I just turned 27 and this year was the year all my friends sent me emoji to say Happy Birthday. Party hat emoji. Dancing lady emoji. Balloon. Gift. Cake. Wine glass. Sun. More cake emoji.
None of my friends outside the tech world really own smartwatches yet so I didn't receive any animated Apple Watch emoji. But it certainly marked a change from past birthdays. Aged 10: birthday cards. Aged 15: phone calls. Aged 19: Facebook posts. Aged 21: Texts. Aged 24: WhatsApp messages. Aged 26: WhatsApp selfie videos.
How we chat is changing and wearable tech is going to play a much bigger part in that change in the next five years. In 2020, when we say we'd "tap that" will we mean the flirty multiple choice question that just popped up on our smartwatch screen? Will we even chat to each other or will we be too busy talking to our AI assistants and in-game characters?
Taps, bleeps and blinks
From a purely practical point of view, our day to day chats will be boiled down from the same old "Is there milk in the flat?" texts that you send once a week to buzzes on your wrist, hand drawn scrawls, GIFs, micro voice notes and blinking LEDs that tell you what you need to know with minimal time and effort for both parties.
Both the Apple Watch and Android Wear are moving in this direction with Digital Touch scribbles, animated emojis and shareable heartbeats on the Watch and the more recent addition of similar watch-to-watch quick communications via Together on Android Wear smartwatches.
One of our top Apple Watch app picks is Dart which takes advantage of tapping the smartwatch's touchscreen. It allows you to send a question (up to 200 characters) via email with multiple choices to tap and choose on the go.
Smart jewellery such as the smart ring Ringly and modular Altruis system allows you to preset contacts and keywords as well as the intensity of the vibration and, in the case of Ringly, the colour of the small LED. These can be used for reminders but also so that you know exactly who is getting in touch without ever looking at a screen.
As well as questions, moans and jokes, we will also share quantified self and smart home stats the way we share screenshots and YouTube videos in 2015. There's a trend towards gamifying fitness and health, in other words sharing your progress and getting feedback from friends, other Fitbit users or your personal trainer helps you towards your goals. As more apps and services talk to each other, it will become easier to boast, trade tips and ask for advice in just a few taps on our wearables.
Kicking back in VR
Almost the exact opposite of classy-looking wearables letting us communicate in private, bordering on sneaky ways is Mark Zuckerberg's plan for the future of communication.
This involves strapping on an Oculus Rift and sharing virtual spaces, like the Oculus Cinema, as well as virtual, 360 degree content via Facebook with friends. The Oculus Cinema app for Rift and Gear VR, which places you in a fake screen with rows of empty seats, is getting a long distance social and multiplayer update that, according to Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, will allow you to 'see' avatars of your friends in the same environment.
With voice and instant messaging in place and even haptic touch controls and feedback being explored, VR could bring a whole new meaning to teleconferencing, not to mention Netflix and chill. It's not just Facebook either, everyone from artists to startups like AltSpaceVR are figuring out how to make virtual reality social.
Augmented body language
The rule is that 55% of our communication is through body language and wearable tech might get involved in this aspect of our lives too.
CuteCircuit's tweet broadcasting dresses might be a step too far but maybe our social conventions can expand to accommodate protected fashion for introverts who want to signal that we're invading their personal space.
Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht's dresses employ various bits of connected tech from LEDs to territorial 'attack' collars, based on biometric signals, to attract and repel passersby. Think of the pieces as the future wearable tech equivalent of crossing your arms, letting your eyes slide off to the side and humming in an uncomfortable way.
Finding AR messages in the real world
With cash being thrown at Magic Leap and both Google and Intel working on the tech to make a real Luxxotica partnership a reality, AR smartglasses are on the verge of being wearable.
Google Glass already gave us the 'see what I see' video calling feature but new AR messaging apps such as Traces and Taggar, both for smartphones at this point, give us a good idea of how augmented reality could be used to communicate in new ways. Both the apps allow you to attach a visual AR message to a physical location or object making the time, location and recipient of the message incredibly specific.
Smartphones and wearables mean we can reach our family and friends no matter where they are on the planet. But these new AR apps could add both delight and efficiency to how we send messages.
My artificial best friend
Wearable tech won't just tweak how we chat, it will also alter who - or what - we chat to. As Google Now, Siri and Cortana use speech recognition algorithms and machine learning to become more sophisticated, we will have more and more conversational ... voice conversations with our AI assistants via hearables, brooch-like communicators and smart home hubs.
Wearables including Disney's new Playmation line and the Apple Watch are also taking advantage of the role imagination has to play when we don't want to spend 12 hours looking at a screen.
Watch games like Lifeline and Spy_Watch use its push notification functionality to send smartwatch gamers messages from in-game characters (in these cases, an astronaut and a rookie spy) and voice companies like Nuance have confirmed it is working on working on conversational voice interactions with Telltale Games-style titles.
Happy Birthday in 2020
The year is 2020 and I'm turning 32 (yikes). As soon as I pop my almost invisible hearable into my ear, a stream of adorable voice notes from my friends, family, AI assistant and best-loved fictional characters start playing.
I get nudges to my slim, semi precious bracelets every time I receive a message containing the word 'birthday' and an AR treasure hunt to find my gifts. I have two parties - one real, one virtual so everyone can make it - and I'm late to both of them. And, possibly because they've forgotten how to spell, my friends send me 2020's trendiest birthday emojis.
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