What Mark Zuckerberg gets right about the future of wearables

The CEO of Facebook gets chatting about wearable tech but is he on the money?
Zuckerberg talks future of wearables

It's not surprising that the man who paid $2 billion for Oculus VR has plenty to say on where wearable tech is heading.

Mark Zuckerberg has talked about his plans to get Facebook on our face in the next decade in a couple of Q&A sessions this year, including a Townhall one on his social network in June. We've got to say the CEO was talking sense.

Essential reading: Hands on with Oculus Touch at E3 2015

In 10-15 years wearables will feel natural

When asked about his ten year vision for the social network, Zuck said "In another 10-15 years ... we can imagine there will be another platform [for Facebook] that's more natural and more built into our lives than mobile phones are right now. It's pretty easy to imagine that, in the future, we will have something we can wear." He also referenced the fact that the shift from desktop to smartphone took around ten years.

He's right. Wearable tech in its current form can feel like an add-on, a sometimes confusing or frustrating bunch of smartphone accessories. But in the future, more intuitive, reliable, useful and stylish wearables will mean that we use glasses, smartwatches and earbuds for our day to day communication and only whip our smartphone/phablet/tablet out when we need the bigger screen. That's not going to happen in the next year or even three years but we're getting there slowly.

Smart glasses won't look crazy

We're going to go out on a limb and say that Zuckerberg isn't a Google Glass man. When he said that in ten years we will wear a smart glasses device on our face that "doesn't look weird like some of the stuff we have today", he could only have been thinking of Google's troubled slice of the future. Sure, there's other attempts out there such as Sony's SmartEyeglass Developer Edition but not as high profile as Google Glass.

The future of Google Glass is in the platform, not the sci-fi design we've seen so far. And in 2015 we should see the first real products to come out of the partnership with RayBan maker Luxottica. There's also potential from this year's CES where Sony showed off a single lens display that attaches to existing frames.

We won't be looking down 24/7

The idea of pumping our News Feed straight to our retinas all day does sound intense. But Zuckerberg sees wearables, including smart glasses, as a way to stop us staring at smartphone screens so much.

"You'll just be able to get context about what's going on around you in the world," he said in January. "And communicate with people, and not have to disrupt your conversations by looking down."

There's more. "In the future we'll probably still carry phones in our pockets, but I think we'll also have glasses on our faces that can help us out throughout the day and give us the ability to share our experiences with those we love in completely immersive and new ways that aren't possible today."

We hear him. Already, tipping our wrist to see that the reason our smartwatch is vibrating is because a stranger has also commented on a Facebook photo is a massive timesaver. Compare to pre-smartwatch times when our phone would buzz, we'd see the notification, click it to launch Facebook, have a nose around for 15 seconds - all while a friend is pouring out their heart to us. Bad form.

Of course, there's an etiquette minefield to navigate when you start putting this info in a heads up display, which we'll be exploring more on Wareable.

Oculus is the future of VR

Zuck's comments on Oculus haven't been very controversial. He admitted that VR is in its early stages but said that Oculus is "by far the leader in VR". We're inclined to agree with him. No Oculus killers - apart from perhaps the HTC Vive - match the hi-res, high frame rate picture and improved audio of the Rift experience in terms of getting close to that holy grail of virtual reality: immersion. "We're working on VR because I think it's the next major computing and communication platform after phones," he added in the July Q&A.

Still, many Oculus fans will be relieved that Facebook has been letting the VR company do its thing since the acquisition. There's no signs yet of any interference but we're sure Zuckerberg and co are looking very closely at what's happening in the AR smartglasses space. In the next 10 years, we're sure that next $2 billion will be spent wisely on wearable tech.

At the end of June, he expanded on what he thinks the potential beyond VR is too - "We used to just share in text, and now we post mainly with photos," he said. "In the future video will be even more important than photos. After that, immersive experiences like VR will become the norm. And after that, we'll have the power to share our full sensory and emotional experience with people whenever we'd like."

AI is coming

If you're not getting into AI in 2015, you're already too late. The biggest companies on the planet - Google, Apple, Microsoft and yes, Facebook - are throwing money and talent at natural language processing, machine learning and strong artificial intelligence. Zuck doesn't go too much into the implications for smartglasses and VR but he is excited about the potential for improving Facebook's relevance and even using AI for social good.

"We're working on AI because we think more intelligent services will be much more useful for you to use. If we had computers that could understand the meaning of the posts in News Feed and show you more things you're interested in, that would be pretty amazing.

"Similarly, if we could build computers that could understand what's in an image and could tell a blind person who otherwise couldn't see that image, that would be pretty amazing as well. This is all within our reach and I hope we can deliver it in the next 10 years."

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