Today, it's easy to think of Google's circa-2013 experimental wearable as a technological dead-end. The web is full of think-pieces describing Glass as a solution in search of a problem, a project driven more by engineering and its designers' love of sci-fi than by consumer insight or marketplace research. But with the launch of the iPhone X, we think the nerdy headset is ripe for a reappraisal.
As you watched the big iPhone X reveal, did you note a phantom ache in your forearms? With each augmented reality app announcement, the X looked a little heavier, a little more awkward to hold at eye level. It's amazing to be able to watch a baseball game while the iPhone overlays player names and stats in real time, but how long can you really hold your phone up in your line of sight? How many rounds of a virtual tabletop strategy game can you play before you'll wish you could just put the phone down for a second without breaking the illusion?
The iPhone's strength is increasingly in its features, while its physicality - even as Apple strives to make it more sleek and jewel-like - has become a burden. Industrial designer Philippe Starck recently noted that the smartphone appears to be approaching the logical conclusion of design:
"All the intelligent parts of human production go with the strategy of dematerialization — less and less and less materiality, more and more and more intelligence. The computer was a very good example, and now the telephone is a fantastic example. That’s because in a telephone, only the image and the sound is important. And yes, we work to have less and less and less and less. ...That’s why we are really, with the telephone, in front of the end of dematerialization."
This philosophy appears to be on Apple's mind, with their continued development of the Apple Watch. Building in more sensors while also enhancing its autonomy, they seem close to cutting the Watch's link to the iPhone completely. And in the home and car, virtual assistants from every major technology player can perform many of a phone's functions without any display at all.
Siri or an Apple Watch will never fully replace the iPhone, though, because at the core of the device's appeal is its camera. A next-generation device will still need to see, and to relay that vision - filtered through AR - to its user, and thus a Glass-style headset starts to look less like a novelty and more like an inevitability.
Glass never really died, of course; earlier this summer, Google announced the launch of an Enterprise Edition model, which focuses on enhancing workers' productivity. And Microsoft's Hololens is a similar device with far more impressive visual specs, overlaying 3D AR imagery over the wearer's field of view.
Thus it seems as though Apple is playing the long game; riding the success of the iPhone, they can afford to let Google take all of the lumps for launching an odd, polarizing first-generation device, while waiting for consumers to become more comfortable with the concept of augmented reality. And when iPhone fans' arms finally get tired, we have to assume Apple will be ready with another big reveal.