Excitement over the possibilities of wearable computing seems to be reaching fever pitch in 2014. As rumours build over the existence/non-existence of an Apple iWatch, Google has issued official guidance on the project website advising how the selected members of its Google Glass testing programme ‘Glass Explorers’ should use the device.

Google’s list has mainly been covered for its plea for users to avoid behaving like ‘glassholes’ (which it defines as people using the device to be ‘creepy and rude’), but in there among the do’s and don’ts is a fascinating glimpse into what the future of reading looks like in a world of wearable computing. First on the list of things not to do while being a Glass wearer is: -

Glass-out. Glass was built for short bursts of information and interactions that allow you to quickly get back to doing the other things you love. If you find yourself staring off into the prism for long periods of time you’re probably looking pretty weird to the people around you. So don’t read War and Peace on Glass. Things like that are better done on bigger screens.” 

At first glance this just seems like common-sense: a dedicated activity requires a dedicated device or experience, surely. But it begins to break down when we consider that as soon as it becomes more convenient to carry around one device for multiple uses, consumers tend to do it - even if the trade-off is a worse experience. Smartphone cameras aren’t (currently at least) objectively as good at taking pictures as a DSLR, but they are good enough to take snaps, particularly if the utility you want to get out of those photos is sharing them across social networks. Just think of how many people you now see on holiday taking photos with phones or even iPads instead of using point and shoot cameras.

To use an example from the world of publishing we need look no further than eReaders. These dedicated devices arguably still provide a better experience to booklovers, with their longer battery life and screens you can read on the beach. What they don’t offer, however, is the convenience of having a whole library of books on your phone or tablet to read right now. It’s perhaps no accident that as phones and tablets have grown in importance as reading devices over the past couple of years, there’s been a concomitant rise in publishers specialising in short-form content. In this way mobile reading may be following the example of mobile gaming, whose success is founded on games that can be played in short bursts often paid for via in-app purchases than an upfront payment

Looking at it in this context, Google’s recommendation to steer away from reading novels on Glass begs two questions.

1. What kind of reading experience does it offer now. You might not yet be able to read War & Peace on it comfortably, but the device could still be used to tell stories. Following on from that, does this offer any opportunities to publishers and providers experimenting with short-form content?

2. How long will it take before Google Glass (or its descendants) does make it possible to read a novel or piece of long-form content that you don’t have to hold in your hands? A copy of Madam Bovary beamed directly into your eyes sounds like science fiction now, but so did carrying a camera, music player, library, computer and GPS system in your pocket a matter of ten years ago.

If there are any readers of this blog who are Glass Explorers, we’d welcome your feedback on what reading content on Glass is like right now, and how you see it developing over time.