Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few months you should have heard about Google Glass the ‘smartspecs’ that give you a heads-up display of data, whether it’s information that your train is running late or the latest football scores.
Google believe this will change the way we interact with data and information in a huge way. We have seen a huge transformation with the way we interact with information in the past two decades with the internet, mobile phones, smartphones and more so it’s easy to see why Google believe this to be a ‘game-changer’.
Google Glass is not the only technology that promises the next big change with the way we use information. The Pebble smartwatch, JawBone’s UPdevice and various other wearable technology all promise (and to an extent deliver) that they will change how we view, gather and distribute information. With products like these becoming mass-market it’s an important point for web designers and developers to consider the impact that these devices (and their future iterations) will have on the web – the biggest information source available.
The future of information
Whilst we may scoff at Google Glass as ‘the future’ something will take the ‘augmented reality’ crown and fulfil the promise Google Glass offered (before people started using it and realised it wasn’t quite up to scratch). As evidence of this we only need to look at the tablet market. In 3 years tablets have gone from a very sidelined facet of the PC market (anyone remember the Microsoft Tablet PC?) to the very future of it with the launch of one device, the iPad.
I believe that responsive design is an important step forward to allowing the web to be viewed on new, emerging technologies and devices. Hopefully by now you know all about responsive design (if not give James a call, he’d love to guide you through it). Just a few years ago it was common practice to develop separate sites (or even apps!) for visitors accessing via mobile device. Imagine the complexity of continuing with that approach with computing products/markets maturing at an ever increasing pace. There would be a glut of different screen sizes, resolutions, hardware and a huge increase in stressed out web developers trying to cope.
What does this mean for the web?
The question is what does this mean for web design now, and how responsive (excuse the pun) do developers and designers need to be? Well the smartwatch market is very new but it’s likely to reach maturity quickly – I’m currently wearing a Pebble and it’s a black and white, low resolution screen and a long way off accessing the web in its current format. Yet Pebble is a start-up company focusing on the very edge of the technology available. Samsung and other big technology companies have already started developing their own smartwatches, with their bigger budgets I’m sure the approach and technology will advance quickly.
Right now the best a Pebble user can hope for is an application that would pull very basic text data in terms of connection to the web. If you remember browsing the web via WAP on an old mobile phone I imagine it would be a similar experience – but with less buttons and even more difficult. The other thing to remember about the smartwatch is that nearly all of the models on the market require a link with a smartphone. With that in your pocket why would you try to surf the web on a smartwatch?
Reverting to older technologies
Despite the almost ubiquitous availability of the smartphone it’s important that web developers consider the implications of the newer devices utilising older technologies (like monochrome displays) and consider some techniques to allow access from this kind of device. Simple data/content feeds will be crucial, with RSS being an obvious example – by opening up your data/content in this way it allows it to be presented in any way necessary which will be great for getting simple data (e.g. weather information, news headlines etc.) onto any device regardless of size. It’s also not hard to imagine that in a few years time you’ll get a notification on your smartwatch, hit a button and start viewing the content on your smartspecs.
By ensuring that feeds are set up correctly and as accessible as possible now this data can then be mined by developers for the current wearable technologies but also any future technologies that develop with non-standard screen sizes/formats. This also has the added benefit for sharing your content across the web.
The future impact of mobile data price gouging
The next thing to consider is mobile data – in the future are we going to have a personal mobile data bubble that will allow us to connect our smartspecs, smartwatches, smartphones to the cloud. If so you can guarantee that the mobile companies are not going to make the mistake they made of unlimited data when the smartphone market took off (and that they’re now frantically trying to recover from see the US market as an example). If that’s the case with so many devices consuming data then data limits are going to become more relevant. By stripping out all styling, imagery etc. then designers could make their content much more appealing to the data conscious consumer, it could be a real opportunity to increase usage and take a step beyond competitors.
Let your content run free!
I think developers need to consider the short-term future of wearable technology as a step forward for the consumer and a step backwards for the developer. Whilst mainstream technology is making enormous leaps in compatibility (after Microsoft officially killed off IE6) the emerging technologies will take time to reach an agreed set of standards – if it’s taken browser manufacturers 20 years or so to get this far it may be some time before development for multiple devices is simplified.
Perhaps the ultimate thing web developers and designers need to acknowledge with the future of wearable technology is to make the content as accessible as possible, without restriction on design, formatting etc. Continue to design for the full web and make sites look good and easy to navigate on devices that can handle it but to allow that content to be reformatted and redesigned for use by anyone on any device. Then it’s up to each device’s development team and community to manipulate that information/data into an accessible format for that specific device.