Two major bits of wearables news landed this week. Firstly, Google announced a partnership with Luxottica, maker of Ray-Ban and Oakley, to design, develop and distribute a new kind of eyewear for Google Glass. Secondly, Facebook shelled out $2 billion for virtual reality headset maker, Oculus Rift.
Both announcements are a clear sign of how important wearable technology is. Both Facebook and Google are sending the message that, being in the eyesight of users is where they see the future of their companies.
Google’s news is very much focused around the adoption of Google Glass by making a fashion item. This will be key to the way Glass is adopted over the coming years. Google seems to be very aware that, whilst early adopters have been keen to try on the technology, widespread adoption may prove more challenging.
In the consumer market, Glass is already encountering a fight back by people who feel that their privacy is being invaded in public. if someone is trying to take a picture on their phone, it can be pretty obvious. With Glass, it would be hard to tell whether someone is recording you or taking your photo without your permission.
It could well be that Glass finds its largest market in the enterprise space, by providing employees with access to information related to their job.
We are already seeing trials of the technology to provide a premium service to customers. Virgin Atlantic is using the technology in its First Class lounges as a way of bringing up important information about customers, without employees having to constantly look down at their screens. This, no doubt, is focused around providing a customer experience where technology is an aid, rather than a distraction.
When it comes to Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift, the reaction has been a mixed bag. As far as Facebook is concerned, they are looking to the next generation of technology. Facebook’s stock dipped following the announcement, resulting in a loss of between $1.5-$1.8 billion market cap. Despite being one of the most used apps on mobile, generating billions of dollars in ad revenue, Facebook doesn’t have total control of it’s user experience.
Oculus Rift represents a major opportunity for the digital world in terms of gaming, social interaction, business, entertainment and education.
With Oculus, it could be possible to feel like we’re in the same room as friends and family, even when they are half way across the world. Companies could use Oculus to train employees by running virtual simulations. Schools or universities could deliver a new level of learning and interaction to students wherever they are. The possibilities really are endless. Facebook wouldn’t have spent $2 billion on a company founded just two years ago, without a consumer ready product if Mark Zuckerberg didn’t believe in its future.
Facebook has a goal of connecting the world. Whilst social networks are one way of doing this, they lack the ability to make us feel truly connected to other people. Oculus could be the way to do this.
Of course, Oculus also represents a worrying future. One where people become so disconnected from the world around them that exercise rates continue to fall and people fail to see the difference between the real world and fantasy. Every technology that comes along has had to endure accusations about the detriment it will have to society and social behaviour, Oculus takes it one step further by creating a fully immersive world. In some ways, it brings to mind films like Surrogates or even the Matrix where we become cocooned in a virtual version of the world.
Thankfully, it seems that we aren’t quite ready for that world – judging by this video at least.
In both cases, a main driver for making sure that either Facebook or Google is firmly in the peripheral vision of users will be around learning more about us. In both cases, we are already openly giving away our information in return for the services the companies provide. Our information is used to provide more targeted advertising and paid for content based on what we like, search for and who we are connected to.