Will Google Glass and Wearable Technology Replace Smartphones?

google-glass2Every day that the Google Glass gets closer to market, the question becomes more pervasive among mobile consumers: will the Glass and the wearable technology movement it will undoubtedly set in motion spell doom for smartphones like Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy?

Even the most ardent supporters of the Glass probably wouldn’t go that far. For one thing, Google’s wearable device – which puts all the features of a smartphone, from phone connectivity to online networking, all the way to features like video chat and navigation, into a sleek, next-gen headset – has yet to set a release date.

The product has been in Google’s research and development pipeline since 2012, and the company has been taking to heart observations and criticisms from its beta testers (called Glass Explorers) and using them to improve the Glass. But while Google has made efforts to build buzz by getting the Glass into new sets of hands – on April 15, Google temporarily opened up its Explorer program to anyone willing to pay the $1,500 price tag – and while industry analysts have repeatedly predicted a late 2014 release date, just in time for the holidays, Google has not yet given any concrete announcements on timing. Compared to Apple, which unveils a new iPhone model every autumn, like clockwork, the unpredictable nature of the Google Glass timeline could keep the device from catching on right away.

A Very Expensive Piece of Glass

Another factor that could keep the Google Glass from replacing smartphones as the mobile standard is price. Google has thus far been requiring its testers to pay $1,500 for a headset, and there is no reason to expect that the price will drop significantly before the device finally arrives on the consumer marketplace. Part of the reason that smartphones have become so ubiquitous is that they come with affordable price tags. Sure, outside of contract, a new iPhone 5S costs $500 or $600, but mobile carriers have helpfully subsidized those prices and made it possible for customers to get their hands on Apple’s fanciest gadget for around $200 and a couple years of phone service.

In order for the Google Glass to become a cultural essential like the iPhone (or any other smartphone) has, it would need a backer willing to subsidize the cost. Even then, it’s doubtful that the device will be available for under $1,000, meaning that it is more in line with the price range of Apple’s laptops than with Apple’s phones. And that’s only if mobile carriers decide to pick up the Google Glass and push it with the vehemence that they have pushed smartphones since the day the first iPhone came along in 2007. In other words, the chances of Google Glass becoming the next “everyone has one” item are fairly slim.

The Plateau of Smartphone Innovation

Then again, smartphones have been starting to slow down as far as innovation is concerned, leaving the mobile community wide open for the next big leap forward. Looking back at the history of mobile technology, it’s clear that consumers are constantly looking for the “next big thing.” Car phones from the 1990s gave way to the remote-control-sized cell phones of the early 2000s, which themselves were usurped by the more compact design of the flip phone. For a brief moment in the middle of the last decade, it looked like Blackberry had the inside track on the next phase of mobile technology, with a full-sized physical keyboard, a slew of different features, and even a small modicum of internet browsing capability.

When the iPhone came along, however, it was clear that it was going to be the device to define the next decade of the mobile sector. More than just being a phone with Apple-level design aesthetics, or an iPod with communicative ability, the iPhone envisioned an entirely new future, giving users a handheld device that could feasibly do everything their computers could. The smartphone industry has been adopting the principles of the original iPhone, but each new generation of products has been coming up with fewer and fewer new features and twists on the initial formula.

Quite simply, there isn’t much that mobile developers can do to improve upon the older models anymore other than adding faster processors, doubling the storage capacity, and tweaking the aesthetics. But unlike earlier stages of mobile technology, smartphones aren’t hitting a wall because of inherent limitations in their design or their features. On the contrary, they are running out of places to go because it is impossible to improve upon perfection, and Apple, Samsung, and perhaps a few other smartphone developers have arguably achieved perfection (or at least something close to it) with their recent products.

Same Features, New Package

Since smartphones are not obsolete in the least, don’t expect them to disappear or run out of gas at any point in the near future. The Google Glass (and wearable gadgetry in general, which is supposedly the next big movement in the technological sphere) won’t do anything to change that fact, because unlike the initial iPhone, it isn’t a game-changer. Sure, it will allow customers to experience the functions of a smart device in a new way, and will render everything hands-free, which is obviously an important touch, but at the end of the day, the Google Glass is still just presenting familiar features in a new package.

Just as iPads and tablets ported the functions of the iPhone and of smartphones in general over to a bigger package, the Google Glass will now transfer those features into a sleek headset that looks like it came out of a science fiction movie. Like the iPad though, the Glass will remain a luxury while the iPod and other smartphones remain essentials. That doesn’t mean that wearable technology won’t bring interesting new ideas into the fold, but since studies have shown that most Americans aren’t keen to make the jump over to wearable gadgets just yet, it’s fairly easy to say that, even if a product does come along and render smartphones obsolete, the Google Glass isn’t it.