On the Ground at Wearables DevCon

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Recently, I got the opportunity to attend the Wearables DevCon conference in Burlingame presented by the folks at BZ Media. Yes, wearables are all the rage these days, with the media proclaiming praise for the possibilities wearables present, as well as the speculators in finance looking for the next big thing to pour money into.

From attending this conference, I got to see the seeds being planted for a future in which wearables are as ubiquitous as smartphones.

On the day I attended, Jenny Murphy, a staff developer programs engineer on Google Glass, gave an informative keynote that addressed how Google came to design Google Glass and what makes for a good user experience in regards to building apps.

Murphy shared with the attendees entertaining anecdotes of how Glass was developed. Before Glass came to resemble the sleek and small device that most people are presently familiar with, the first prototype actually consisted of a pico projector assembled with plastic sheets (the kind one would use to protect one’s homework assignment), coat hangers, and binder clips. It’s hard to imagine someone covering one’s head with that type of contraption, but the design team had to start with something, and Murphy said that in “under an hour we were walking around wearing a computer.”

As far as developers looking to create apps for Glass, Murphy urged them to really take into account the users and the device itself; you want users to experience a nonintrusive app that doesn’t get in the way of their daily lives. I know if I were wearing Glass, I wouldn’t want a stream of notifications beaming into my field of vision to tell me weather updates. Your app is going to be right in front of your user in his typical day; don’t annoy him with frivolous features. As Murphy said, “Software doesn’t take precedence over reality.”

If you want to start developing for Glass, Murphy pointed to Google’s GDK (Glass development kit) and the Google Mirror API. Regarding the GDK, Murphy said it’s helpful if you want to write software while you are offline, and it has direct access to the device’s sensors. If you have experience developing in Android, using the GDK might make you feel at home, while using the Google Mirror API, on the other hand, is language-independent and involves the use of timeline cards.  

However, it’s not a totally rosy picture for the future of wearables, as Ray Potter, founder and CEO of SafeLogic, detailed in his session that followed the keynote.

Potter pointed out how many current wearable devices don’t have very good security measures taken into account. He outlined scenarios involving the various ways one could use wearable technology for nefarious reasons. For example, if one were able to hack into a wearable device whose function is to give accurate blood pressure measurements, one could supply bad data to the device, thus giving incorrect readings. As wearable devices become more common in health care, addressing security issues is a major issue.

Other classes the conference offered included a helpful tutorial on using timeline cards for Google Glass, as demonstrated by Luis de la Rosa, lead application developer at Capital One. Participants who attended de la Rosa’s class got to learn helpful tips and tricks for using live cards, which he said “appear in the present and future section of the timeline and display information that is relevant at the current time.”

While Google Glass was definitely the major player at this conference, the expo floor showcased hardware and software companies demonstrating their devices in an attempt to woo developers to their platforms. Among the companies involved included Frontline Test Equipment, Intrinsic Software, and Sony Corporation.

All in all, I had a great time chatting with designers and developers and seeing first-hand how much interest there is out there from the developer community regarding wearables. While we are still in the infancy of this technology, going to this conference conjured up images in my mind of a future in which software is closer to the average person than ever before.