Google caused a minor sensation among techies this summer when it unveiled Google Glass, a pair of augmented-reality glasses capable of streaming live video. The unveiling even included a flashy demo: skydivers wearing Google Glass parachuted onto the roof of San Francisco’s Moscone Center, where Google was hosting its annual Google I/O conference:
But an actual release date for Google Glass remains cloaked in mystery. Google let Google I/O attendees pre-order a “Google Glass Explorer Edition” for $1,500, with a shipment date early next year. A version for everyday users will presumably appear at some point after that.
Despite that murkiness, Google seems determined to press forward with the technology, filing a patent for a Google Glass wristwatch. As pointed out by CNET, the timepiece includes a camera and a touch screen that, once flipped up, acts as a secondary display. In the patent, Google refers to the device as a “smart-watch.”
According to the patent, the integrated camera plays a large role in “smart-watch” functionality: it could scan bar codes and transmit information about the attached product “including, but not limited to, nutritional information (health rating), whether the user has the product at home, coupons, other related advertisements or pricing information.”
The timepiece could also use a camera image to determine the user’s current location. On top of that, it could leverage built-in GPS to provide “audible” turn-by-turn navigation, display directions, and statistics such as time and distance to destination.
Presumably, such a device would be able to access other Google services such as search or Google+.
Whether or not a Google Glass wristwatch ever appears on the marketplace—just because a tech titan patents a particular invention doesn’t mean it’s bound for store shelves anytime soon—the appearance of augmented-reality accessories brings up a handful of interesting issues for everyone from app developers to those tasked with handling massive amounts of corporate data.
For app developers, augmented-reality devices raise the prospect of broader ecosystems and spiraling complexity. It’s one thing to build an app for smartphones and tablets—but what if that app also needs to handle streams of data ported from a pair of tricked-out sunglasses or a wristwatch, or send information in a concise and timely way to a tiny screen an inch in front of someone’s left eye? While opportunities abound—surely a handful of developers are already white-boarding some sort of exercise or body-monitoring app for use with Google Glass—there’s also the potential for some very significant challenges, particularly if augmented reality proves a sizable hit.
For those who deal with data, augmented reality devices are liable to make them reach for the Family Size aspirin bottle. IT vendors specializing in “Big Data” apps are only starting to get a handle on how to best integrate data from social networks and customers into their systems—now picture that data-flood rising exponentially thanks to thousands or millions of augmented reality devices.
In other words, it might be the epitome of convenience for a customer with a special pair of glasses or a wristwatch to scan a barcode by glancing at it, or host a video conference call while walking to work. But for the companies wrestling with backend IT, that sort of future demands a lot of planning in the here and now.