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You Wear It Well: Wearable Computers as Productivity Tools

Dan Giancaterino on 11/19/2013

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Education Services Manager, Jenkins Law Library

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Over the last few years the iPhone, iPad and Android-based phones and tablets have made us more mobile and connected. Now many people are talking about "wearable computing" -- smart devices such as glasses and watches. Are they a fad? Can attorneys actually use them as productivity tools?

Smart Glasses

Google Glass is the only smart glasses product currently on the market.[1] And I'm using the phrase "on the market" rather loosely -- the first generation model of Glass was released in April to a select group of beta testers who were willing to shell out $1,500 for the privilege of testing it. That circle is slowly widening. In late October Google announced that it was allowing testers (called "Glass Explorers") to invite 3 friends to join the program.

For the uninitiated, Google Glass resembles a pair of eyeglasses without traditional lenses. One side of the frame contains an interactive display the size of a postage stamp that allows the wearer to retrieve information, take notes, get directions, send messages, check calendars, take pictures, and record video.

That sounds great, but it will require you to master a series of not-completely-intuitive gestures -- taps and swipes using your index finger -- on a touchpad near your temple in order to navigate the "cards" in your "timeline". Here's what it looks like:

YouTube Video

If you wish, you can also use voice commands such as "OK Glass, take a picture." There's even evidence buried in Google Glass' code indicating that eye controls -- winking (to take a picture) and double-blinking -- will someday be implemented.

All this finger waving, talking to yourself ("Will it rain tomorrow?") and winking might just make you a social pariah. (There's even a term for it: "glasshole".) Despite that, I believe Glass has the potential to be another effective legal productivity tool. Here are just a few of the ways that a mobile, tech-savvy attorney can use Glass:

  • Recording video depositions.

  • Creating photo (or video) vignettes -- for example, a picture of a crash scene with the time and weather conditions in an overlay box in the upper right-hand corner. Here's a short video that will give you a feel for what vignettes look like:

    YouTube Video
  • Performing hands-free research using voice search. The following video, "20 Searches [through Google Glass]" shows you how easy it is to get instant gratification information:

    YouTube Video

Yes, the Google engineer featured in the video is searching for flight information while he's driving to the airport. He helped design Google Glass, so he can pull that trick off successfully. Please don't even think about doing this until you become as proficient with the device as he is. You'll also run the risk of getting a ticket for driving with a visible video monitor, which happened to one Glass Explorer in California in late October.[2]

On second thought … just don't do this.

I don't think wearable devices such as Glass will truly become accepted legal productivity tools until we see some ethics opinions setting standards for acceptable use. Also, the price will need to come down from the current $1,500 range or this will remain a niche (geek) product.

Smart Watches

The commercial that introduced us to the Samsung Galaxy Gear was pure genius, evoking 80 years' worth of iconic timepieces worn by Dick Tracy, George Jetson, Inspector Gadget, and others:

YouTube Video

It's a shame that the watch itself doesn't fulfill the promise of the video. (In fairness to the Galaxy Gear, none of the other smart watches do, either.) It's not that the Galaxy Gear is useless. It lets you accomplish a lot of useful tasks that you would normally perform on your smartphone: dictating notes or text messages, calling contacts, adding calendar events, getting alerts, even seeing the current weather. You can also download third party apps for the device. (You'll have to get used to speaking to your wrist. But really -- is that any more dorky than waving your finger around your ear with Google Glass?)

The problem is that the Galaxy Gear (and every other smart watch) has a huge design limitation: it has to be tethered to a smartphone. This makes the device, in the words of one reviewer, "relentlessly inessential".[3] I can already use the Google Voice Search app on my Android phone to create a calendar event, set a notification for a specific time, get directions, dictate an email or a text message or a note to myself, play music or open an app. Why would I spend $300 on a watch that replicates all that? Why bother carrying 2 devices in order to do the same stuff that I can do with one?

Smartphone-linking can also lead to some really frustrating compatibility issues. At launch the Galaxy Gear only worked with 2 specific Samsung phones. This was extended to a few more Samsung devices a month later. If you have another Android-based smartphone from a different manufacturer, you're out of luck. Ditto if you have an iPhone.

Obviously smart watches are a work-in-progress. We'll have to wait and see if the devices rumored to be in production by Google [4] and Apple [5] succeed where their predecessors have stumbled.


Google Glass has the potential to be a useful productivity tool if the price comes down and you can get over the geekiness factor. Smart watches, on the other hand (no pun intended), seem to me to be a solution in search of a problem.


[1] The smart glasses market may get a bit more crowded next year. Both Microsoft (online.wsj.com) and Samsung (blogs.wsj.com) are rumored to be developing competitors to Google Glass.

[2] California Woman Gets the First Ticket for Driving with Google Glass (glassalmanac.com)

[3] Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch: Relentlessly inessential (venturebeat.com)

[4] Google Nears Smartwatch Launch (online.wsj.com)

[5] LG Display to get nod on Apple's iWatch screen - report (news.cnet.com)

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