Input paradigms for wearable computing
I’ve been tracking various input methods over the course of this blog, providing commentary on tablets, the death (and possible rebirth) of the stylus, touch computing and now with the Google Glass – wearable computing.
I hesitate to call the Glass a wearable computing device, putting it in the company of the clunky hardware of the past, but along with the new crop of smart watches, I think it’s still an accurate category.
Anyone who has followed the wearable computing space for a while will notice that most adherents use a device called a “twiddler” for text input. A twiddler is a one-handed keyboard-like device that allows the user to (rather slowly) touch type without having to look at the device or set it down.
Glass obviously doesn’t ship with a twiddler. Glass relies on voice commands instead. Of course there is nothing to prevent you from using the keyboard on your mobile device for text entry, but that hardly counts as a seamless heads-up experience that Glass promises.
We seem to have gotten used to people roaming the streets apparently talking to themselves when using hands-free devices, but are we ready for the full monty of the Glass camera pointing around and having people muttering to themselves all at the same time?
What about privacy of the wearer? Having to issue voice commands is hardly subtle in many environments.
Fortunately, the simple fact that Glass has persistent Bluetooth connectivity and a display can provide more feedback options than a simple twiddler. A system like Swype could work really well if the keyboard was projected to the wearer while input was received from the phone’s touch screen.
So several closing points:
- It seems unlikely to me that many people are going to embrace an input method that requires a separate device or a new learning curve.
- Most people are used to touchscreen keyboards by now, and most devices that are likely to be paired with the Glass already have them.
- Tactile feedback can be replaced by visual feedback by virtue of the heads-up display with modifications to the keyboard software.
In light of these points, I don’t see the twiddler making its way into the new crop of wearable devices. For heavy lifting, there are plenty of Bluetooth keyboards around if you don’t mind looking like you are typing off into space. For everything else there is your phone (duh!).
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Inset photo credit: Irene Yan