Wearables, earables, eyeables: Welcome to the next wave of computing

There has been a great deal said about wearables, but the gist is this: nothing has really inflamed public interest, and there are very few products that have captured any real market share. Some health and wellness products — like Fitbit and the like — have sparked some adoption, but that hs been countered by players like Nike deciding to drop out of the market. Even smartwatches — which are less of a major change in usage patterns — haven’t really taken off, despite offerings from dozens of companies.

This month is likely to change that. First of all, the long-awaited Apple iWatch will be debuted (although the rumor is that they won’t be available generally until early 2015). Also, Motorola and LG have released circular smart watches — the  Moto 360 and LG G Watch R, respectively — that counter the square designs from other vendors, which users do not like, in general.

So, my first prediction: smart watches will rapidly take off starting now.

But smart watches won’t be the only companion devices. Yes, Google has moved firmly into the glass form factor — eyeables — which has drawn a great deal of backlash for personal use. But there are great use cases in business for that approach (see What can we expect from Google Glass in the enterprise), so it will catch on in medicine, construction, security, military, and many other sectors. In a few years, it will seem commonplace for your dentist to peer into your mouth wearing something like Glass.

And last week, Motorola offered another take on wearables: Motorola Hint is an earable. Hint is a bluetooth earbud that can cooperate with smart phones through voice commands, or perhaps more grandly, a means to remain connected to the world without manually fiddling with devices, but simply using your voice.

We’ve seen in earlier technologies — like Apple Siri, Google Glass, and Google Now — how natural it is to be able to search, text others, dictate email, and make calls by voice alone. Other bluetooth devices, have been designed to be less obtrusive that the earlier form factor of garish blinking ear contraptions, but the Hint is a different beast. In fact, it looks like the device that Joaquin Phoenix wears in Her,  more than anything else.


Joaquin Phoenix in Her

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Motorola Hint

So, a second prediction: earables and smart watches will make phablets more attractive by allowing people to leave the larger smart phones in their purse or backpack when mobile, or when walking a short distance away from the phablet, like leaving it on your desk for a short chat with a colleague. Earables and smart watches may also support a crossover to using even larger devices — tablets or laptops — as phones.

To some extent, the choice of an earable or a smartwatch may turn out to be a question of aesthetics, but I maintain that the way that different individuals work and play will be the real determinant. Well have to see how it shakes out as more models of earables come to market. I wonder when we will see an iEar optimized to work with iPad and Air? And iEye can’t be far behind, right?

And eyeables — like Google Glass — will someday become more common on Main Street, and not just on construction sites, medical suites, and manufacturing plants, but I think we’ll have to wait for smart contacts before that happens.