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Ubiquitous computing is coming to a forehead near you

The just concluded Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and related recent announcements illustrate the speed and inevitability of the transition to ubiquitous computing and connectivity. As we noted in our DCG Insight paper on ubiquity and the mobile shift, ubiquity means more things become not only computerized but also connected to each other, to the cloud, and of course, to users — who individually will acquire more and more smart devices.

While one may wonder whether CES can survive the mobile revolution, a few vendors still managed to steal some thunder with “big iron” innovations. Lenovo introduced their IdeaCentre Horizon Table, a “phygital” 27-inch touchscreen table PC. (At 17 pounds, this is thing is the opposite of mobile.) Meanwhile, Samsung showed off an 85-inch (and $38,000!) ultra HD television.

Both products could be in search of a use case. (Not to mention that “phygital” is the worst naming offense since IntraNet Solutions combined “stagnant” and “repellent” in 2001 and renamed themselves Stellent.) And they illustrate the schizophrenia of ubiquitous media consumption. On the one hand screens get mega (Samsung has also demoed a 110-inch TV), on the other hand screens get mini, and ever more mobile.

Case in point is the “smart watch” category, such as Pebble, Martian, I’m Watch, and others (including most intriguingly the persistent rumors of an “iWatch” from Apple). 2013 will be the year of the smart watch — and not only among early adopters: With smart phones aging into indistinguishable commodities, distinctiveness will next be worn on the wrist.

There’s not a little irony in observing Gen Y get excited about wrist-borne, voice-activated, screen-shifting computer-and-communication devices that were already familiar to their great-grandparents from 1930s Dick Tracy cartoons. But increased convenience, mobility, and access are undeniable drivers in the development of ubiquitous devices.

Consider the current state of accessibility. Say you want to use an app:

  • You try to remember if your smart phone is in your bag or jacket
  • Pull it out
  • Turn it right side up
  • Unlock it
  • Scroll to the proper icon

(Holy smokes! So. Tedious. It’s already been SECONDS!)

  • Tap icon
  • Wait for app to open

(Put down phone, have a coffee break)

  • Computer!

Now consider the probable scenario with Google Glass (or similar next-gen HUDs):

  • Blink
  • Computer!

(Then spend a second thinking, “How did people even live before this?”)

Google (along with Apple, Amazon, and now Microsoft) doesn’t attend CES, but that doesn’t mean they don’t use it. It was no coincidence when an interview with Babak Parviz, the head of the Google Glass project, was published by IEEE Spectrum just days before the beginning of CES.

It’s a fascinating read, both because of the ways Parviz tries to characterize what Glass is now (a device “for connecting to others using photos and video” – hmmmm) and more so for what he can’t quite deny will be supported in the future (head gesture controls, email and phone calls, an open app ecosystem, and augmented reality overlays). This kind of hedging is typical of Google, and strategically smart (if people listen to it), since I expect Glass — like many Google releases — to be underwhelming at first.

But then again, David Pogue tested a prototype last September and was already impressed by how light and unobtrusive the device is, how well the display works without getting in the way when you want (real) reality, and how smoothly the experience of “looking around” a photo worked.

All of which raises a few questions:

  1. Does Glass represent the pinnacle (so far) of the ever-smaller-screen evolution? (Even the prototype’s display is considerably smaller than that of a smart watch.)
  2. Or, since HUDs harbor the ability to display information over your entire field of vision, are they the largest screen imaginable?
  3. And from the perspective of content management: HTML5 arguably (and in part) rescues the mobile web from the splintering effect of dedicated apps. It thereby answers the prayers of WCM-cum-CEM vendors (and practitioners), who, for all of their pretense at being the master content repository for all things digital, are a lot more comfortable publishing to a browser. We’ve gone from PCs to tablets, phablets, and phones, and so far largely preserved the browsing paradigm (along side apps). But as displays become thumbnail size in smart watches (2013), and potentially all-reality-size in HUDs (Glass goes on sale in 2014), will it force a fundamental rethinking of content management? A revolution in how content is conceived of, created, stored, and deployed? Will we witness a ubiquitous computing versus established content strategy smackdown? (Definitely the subject of another post, so please chime in now!)

Finally, what kind benefactor will send me the $1500 developer version of Google Glass, set to be released this year?


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