Google Glass vs. Apple's iWatch: When will screenphones become obsolete?

Posted by Rob Enderle

I recently read a rather interesting piece in the Atlantic about the advent of the Smart Watch. This prompted me to think about the upcoming battle between the iWatch, Apple’s rumored wrist mounted device, and Google Glass which puts the display in front of your face. 

It also got me thinking that if we start connecting the phone to secondary displays in homes, cars and even on people, well, perhaps we may reach a point where we no longer even need a display on the phone.

I think we could but it is some time off. Let me explain. 

iWatch vs. Google Glass

I actually think the iWatch could be more of an intermediate step getting us to where Google Glass is. Remember, Google Glass is itself an intermediate step before wiring directly into our optical nerve. What the iWatch does (based on rumors) is remote the display from an iPhone so you don’t have to pull the phone out of your pouch or pocket to see the display.  

While far handier than using the screen on the phone, the (initial) relatively small size does limit its use, but there is nothing that says the display couldn’t grow to rival the iPhone 5’s in size, particularly once we get bendable displays that could wrap around your arm. However, with a head mounted display and technology that make it look like you are projecting the display in front of you, the size limit is basically your field of view. Granted, if you blocked out your entire field of view getting around would be a problem - but certainly you could go far larger than with any wrist mounted device.  

Now what will make it difficult is that clearly touch won’t work with a head mounted display. However, gestures could - even with current technology - and this would likely mean mounting a Kinect like device on your head. Coupled with the already geeky glasses, the result would only be great for the guys on the Big Bang Theory.  But electronic items do get miniaturized over time and I’m sure one of the Apple designers with their options under water could be hired to create something more compelling.

iWatch + Google Glass

Then again, you could have Google Glass for some things like alerts and arrows pointing directions, while the watch could come in handy for tasks like SMS, IM, mail and entertainment. In fact, even for navigation you could simultaneously have the watch show a birds eye map view - while the glasses provide turn-by-turn prompts. Both devices working in concert would still keep the phone in your pocket, and with a combination of touch on the watch and voice, you’d be able to easily navigate around the screens and interface.

Making the iPhone Obsolete

But with this kind of shared real estate do you really need a redundant screen on the phone? Even for typing, either display could be used to showcase the document and you could also employ a small foldable keyboard for heavy jobs, while one handing the watch for light ones.   

People will undoubtedly have a difficult time giving up the screen, but the benefits would allow phones to be designed smaller, while not having to run the screen would also put far less drain on the battery. As we improve integration with ever smarter phones in TVs, car systems, and wearable accessories, the need for an on-phone screen may very well disappear in a decade or so.

Wrapping Up: 

Moving the display off the phone is inevitable. Eventually, perhaps in 20 to 50 years, the phone will become surgically attached to the body. Until then we are likely to explore a number of external displays from Smart Watches to Head Mounted, along with optimized integration with the displays in the home and car. And while it may be a long time before the phone loses its display all together, I do think it is the eventual direction this technology is taking us.