Apple iWatch vs Google Glasses and the Next UI Battle

iStock_000021284452XSmallRumors of the Apple iWatch continue to sprout. Google Glasses will soon be for sale. The “Internet of Things” and wearable computers are quickly transitioning from the realm of science fiction into our everyday reality. Very soon, sensors throughout our homes, on our pets and possibly inside our bodies, all monitored or even controlled by our smartphone, will be the norm. Imagine now if these were ad-subsidized devices, like Android or Kindle, offering no escape from the latest marketing pitch or sponsored social media update. Is this a tolerable future?

While many analysts doubt the ability of Apple to maintain its margins in the face of stiff competition from the likes of Google and Amazon, companies that sell hardware at cost and make it up on advertising and ‘content’, I think the opposite is true: We are on the cusp of a world where personal computing hardware will become increasingly more important and more profitable. This favors Apple. Moreover, as hardware and computing become increasingly smaller and more personal, the Google business model, which fully relies upon advertising, may simply become too intrusive to tolerate.

Tim Cook recently said Apple is not a hardware company. With iTunes and iCloud, retail, services and accessories revenue, Cook is technically correct. Nonetheless, Apple makes most of its revenues directly from hardware. Google CEO Larry Page prefers talking about “moonshots” and driving “10X” changes in our thinking. He doubtless understands, however, that his company makes nearly all its money – and has from the beginning – on advertising. Following the money helps us not only to properly value these companies, but serves as a lens into their future. I suspect we will quickly witness fundamental differences in the design philosophy and user experience from the new wearable computing products coming out of Apple and Google.

The next design battle will almost certainly not be about “skeuomorphism” versus “flat design”. Rather, monetizing hardware, the Apple way, versus monetizing data and advertising, the Google way, will set the stage for this next great battle.


As hardware becomes ever-more integrated with our physical self, will we dare rely on lesser hardware that is subsidized by advertising? Maybe. While many may reflexively assume that advertising is always bad, this need not be the case. The promise of Google is that it will provide us with the right information at the right time in the right format for the right device. In some cases, this may be an ad. The problem, of course, is that to succeed with such a mission, every user must hand over to Google an exponentially larger set of personal data, more personal than ever before: where we are, who we are with, what we are doing, how high is our blood pressure, how sad is our mood, how many calories in that muffin we weren’t supposed to eat. When will this become too much?


Advertising is not merely built upon data collection. It also requires interruption – what I call the “intrusive business model”. I think the most potentially intractable problem that Google faces in its quest to create connected, personal hardware devices, one that Apple is liberated from, is the fundamentally intrusive nature of its business model. We may all “search” for information, but that does not necessarily mean we want to be bombarded with ads. Ads are already everywhere, it seems; within our (free) apps and games, on Google maps, scattered across web pages, inside YouTube videos, and more and more on the Google search page. Where does this end?

I don’t want my Google Glasses, for example, to pop up ads right in my eye, nor have a commercial play some catchy jingle into the sensor I keep in my ear. I don’t want my iWatch clone, for example, to vibrate every time it thinks I might be interested in some deal or datapoint – when in fact, it’s really because the sender – the intruder – is making money off stealing my attention. As computing becomes increasingly more personal, there is a very real chance that Google’s business model becomes increasingly more intrusive.

Apple is almost the exact opposite of intrusive. What is iPad but a beautiful pane of glass that we operate with the touch of a finger. Complexity vanishes. We are free from intrusion. This is the case for Apple software as well. Consider that both iOS and Mac OS place the focus squarely on, well, focus – and not on multitasking, alerts, notifications and other intrusive messaging forms.


There is an obvious tension here, and it may favor Google. With Apple products, when you want data, you swipe the screen, for example, or beckon Siri. Consider Android versus iPhone differences. Notifications, reminders, alerts, home screen messages and the like are all much more readily presented and visible with Android. Apple’s model favors waiting for the user to seek and request data. For advertising, I absolutely favor the Apple way. But not all data is advertising. In many instances, we want immediate ‘glanceability’ for real-time information. Sometimes, when the data is truly what we need, we want to be intruded upon. I want my maps app to tell me that the road ahead is jammed – even if I am on the telephone. Or, as in the case of a Fitbit bracelet, for example, I may ultimately want to be reminded over and over again to do my exercise for the day. This form of data intrusion favors Google.

The question for Google, though, is can they truly intrude upon our personal space only when we really want or need the intrusion? For a company that has made all its money over the years by flashing advertisement upon advertisement across every one of our screens, I have serious doubts.

Through patent filings, we know that Apple has been working on wearable computing devices for at least several years. Such devices can continuously record our heart rate, monitor our environment, potentially know us better than our friends and doctors. As our devices learn more and more about us, know more of our likes, habits – and needs – there will be a great debate on when and why to ‘intrude’ upon the user. Google plasters extraneous information across all their products and services because their business model demands this. Crossing that ‘intrusive’ line will likely become too enticing for them, I suspect, pushing more and more users to Apple and its “expensive” hardware. Apple, however, needs to understand that sometimes, in some cases, intrusion is good.

