It is clear that in 2013, the emergence of smart glasses is having a dramatic impact on the digital storytelling experience. I had the unique opportunity to interview Brian Ballard, the CEO of APX-Labs, who is focused on building software that brings smart glasses to life. Ballard also will be speaking about this subject at Talk NYC's ENGAGE: The NYC Digital Storytelling Conference on April 10, 2013. Our full conversation is below.
Smith: Where does storytelling fit in with smart glasses?
Ballard: Glasses are a very personal device - they 'intrude' on your visual experience in an unparalleled way. This amplifies their impact, both good and bad. So, they raise the game for content providers, brands and those third parties looking to make a connection in some way with a person.
Secondly, smart glasses enable a whole range of scenarios that were impossible before. They are real-time and in-context -- creating unique moments for engagement that no other device can deliver. Content can be highly personalized as TV/movie content publishers and marketers are able to engage individuals through their glasses based upon preferences as they are viewing digital media (or even non-digital media that has a "hook" into the virtual world).
Smith: What will it take for user adoption of smart glasses to become more mainstream?
Ballard: The most obvious is that a quality, low-cost, good-looking hardware device needs to exist. We think this is the year when we will start to see all these criteria being hit by a handful of companies. But just as importantly, the devices themselves don't actually do anything--they need a software platform that can power the user experience on these devices and a software system that connects them to other users, applications, sensors and data sources. This software is where our focus has been. Once ecosystems start to develop, (think Google's Mirror API as another example) developers will start to create experiences that are "must-have" for consumers and the cycle will keep repeating.
Smith: What role does storytelling play in how the consumers will use smart glasses to navigate environments?
Ballard: Talking from a "consumer"-centric role, I think advertisers will eventually use the connection to the users' eyes to entice users by "showing" them more than just an item on a rack.
Imagine seeing yourself playing some sport in Under Armour's newest gear. Imagine walking up to an ice-rink and seeing a "training" class that helps you learn to skate through use of glasses-based coaching. This technology could touch every aspect of our lives as the technology and social gates are satisfied. It's a lot like how phones and tablets have given us new outlets but are now overlaid in the real word.
Smith: Talk about augmented reality and the opportunity in creative immersive experiences through storytelling.
Ballard: I can go on for days on this topic. Imagine you are an architect and you want to tell the backers of a community center how their new soccer fields and performance space will look. Don a pair of glasses and actually see it, at the real site, with kids running around and laughing. You can evoke entirely new emotions and hook the imagination through "engineered" hints, bringing the recipient closer to the designer.
Ultimately, smart glasses enrich the experience by adding more real-time information than what is available naturally. You can argue that all experiences are about humans processing the information available to them at the moment, and with smart glasses there is more, and curated, information available in every possible situation.
Environmental data, overlay images, audio feedback and more--filtered by the users' location, orientation and state. This brings inanimate objects to life. This brings history into the current frame. This brings additional people into the moment. This is such a cool bridge for storytelling in so many ways.
Smith: What's the most compelling challenge in user adoption of smart glasses?
Ballard: There are two, one physical and one HCI-centric.
Challenges for the consumer space will be balancing the tradeoff between processing power (which drives heat/battery life/size concerns) with style (drives desire for clearer, thinner, lighter, endless battery)
The user interaction (HCI) with glasses is different than the other devices users are trained on today (like the TV and the phone or PC). Smart glasses don't have traditional input devices like a mouse or keyboard, and they are not passive displays like TVs. So the mechanics of using these new devices require a great software experience to drive the acceptance, use and adoption of smart glasses.
Smith: What are some innovative ways brands are or can leverage smart glasses to tell compelling stories?
Ballard: Ahhh! I'm trying to not disclose anything in our patent pipeline! I can say that we're working with some large content providers to both change the way film is shot and how the audience consumes it. Imagine a director's cut. You're sitting on your couch at home watching a new movie. But if you look to your left, the film director is sitting there (digitally, not real) telling you why he or she shot the scene a certain way.