OK. Now you struck a nerve. Parsable started as a wearables software company five-plus years ago, and wearables continue to be a thorny subject. Back in the day, you needed a belt pack that would rival Batman to keep them going for half a day. And the screen real estate looked like an Atari 2600. The early offerings were incredibly fragile as well. Touch it with a gloved hand and say goodbye to $1,500. The helmet versions used to burn people’s heads as the batteries discharged. Oh, and the operating systems … ugh. Take Android, add one eye of newt and one wing of bat and hope it doesn’t crash for a couple of hours. So, essentially we had a postage stamp to field our software in, that might work for a couple of hours on a good day. Not exactly a winning formula.
As soon as we fully experienced this circus, we went platform agnostic and decided not to swim up-stream. What was true then is still true now. In everyone’s pocket is a powerful supercomputer in the form of an IoS or Android device. What is even better is that people have already trained themselves to use them. They get the icons. They get the navigation. They already know how to do almost every routine.
We continue to experiment with wearables, but in our opinion, they aren’t quite there yet. This is born out in the field. We’ve been in virtually every type of company that is considering or deploying a connected worker strategy this year and we just don’t see them at all except in labs and at events on card tables covered with startup tablecloths. Their natural habitat seems to be aerospace, but like a cheetah, you’ll be lucky to get a glimpse of one at all let alone one in action.
Our original thesis was that this would already be big and it’s quite possible they still will be. If so, we’ll be the first in line to partner with the best and deploy our software. Our belief, though, is that they will be part of the mix, but still a relatively specialty product when the benefit of a visual overlay really matters.
As an example of the miles yet to traverse for wearables, is the continued debate on the one eyepiece monitor. From drawing board, it seems like a very sensible solution. A friend of mind was in military intelligence for the Israeli military. He told me they experimented with all kinds of wearables with one eyepiece. What was true then is still true now. Humans default to stereoscopic vision and if you try to split this, they get vertigo, headaches, or worse. There are other approaches, of course. Another one I saw at a conference this year looked like a bicycle helmet from the movie Tron. If you didn’t get laughed to death by your overalled buddies, you might get run over by a forklift due to the lack of peripheral vision.
We should acknowledge that this pioneering work in augmenting humans deserves our respect and applause. The best wearables have 150 or more patents in them. They have solved monumental technical challenges. Micro heat syncs that work to dissipate incredible amounts of heat from the batteries. Batteries that can go for 10+ hours. Tiny screens that effectively give you as much real estate as a desktop. Great audio pick-up even in noisy environments. The ability to use standard operating systems to run these devices. These hardware developers are some of the very best in the world.
The issue is that it is bloody hard to augment a human. When they pull it off with a mainstream or even a well-deployed wearable, we’ll be there to help humans execute work with these devices. For now, it is a small universe with test software solving small pieces of much bigger problems.
The immediate answer has been right under our noses, literally, for some time. Walk down any street in any major city and you see them. They are moving, yet totally immersed. I call them the “cell zombies.” These are individuals that have self-augmented. They are us and we are them. No training. No ramp-up time. No vertigo medicine.
Wearables will win a portion of the wearable market, but I see needs morphing further before they fully get there. With 5G, we’ll get pinpoint accuracy in the factory and in the field. Pair that with an earpiece and voice, and you have a pretty sweet solution for a lot of tasks.
So, thanks for the wearables, boss. I know they cost you a boatload so we’ll keep testing them, but our test subjects keep asking us if they can just use their smartphones.