Published by

Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about mobile devices, crowdsourced entertainment, and the integration of cars and computers. His work has been published with Macworld, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, ReadWrite and numerous others. Multiple columns have been cited as "must reads" by AllThingsD and Re/Code and he has been blacklisted by some of the top editors in the industry. Brian has been a guest on several radio programs and podcasts.

39 thoughts on “Apple iWatch vs Google Glasses and the Next UI Battle”

  1. Considering the scientific certainty that EMFs damage the brain, the idea of strapping a device to one’s head is a total non-starter.

    Google’s eyeglasses are absolutely the wrong solution to wearability.

    1. “Considering the scientific certainty that EMFs damage the brain.”

      That depends on the strength of the EMFs. We are surrounded by them every day because of transmissions from TV stations, radio stations, cell towers and an endless list of other RF sources, but they are too weak to harm us. To evaluate whether a given device is a risk you need to know the intensity of its emissions, how often and for how long you’re exposed to them, and other parameters. Cell phones radiate RF and people hold them to their heads frequently, but to my knowledge it hasn’t been established that cell phones are injurious.

      1. It has been established with certainty that EMFs (also called RF) cause brain damage and cell death in scientific experiments.

        Whether a cell phone would cause cell death depends on all the variables that you described, and no scientific experiment will ever be conducted to find out because it would be unethical to expose humans to that risk.

        If you will google EMFs and brain damage or brain cell death you’ll see what I mean. Meanwhile you risk your health by waiting for cell phone experiments that will never be done.

        I use my iPhone all the time, but when I’m using it as a phone I always turn the speaker on.

        1. This is some very bad science. first, electromagnetic fields and radio frequency radiation are not at all the same thing. Any conductor with electricity flowing through it has an associated EMF. RF includes nonionizing radiation from the kilohertz band up through microwaves. None of it has been clearly shown to be harmful at the levels at which human beings are normally exposed. There were some studies years ago suggesting ill effects from power lines, but these have been thoroughly equivocal. Some studies have shown some effects from microwaves at cell phone transmission levels, but many others have not. It would appear that at worst the risks are extremely low.

          Cell phones have been in use for more than 30 years and the earlier analog phones radiated at much higher levels than modern digital phones. If there were a real health risk associated with them,. we would expect to see it showing up in epidemiological data. It isn’t.

          1. Electro Magnetic Fields consist of wavelength and frequency and RFs are a essentially a subset of EMFs in a specific frequency range, 3kHz to 300gHz.

            RFs contain electrical energy and thus (in my own understanding) an RF is essentially a type or part or subset of EMFs.

            Regardless of that, cell phones contain both. Epidemiological data is notorious in that the observer can spin it just about any way one wants, due to unfathomable unknowns and confounders. So while you say there’s nothing in the epidemiological data, I say there is. I see massive deterioration in health.

            But don’t confuse epidemiological data with science. It’s just a pushing off point for scientists to test hypotheses.

          2. As James Clerk Maxwell made clear, magnetism, electricity, light, microwaves, and x-rays are all manifestations of the same fundamental phenomenon. But that doesn’t mean the physiological effects of these different manifestations are all similar. If you are going to claim massive deterioration of health from exposure to electro-magnetic fields since electricity came into general use at the end of the 19th century, I would challenge you to come up with the morbidity and mortality data.

          3. Respectfully Steve, if you don’t think that our nation’s health has deteriorated since the mid 1950’s then you clearly are not educated on the subject of human health at all. You can start by googling obesity which has a strong correlation to four of the five leading causes of death in the US, and a moderate correlation to the other (cancer). You may think that obesity is simply a result of overeating, but the science does not bear that out, so look at what is coming from the obesity researchers.

          4. More than EM radiation as a factor in the decline of the nations health. How about processed food, sedentary lifestyles, chemical environmental contamination, and the list goes on. Trying to separate the causes is impossible.

          5. “Epidemiological data is notorious in that the observer can spin it just about any way one wants, due to massive unknowns and confounders. ”

            You mean like you have.

        2. Scott Sterling has refused to provide *any* sources of references for *any* of his claims, such as “. . . if you don’t think that our nation’s health has deteriorated since the mid 1950’s then you clearly are not educated on the subject of human health at all. You can start by googling obesity which has a strong correlation to four of the five leading causes of death in the US, and a moderate correlation to the other (cancer).”.

          Because Scott wouldn’t provide any kind of data for any of his claims, I did his research for him.

          How can we measure health? One way to do it would be to measure how long someone lives. In developed countries, life expectancy has consistently *increased* over the entire time periods that Scott mentioned:

          That doesn’t even take into account developing and less developed countries, where the improving situation is even more dramatic.

