The media world just got used to producing content for mobile — and it’s already facing the next challenge: Soon, people could consume information on a device like Google’s Project Glass. An internet-connected set of glasses with a small display, able to overlay information on top of the real world. That’s a huge change, argues Atlantic writer Alexis Madrigal in a recent post titled “The World Is Not Enough: Google and the Future of Augmented Reality.” In it, he writes:
“Imagine you’ve got a real-time, spatial distribution platform. Imagine everyone reading about the place you’re writing about is standing right in front of it. All that talk about search engine and social optimization? We’re talking geo-optimization, each story banking on the shared experience of bodies co-located in space.”
The article is a great piece of tech writing; if you haven’t done so, you should definitely head over to the Atlantic’s website and read it in its entirety. But it also made me think: Who says media is the only thing that is going to change once we use a display that doesn’t function as a separate information entity, but instead overlays bits and pieces onto our view of the real world? And what about that camera, ready to capture whatever we see at any given time?
Chances are, the effects of Project Glass or devices like it are going to be felt far beyond the media world. Case in point: Google first introduced the device at its I/O developer conference earlier this year, and gave developers a chance to sign up for first beta versions of the device on the spot. I see that as a good indicator that Google is going to allow developers to build their own apps for Glass, with code either running directly on the device, or an API that gives apps running on your Android phone a way to exchange data with your Glass device.
Which begs the question: If your apps aren’t just running on a phone or a tablet anymore, but essentially on top of the real world — what kind of apps do you build?
It’s a fascinating question, and I suspect that we can only scratch the surface of it without actually having access to this kind of technology. But even with as little as we know now about Glass, possibilities abound:
- Your video memory: An app could use the Glass camera and record videos of any conversation you have during the day. These videos could then be run through Google’s automatic captioning algorithms, which would instantly make them full-text searchable. Can’t remember the title of that book someone told you at that part last night? Just search your video memory, and you’ll be able to buy a copy with a few clicks. (Of course, this also gives Google’s goal of organizing “the world’s information and [making] it universally accessible and useful” a whole new meaning.)
- The quantified world: Project Glass could take the idea of the quantified self to a whole new level. Fitbit may be able to track your exercise and sleep rhythm, but what if apps could track everything around you, turn it into data and guide your lifestyle choices? Your Glass app may notice that you haven’t seen all that much nature today, and suggest a walk in the park. Or maybe it will gamify social interaction. Got a smile from the cute barrista at your favorite coffee shop? Achievement unlocked!
- Speaking of games: Can you imagine all the social gameplay that an internet-connected Glass display could enable? Forget MMORGs – it’s time for massively multiplayer live action gaming, where game play on computers and cell phones is extended with real-world action. Think Assassin on steroids.
Those are admittedly wild guesses, and chances are, we won’t really know what’s possible until developers actually have access to Glass. But why not collect a few ideas in the mean time? Feel free to leave your own thoughts on apps for the real world in comments — and make sure to check out GigaOM’s RoadMap conference next week in San Francisco to hear more about designing for a connected future.