In the early nineties, as a Commodore Amiga co-owner with my brother, I once visited the Amiga Shopper show at Wembley Arena. Back in those pre-internet days, there was no Amazon and the only real alternative to mail order were consumer shows like these.
In the foyer, a company was demonstrating a virtual reality unit, featuring a wired handset and a strange, futuristic-looking elevated podium that the wearer stood inside. Screens nearby were showing the wearer’s view of a similarly strange, futuristic 3D world set in a sort of space station. I say sort of because 3D was still in its infancy back then, although the Amiga was quite talented at it for a time, so the environment could well have been anything that grabbed the developers’ imagination.
The queues were huge to try it out. I remember my brother had a go though, and said it was quite immersive. The tech at the time was pointing towards games as the driver – Enterprise computing as we know it was somewhat limited still – and so we left the event thinking that headsets were all the rage and that we’d all be wearing them soon.
That was well over 20 years ago. Strange then that I’ve recently had a play with Samsung’s Galaxy Gear VR headset, bringing back memories of that Saturday afternoon in north-west London as a teenager. And while it’s not even worth reflecting on the sheer scale, weight and diversity of change that has taken part in technology since then, it is notable that wearable technology is only now finding a footing.
So what’s the problem? Why is it that we can suddenly start to evangelise about these modern takes on ideas that passed by generations before? Well, aside from technology maturity and critical mass, it’s the obvious lack of use cases that prohibit growth. This in turn puts pressure on technology innovation. Ordinarily, developing wearable head units as a new type of Human Machine Interface (HMI) would, on paper, be seen as a great idea. Sadly, no-one found a ground-breaking way we could all use them.
It’s arguable that the true success of a technology or product is in its adoption. Yet this is the hardest part to achieve. With location or context-based mobile marketing all the rage, smartphones can take control of screens, listen to beacons to provide messaging on-location and even augment your view of the world via 3D content on your screen. But will you use it?
App developers and tech builders need to think about what their critical mass looks like. There will always be early adopters and experiential audiences, but where’s the value exchange? I use Facebook often because it connects me to my friends and family. Facebook monetise their service by advertising and by providing me an opportunity to engage with my favourite brands. That’s a decent value exchange. However, while your latest app might allow a nearby screen to flash up a brand I may (or may not) be interested in, I doubt that I would download it.
Let’s think hard about our end users and consumers. Put ourselves in their shoes. Consider their motivation for engaging with technology or a new service. Maybe then we’ll be able to start using headsets after all.