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Watch out for those new glasses

Not too long ago, phones were dumb and would not tell you jokes even if you beg them. The tablet as we know it did not exist and mobile computing was largely unpopular. Today, it is all but surprising to see the likes of iPhone and iPad under the fingertips of dozens of people on just one car of the MTR.

However, for gadget makers, the need to fish your phone out of your pocket is simply too much of a hassle. (Think 1997, when people needed three different devices just to call someone, send an email, and photograph their Caffè Latte.) Their solutions are gadgets that you can wear.

Google's latest – and possibly its most ambitious – venture is an augmented reality display called Google Glass. In a video released in early February, the futuristic-looking device is shown performing tasks that, however anti-climatic it may sound, most modern smartphones are doing these days. The difference is Glass users would not have to move a finger, let alone a limp.

With the camera, GPS, and microphone on board, Google Glass can take voice commands from users to take photos, give visual turn-by-turn direction, and carry out Google searches.

The Mountain View-based company is not the only one that is marching towards wearable gadgets. Apple, Google's arch-rival in mobile computing, is reportedly developing a wristwatch computer with curved glass that can communicate with the company's iDevices. Engineering feats asides, it is no small news that two of the biggest, most influential tech giants are showing similar outlooks on future gadgetry.

The rumoured iWatch and the Glass seem a step forward that enables us to get more information with less effort. The Glass, for one, would essentially liberate our hands. The advantage is akin to that of walking on two legs over crawling on all fours. With the Glass, users do not even have to stop walking if they want to look for directions to a restaurant. In fact, they would not even have to pull their hands out of their pockets!

However, some sceptics are quick to argue that asking people to put gadgets on their face is a miserably absurd idea that is doomed to fail.

Google understands that some people, not to mention technophobes, may not find wearing a computer on their face appealing. But a report by social-media analytics company Netbase, published last year in the Wall Street Journal, showed that 77 per cent of people on social networks were "excited" about the Glass, and only about 20 per cent were "skeptical" or thought it was "too much".

Google is well-aware of the style factor, something that Apple has triumphed in recent years, and it is reportedly teaming up with eyewear maker Warby Parker to work out a fashionable (Read: acceptable) look for the Glass, ideally without having to compromise on functionality. Naturally, the next generation of the Glass will also improve in size and longevity.

Another popular criticism is about how more accessible information technology does not improve the quality of living and, on the contrary, risks further downgrading interpersonal communication.

The long-running argument is usually supported by grim scenarios where, because of powerful new gadgets, nobody talks to each other at the dinner table or on the family couch. If the logic stands, however, the Hong Kong government should really consider banning newspapers in Chinese restaurants to encourage news obsessed fathers to converse with their children. At the end of the day, it is the user that makes the call. People should not shift the blame to the tools when they fail to respect others' feelings.

Some of the fears for these gadgets are impulsive, the privacy concern, on the other hand, is real. If someone hacks into your computer, he may be able to get the video feed from your webcam and monitor all your activity before the screen. If your high-tech glasses are hacked, though, the hacker would be able to stalk you and see virtually everything you see, you can imagine the rest.

Such scenarios can be prevented with the considerable ease of a click or two and moderate digital literacy. Although just as there are people who whine about how Facebook took away their privacy, the service providers should go one step further to educate users in human language (trust me, most people do not read the 119-page end user legal agreement before they choose "I Agree"). Regulators should also always keep a vigilant eye on malicious activities on the cloud which can escalate into a threat to national security.

Although neither Google nor Apple was the first company to attempt to popularise wearable electronics, they are big players who have a proven record of pushing changes in the world of gadgets in a short amount of time. Apple, for one, has created a whole new category of product (tablet computers) and turned it into a demand of millions of people. Their effort may once again completely change the way we communicate with the rest of the world. The year is 2013.

Reported by Alan Wong 

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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