Apple gets a lot of credit for making us symbiotic with our technology.
You could take music with you before the iPod, but it was pretty awkward. Clumsy tapes, CDs that skipped when you bumped something, MP3s made and used by people who thought "lossless" meant you hadn't misplaced the digital music player...
The iPod made it cool and convenient to take all your music with you. It led to having so much music you can never find what you want, or never break out of the same 10-song loop that lasts the same amount of time as the walk on your commute, or time on the exercycle or length of that really boring staff meeting.
iPhones did the same for smart phones, changing what "smart" actually meant when paired with "phone." (Before that a "smart" phone let you complete a call without dropping it. That's more than the iPhone could do for a long time, but at least it had games you could play while you waited to reconnect.)
"Wearable" computers have been around in concept and in labs for a long time, always used only by the developers or the geekiest of the geeks (because they're the only ones who could make the things work or remember consistently to put them away before doing the laundry.)
Apple and Google are teaming up to make smartphones more portable – wearable, so you'll always have it with you, rather than in your pocket, so that Apple can sell more iPhones and Google can sell more advertising, according to the New York Times, which in this case appears to be correct. At least about the intent.
The facts themselves may be Apple insiders flogging their own coolness:
"A person with knowledge of the company’s plans told me that a “very small group of Apple employees” had been conceptualizing and even prototyping some wearable devices." – NYT, Dec. 18, 2011
First of all, I know "a person with knowledge of the company's plans." I've spoken to him and her, frequently, about many companies on many different stories.
He/she often does know things about the company's plans because he/she is either the product manager in charge of selling them or the PR person in charge of getting people to write about them.
Product managers and PR people are professional touts. That's not necessarily dishonorable, but it does mean even at their best you have to take what they say with a grain of salt.
When they have to go that far off the record, they're unusually unreliable and the amount of salt required goes up.
In this case the revelations aren't that exciting, so they probably have a higher level of reliability than most predictions with similar attributions.
Apple prototypes, separate the parts of the phone with which you view information from the parts that compute it, according to "people familiar with work in the lab," (who are similar to those who have knowledge of the company's plans, but come later in the tour of the building being led by one PR person and a product manager, both of whom swore you to secrecy before admitting to their own existence).
The conceptual products might display information from the screen of an iPod Nano worn as a watch; the guts of an iPhone are stuck in your pocket somewhere.
Another possibility is to make the iPhone screen curved so you can wear it like a wide bangle bracelet.
Both predictions focus on the form factor of the hardware involved, which is the myopic view.
Wearable computers a la Apple may be sleeker than the boxy prototypes from the MIT Media Lab, but they're still just the hardware.
In mobile computing, the real impact is what you do with the computer, and from where you do it.
Computer displays in eyeglasses, contact lenses and other highly portable form factors, and ubiquitous connections to location data, games, images, news, entertainment, music and anything else on the net, will blur the line between the virtual world and the real one, according to Michael Liebhold, a senior researcher at the Institute for the Future quoted in the NYT piece.
“Kids will play virtual games with their friends, where they meet in a park and run around chasing virtual creatures for points,” the NYT quoted Liebhold as saying.
I have no doubt it's coming. I have no doubt Apple is working on something it can sell for an unreasonably high price that will help make it common.
I have no doubt applications are being developed that will make augmented reality more useful than just giving us the ability to translate signs in foreign languages, identify songs we hear from sources not in our own clothes or identify nearby coffee houses offering discount coupons.
I just don't like seeing the highly suspicious predictions and information from "people" being taken as gospel in the New York Times.
It may be true, at least on Apple's product roadmaps and calendars. I just don't like seeing "people" as the only fact-providing sources on a story this fluffy (you find the national security angle that would justify the use of only anonymous sources).
No matter how convenient, cool and wearable our computers become, they'll still only be a conduit for the information we get through them.
If more and more of that information comes from "people" hiding their identities and touting products they hope they'll eventually be able to produce and sell, we might be better off sticking with the old, clunky technology we have to stick in a pocket instead.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.