches and cameras – alongside digital devices we’ve not yet even considered – all going to contain their own little 4G chip, talking independently to the cloud? Or is the mobile phone going to become the personal internet hub, connecting seamlessly to our personal cloud of devices over bluetooth, and sending whatever is needed up to, and back from, the internet?

That brings us down to a question that will determine the future of whole industries: will the mobile phone be just one connected device we own amongst many, or will it be the hub of our connected lives?