Between Google Glass and the recent announcement of Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch, wearable technology is on a vicious march towards omnipresence.
While Glass graces the nose of only a few, this is going to rapidly change as the next 18 months usher in a raft of wearable technologies that will no doubt change the fundamentals of human/machine interaction and learning.
Here's a breakdown and analysis of a few technologies grabbing the best of buzz.
Smartwatches with Samsung Galaxy Gear and Apple's rumored iWatch
Samsung wasn't exactly keeping this close to their vests, and were none too humble when announcing the Samsung Galaxy Gear at a Berlin launch event this week. Samsung's research director Pranav Mistry:
"Today, Samsung reinvents a centuries-old product. I can proudly say Galaxy Gear is a design statement, an engineering marvel and something that really redefines tomorrow."
Travel apps available at launch include Qunar and TripIt, and Samsung promises that most apps should function via the new interface seamlessly.
However, hands-on videos and pundits agree that the device still has some significant app integration hiccups (things have just not been seamless), and, at a price of $299, this is an extremely expensive device that offers limited screen space and still requires a compatible Samsung phone.
Comments such as "not another device to worry about" and "watch too bulky for your wrist, screen too small for your eye" are commonplace, and demonstrate the hurdles that wearable tech still has to overcome. Not everyone is sold on the addition of another screen to an already screen-saturated landscape.
Apple is also rumored to be entering the wearable technology space, and may introduce a competing product next week at a special press event. The iWatch would be the company's answer to the Galaxy Gear, and allow for iOS users to use the watch as a small interaction device without having to remove a phone from a pocket. The small iPods have already set a precedent, and this would be an easy leap for Apple.
For travel, smartwatches basically become a mini-screen that would perform many of the same functions as a phone. Weather, boarding pass reminders, gate updates, reservation information, QR codes, and all of the related information that fuels a traveler's trip, would be available right there on the wrist.
Directions are also a very useful area for smartwatches. Rather than having to stare down on a phone, travelers can simply use the watch - and a Bluetooth headset - to get the necessary directions. This would also reduce the likelihood of a distraction-related injury or a handset snatching thief.
Another implication would be battery life. Theoretically the watch should have a better battery life, and offload some smartphone interactions - thus increasing range of batteries during travels.
Finally, the smartwatch might finally herald the true Voice Age. The ability to speak into the watch, Dick Tracy-style, is obvious, and would change the way that user interfaces function. It would also mean that real-time response apps for customer service, bookings, directions or other concierge-style services, would have yet another means of interacting with customers.
Paired with a Bluetooth headset, it would also allow for e-mail dictations and other interactions with a user's smartphone, without having to remove a phone from the pocket.
Despite this potential advantages for travel, screen real estate is still squashed - and it's just not certain that a majority of folks will want to splash out on a smartwatch in addition to the expense of a smartphone. True utility will need to be proven to move this from a niche product to mainstream adoption.
Lifeblogging with Memoto
Memoto promises big: a wearable camera that pins to the chest (or wherever) and records 2 photos a minute. Users can set this to a faster setting if they like, providing a clear record of life lived.
Or, as Memoto puts it: "A tiny, automatic camera and app that gives you a searchable and shareable photographic memory."
Memoto is relatively new to the wearable technology game, and has yet to ship widely. The company was initially funded by a very successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over $500,000. However, this closed nearly a year ago and we've yet to see a product.
Like some Kickstarter tech projects, the funding was likely used to make the product a reality - so the team likely faced new hurdles and challenges as they tried to build and ship a product that had such successful backing from the crowd.
The Memoto is slated to retail for $279, a hair shy of Samsung's iWatch, but has a very different value proposition: lifeblog your life by taking 2 pictures a minute and storing them in the cloud. Images and lifelogs can be shared with social networks, or simply saved for later searching.
While travel companies will not have direct access to these devices - this is not an information display - Memoto does offer an intriguing new distribution channel for travel experiences. Travel bloggers become travel loggers, and perhaps losing that extra "b" will prove very lucrative as travel brands seek to share their branded experience with wider audiences.
Imagine: staff wearing cameras to share their experience in the destination, travelers posting specific shots of an area, or sortable destination books that showcase different perspectives on how to experience a destination.
These sorts of "always on" consumer cameras will also push an instant change in customer service opportunities - and bring a new meaning to crisis communications.
Imagine hundreds of camera-pinned consumers flying an airline every day, documenting every customer service issue: dirty toilets, rude staff, delayed departures, and any other horrible condition that up to this point was merely a smartphone shot away - if a guest happened to have it handy.
