Talking computers, voice activated watches and internet enabled glasses – wearable tech is an undeniable trend that is set to take off. With devices being launched by Google, Apple and Samsung, it appears that our desire for the futuristic is unquenchable. By 2018, the wearable tech market will be worth an estimated $8 billion (Wearable Electronics Market), and this figure is set to sky-rocket. But who will win the battle of wearable tech? And is the writing already on the wall?
Google is staking its claim by launching Android Wear, of which the most prominent products will be Google Glass and their take on the smart watch. For the smart watch, Google is in direct competition with Apple’s “iWatch“and Motorola’s “Moto 360“, but Google is set to flatten all competition. Furthermore, has Google already won the battle of wearable tech?
To understand why we have to ask exactly what do we want from wearable tech. When asking around the office, I got responses like:
- Voice Activation.
- The ability to understand questions and deliver answers.
- The ability to interface with the internet of things.
- Contactless payments etc.
So what significant leaps have there been in how we use search engines now that will affect how we will interface with our tech in the future? A good place to start is the world of talking computers with the conversational search functionality…
** Caution: This article contains opinions**
You can now talk to Google. And even better, Google talks back. But the real seismic leap is that Google understands semantically what your question means. A great example can be found in this article by Search Engine Land.
If you ask “How old is Barrack Obama?”, Google will reply in its lady-like, robo-voice with “51 years old“. Very good, but then it starts to get really interesting. You follow-up with ” How tall is he?” and Google recognises the meaning of “he” as a personal pronoun and replies with ” He is 6 foot 1″.
This is not just processing your previous search query. Google is understanding that Barrack Obama is a person and enters into conversation with you based on that pretext. This is natural language processing, and is a massive step forward in the relationship between man and machine.
Have a play around! Conversational search is now available on the Google Chrome app and can be accessed by clicking the microphone button on the right hand side of the search bar (or on the keypad of your smartphone).
Conversational search is even more impressive when combined with the fact that Google knows who you are and where you are. Ask “will it rain tomorrow?” and Google replies with the full weather forecast for my postcode. A chance of rain? No surprises there, considering its April in the UK…
So Google is now providing answers, not just links. And this is exactly what we want from our user-able tech: instant access to the answers of our questions. Think Trinity directly downloading a “how to fly a helicopter” programme in The Matrix (granted, still a lot less cool) .
But how is Google doing this? By using the Google Knowledge Graph…
Knowledge is Power
“When you search, you’re not just looking for a webpage. You’re looking to get answers, understand or explore“. This is Google’s raison d’être for knowledge graph which was first released in May 2012. Knowledge graph is a knowledge base integrated into Google searches that uses information drawn from sources such as Freebase, Wikipedia and Google+.
The problem is that the database is curated by people, and unsurprisingly people find it tricky to process an almost infinite amount of information. Because of this, there are massive holes in what knowledge graph knows. Google is trying to plug up these holes by updating how knowledge graph works.
So what’s new about the knowledge graph? Google has begun (since Jan 2014) using its index to pull the information from websites to plug these holes in its knowledge graph. Now a box will appear above organic search results with a snippet from a website containing the answer to your question.
What this means is Google now has the capability to turn all the information on the web into a question and answer format. Google can understand what your question means, not just pick up on keywords. What’s more, Google is able to deliver the answer directly to you, instead of just providing a list of websites it believes are likely to have your answer.
Combine this with conversational search and Google is speaking your answer back to you. This man-machine interfacing is exactly what we are looking for when evaluating the usefulness of wearable tech, and this is where Google is miles ahead of Siri. Siri may be able to pull up a Wikipedia article for you, but the sheer volume of information is uncatalogued and therefore inaccessible.
What about interfacing with your other devices? Wouldn’t you want your smart watch to be able to turn on the cooker? Or select your favourite CD? Again, Google has your back…
The Internet of Things
In Jan 2014, Google acquired home tech company Nest. Traditionally, their products included internet-connected thermostats, fire detectors and the like. But Google is taking this one step further. Want to be able to cook with your voice? No problem. Book a hair appointment or organise your wardrobe? Google has it covered.
Be it the start of a “Big Brother-esque” dystopia, or a utopia powered by information liberation, the internet of things is coming. And Google is leading the way…
It doesn’t matter if it is via your computer, watch or shower, Google has the capabilities to bring the internet of things into reality. Sure, other companies have the ability to create voice activated devices, but where Google stands out is the technology it has developed for search services. The information revolution has relied on the categorisation and processing of vast amounts of data to provide an output that is useful to the user. And this is where Google is holding the trump card…
The Writing is on the Wall
So, Google holds the information key to what we are looking for in wearable tech. They have the information, the algorithm and the natural language processing to bring the means of accessing knowledge to the knowledge itself.
Sure Apple, Motorola, Sony and the like will develop great devices. And sure, they will make these devices into a commercial success.
But it’s not so much that there will be losers in the battle of wearable tech, so much as there will be a clear winner – at least for the foreseeable future.
This is because better devices make it is easier for people to access the information they want, when they want it. The easier it is to access information, the more searches people will make, and the more opportunities will be created for marketers to place there products in front of the consumer. Ultimately, this means an ever increasing revenue stream for the Google advertising machine. So no matter what brand sells the most devices, Google will always be the winner. Because Google can do one thing they can’t – find the information people need.