Are Wearables the Next News Platform?

18 March 2015


'OK Glass, what is the news today?' This sentence might not be mainstream today, but it might be in the future. We asked Robert Hernandez, Associate Professor of Professional Practice at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and expert in wearables, to tell us more about how news organisations are working with watches and glasses. To know more, join us at the GEN Summit 2015, where he will host a Bootcamp 'Wearables News Beyond the Gadgets'. 

Which wearables editors-in-chief should keep an eye on?

'Wearables' is a broad term, which can include smart watches, head-mounted displays or things as simple as headphones. Currently, smart watches or wrist-type devices are dominating the market. The Apple Watch is perhaps the most anticipated wearable, but they are certainly not the only company: LG, Samsung and others are in this space. These devices are mobile and made for 'glance' style content. On the other spectrum are the head-mounted displays like the Oculus Rift or Microsoft's Hololens. These devices have immersive, rich experiences, a lot deeper than 'glance' content.

Is any connected object a medium? Should all of them deliver information? 

'Just because you can doesn't mean you should' is a guiding principal of mine. We want to be smart in how we develop on these emerging technologies, especially because we have limited, finite resources. There may be a time — could be soon — where we live era of the 'Internet of things' where devices are talking to each other. They will be delivering information — in the truly broad sense — but not necessarily news. We have to be selective. 

How are media innovating on wearables today? Can you give us examples of innovative platforms?

There are a few companies that have brought their experiences to wearables, like a smartwatch or Google Glass. The Financial Times, for example, developed fastFT and launched it on the Samsung Gear S. They incorporated Spritz into their app. CNN, The Guardian, and many others created apps for Google Glass. Most of the companies are exploring, testing... since these devices have not yet gone mainstream, the smart media companies are actively experimenting because a wearable-type device seems like the next, logical evolutionary step in mobile devices.

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How can news find a place in wearables that are more dedicated to entertainment and/or individuals? 

There is a statistic that says more than 90% of Americans have their phone within arms reach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week... I'd argue that this is global behavior. Our phones are essentially wearables now. Like we are optimizing news/information for these mobile devices, we need to begin thinking about 'glance' or micro-stories that will be displayed in these new smaller screens. And in doing so, we need to create and provide the right type of content that can be consumed in those quick moments. We seen this now with Twitter-sized content... and these 'glances' can easily be gateways to larger pieces. Breaking News is an easy use case, but optimizing — someone will coin the term Glance Optimized Content — will be an important way to let your community know the latest and to go to a larger screen for deeper coverage. And we will be with our reader/viewer/listener/user all the time, offering them real-time insights... which will clearly include content that they need to use a larger screen to truly appreciate.

What kind of stories can you deliver on such small devices? 

Breaking News is the most obvious or stories that have updates, in which the user has subscribed to get notifications (Think Circa app). But because we'll be on the wearable devices, we will always be on the body of our mobile users... perhaps we create content experiences that are triggered by location or by time or even by speed/movement of the user. These new variables can help elevate 'contextual journalism' to another level. But, to start, I'd expect micro-stories which are consumed with a glance to be the most useful and active use case.

Which are the most advanced newsrooms?

It's early, so it is hard to say... you can see organizations like The Washington Post experiment with these platforms. Wearables, which is hardware, will be paired nicely with apps like Snapchat, Twitter, etc. These social, real-time platforms work well on the smaller form factors. Look at the Circa mobile app, for example, on how they 'atomize' the news... or Reportedly's social-driven news reporting and distribution... or even an short audio newscast might work. Bite size, yet informative is going to be the dominate content type.

Can all the data gathered by wearables become a new source of stories for journalists? 

Yes... perhaps we ask users to opt-in and let us monitor their driving patterns or what polling places they used for elections. Waze, for example, is a mapping app that gathers data from it's users which help optimize driving directions. Perhaps we crowdsource weather or health data from our community... This is going to be an emerging wealth — if not a flood — of data. 

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Can wearables be used as crowdsourcing tools? 

If we concede that mobile phones are essentially wearables now, then seeing the leap to wearables isn't too far off... and, if there does become mass adoption, we can see our communities with these devices on their wrist or faces, rather than in their pockets or purses. The real-time content gather could increase... so, I say yes, but we have to see what the adoption rate.

Was Google Glass a big flop? How about the Apple Watch?

I'd say the way Glass was marketed was a big error, but the device brought the sci-fi content of a head-mounted display into a reality. The technology is there, the door is open and someone is going to offer a compelling wearable on your face... If they are smart, they incorporate it into an existing form like prescription glasses. Until then, the wrist has become an acceptable place to put on a wearable. From FitBits to Pebble watches, there is a growing market in this space... Apple Watch may be the one that pushes these devices forward, but it may not. We're going to have to wait and see... but, in my opinion, some time of wearable that is made for mobile usage is inevitable. And, perhaps prematurely, my sense is that it needs to be hands-free and in your field of vision, so I do believe that there will be a head-mounted display that will go mainstream.... that could be a few or many years off. We'll just wait and see.

Can you tell us more about your bootcamp at the GEN Summit on 17 June?

My goal for the bootcamp is to set the table on where we are currently with these devices and to make a case on why we need to begin exploring these technologies now... let's not wait until they are mainstream and be left behind yet again. We'll look at the current impact of mobile devices, plus look at new content types that are optimized for these devices/form factors. We'll also look at augmented and virtual reality, which is a new type of medium that pairs nicely with these devices. 

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For more on wearables and other innovative news platforms, join us at the GEN Summit 2015, 17-19 June in Barcelona: register here!