With the camera functioning always, there will be no escaping poor customer service - which will push good organizations to great while making it much harder for non customer-oriented companies to thrive.
Nonetheless, the marketing advantages of harnessing life bloggers should add an entirely new dimension to the concept of documenting travels. Multi-day, first-person time lapse will be a common reality - and provide a creative opportunity for travel brands to engage ever more closely with customers. And if Memoto takes off - where people are both using the camera and consuming the life blogs of others - sponsorships and placements in the lifeblog feed will most certainly follow.
All-in-one with Google Glass
Google Glass is currently the Holy Grail of wearable technology. It's what everyone is talking about, and has quickly become one of the year's hottest fashion accessories - the pinnacle of which has to be the "futuristic fashion" spread in this month's Vogue. Dubbed the "final frontier," Vogue clearly sees this device as somehow indicating the fulfillment of a '60s vision of the World of the Future.
As Tnooz contributor Alex Bainbridge wrote in a hotly debated article recently on Google's phased attack on travel, Google is steadily moving through four phases of travel and on the way to winning completely.
Travel startups were used to being ahead of the larger players. Now Google is ahead of the startups. Not a comfortable position for the newbies in travel to be in.
The article does a fantastic job at framing Google's moves as a very clear strategy toward total local domination, both in travel and in one's everyday life. Consider the following video, which is Google's promo for how Google's location-aware discovery app Field Trip integrates with Google Glass.
"Notice more," it promises. In a world already filled with information, Google is saying that a Heads Up Display to learn about every single place in the world is exactly the solution. Add in the photo-taking, e-mail reading and other features of Google Glass, and the makings of a cyborg are all pretty much ready to go.
This means that, in addition to wrists and chests, travel is going to be impacted by a digital presence right in front of travelers' eyeballs.
Indeed, Google Glass offers the most clear boon to travel. Combined with Google Now, directions to a hotel will seamless appear once leaving the airport. Reservation numbers and confirmation codes will no longer be elusive. TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews can pop-up on command when searching for a meal on foot.
Weather, delays and other disruptions can be instantly relayed - and quickly acted upon with a voice command. Facebook and Twitter postings geo-tagged from a wearer's location could boost social engagement as the wearer interacts with their friends' postings.
Google Glass also offers the Voice Age nirvana - although playing the "crazy or just bluetooth" game will now become much more complicated as folks with Glass and smartwatches are randomly mumbling commands in all directions.
Glass can take voice commands, and, as that becomes more sophisticated, become a trusted travel accessory that helps change flights, divert routes and fix problems quickly - or before they are even noticed by the Glass wearer.
Glass could also be a valuable customer service tool, where a front desk clerk uses facial recognition on Glass to immediately pull up a reservation before the guest has even reached the counter. Or where a customer service representative could video chat with a Glass wearer as they change a reservation, adding a personal touch.
Anything is possible on the app interaction front with the killer combination of location awareness and front-of-eye placement. And with the opening up of the API - and the announcement of the Google Glass app store in 2014 - there are bound to be countless innovations from travel-focused companies in this particular channel.
Wait...but do we even want this stuff?
Technology marches on towards a future of seamless integration, the Internet of Things, and always-on everywhere connectivity. Some see this as Utopia, others lean towards Dystopia. As these wearable technologies take off in earnest, the question must be asked: at what point have we gone too far?
What sorts of human interactions can be had with a person wearing a smartwatch, smartglasses and lifeblogging camera, all while toting a smartphone? Is this really the peak of humanity?
Or will the pendulum swing back towards the Luddites, and humans will collectively choose to reduce screens, focus on authentic interactions, and place value on the unrecorded experience before their eyes?
Or perhaps this is simply a technological way station on the way to eyeball-embedded life chips that provide all the funcationality we could ever need right there in our eyeball. We will no longer seek multiple screens to live technology-forward lives, but become complete cyborgs liberated from screen-like barriers to interaction.
A balance between these three states is likely to be reached, as tech-enabled humans begin to grasp more how to use technology as a tool and not be used like a tool by technology.
Travel can play a key role in this negotiation, as companies both choose to engage and enhance these tools while also encouraging "bare interactions" that deliver authentic, organically memorable experiences of the promoted destinations.
Travel should be focused on actually experiencing, and, at all turns, should be the advocates for the value of the world around us. What this means is up for interpretation - as is the future of wearable technology in the travel and hospitality industry.