          Basically, the evidence is the direct opposite of what Scott claims.
          In any time periods, will some specific items get worse while others get better? Yes. So you need to find measures that try to include everything. Making false claims is deceitful and makes all of our understanding of the real issues worse.

        3. Saying ‘google it’ is hardly anything given that the first sites you see could be junk.

          THe reply to you was correct. We don’t have enough data to decry this device as dangerous or not.

  2. “Consider Android versus iPhone differences. Notifications, reminders, alerts, home screen messages and the like”

    I have always thought this “feature” of Android rather humourous. As if we don’t already constantly check our phones reflexively as it is. Someone checks their phone, we automatically reach for ours. We hear some noise that seems remotely like our notification sounds, we reach for our phone, never mind phantom “vibrations”. Etc., etc. We have become our own notification center, often out pacing any notification center Apple or Google could come up with.

    I agree whole heartedly with your characterization of advertising and hope this “too much” future is exactly what will occur and we can return to common sense/decency. Unfortunately, I believe Max Headroom got more than just “TV screens everywhere” right.


  3. Brian, you talk about this like Google’s advertising is forced on a passive and unwilling public. I think that kind of view is pretty cynical, and very likely untrue. Of course, that’s my opinion.

    1. I don’t have to ever use Google, or watch a Youtube video. So in that sense, Google ads are not “forced” on me. My point is that advertising funds Google hardware and as that hardware becomes increasingly more personal, I have doubts that the ad-based model will succeed.

      1. Dang Brian. Youtube is the one Google foray I use the most. How else will I follow alien tracking, crop circles and free energy, not to mention hollow moons, monster openings at the poles and giant stratospheric critters?

        I shall now, before finally unplugging Google, attempt to find Start Page alternatives from original sites, I guess, so I can leave the riff-raff that is Youtube behind.

  4. Brian said: “. . . the Google business model, which fully relies upon advertising, may simply become too intrusive to tolerate.” Simple, Plain, Obvious and Brilliant, Brian

    What may seem so obvious, can be so true that the real truth can become lost in its obviousness: That doesn’t make sense? Let me give example:

    Yesterday, DivX popped up and said an update was necessary. I let it run and at the end a Google comment appeared giving me two choices that were not acceptable. There was no “No! Do not do this! Stop! Leave all be as it was!”

    I did not put in my pw to accept a choice. I did a force close to get around this Wonderland Alice chatter—I yanked the cord— and when I restarted my computer, Google Chrome had been added to my Applications folder, again. Without my consent.

    I trashed it but what other evil now lurks on my machine?

    How many people now have Google Chrome and other Google junk forced into their Application folder or hidden veins from a company who uses ‘1984’ speak “You can make money without doing evil.” and then plots out to make money doing evil.

    An article on how to go completely 100% Google free would be a joyous help. I will soon have dumped all gmail and with Start Page and DuckDuckGo will have done the best I can do with my frail understanding of this reptilian company.
    No insult meant to reptiles.

  5. Towards the end of the article you say “In many instances, we want immediate ‘glanceability’ for real-time information. Sometimes, when the data is truly what we need, we want to be intruded upon”. Although Apple’s Passbook doesn’t solve the glanceability issue, it nevertheless can streamline many common tasks in a relatively non-intrusive manner (I think that Apple’s Passbook gets overlooked in this regard – maybe because people think of it as a mobile wallet or maybe because some people aren’t using it yet).

    Passbook is great because it stores useful pieces of information (boarding passes, movie tickets, starbuck cards, coupons, etc), and then presents them when they are needed (ie when you are in physical proximity to where they can be used). Although Passbook items look like notifications on the lock screen, there is a big difference between notifications and Passbook; Passbook items are presented when they are relevant and when you select a Passbook item on the lock screen, it displays a piece of information (eg a barcode) that can be used to complete a transaction (eg buy a cup of coffee) without ever taking you to the underlying app (this means that you can complete the transaction and get on with other activities with less disruption). Compare this to notifications – when you select a notification it takes you to the associated app which might be overkill for simple activities.

    Bottomline – Passbook pushes information to the your attention when it is relevant, then lets you complete some task/transaction without forcing you to drill down in the underlying app.

    1. Great comment. Thanks. I agree that Passbook is under-appreciated and under-utilized. I think in “pushing” and presenting information to us — without an explicit action on our part — is a Google strength. However, their business model, based on ads, pollutes this, in my view. It simply becomes too easy to push one more ad with a reminder to buy our high blood pressure medicine, for example, then another ad for a gym membership because the Google sensor knows we haven’t been exercising regularly. There are real benefits to “push” but I think it becomes too hard to resist the pull of all those extra pennies from all those extra ads.

  6. I think both companies need to further flesh out what I am calling an “anticipation engine.” I certainly want my smart devices to get smarter for one. This is why we need to continue to push the envelop on silicon for mobile devices. We need more processing power then we have today to get to where we need to be.

    But Google is ahead of Apple in this idea of an anticipation engine in my opinion. Google Now is the best example of this, although still primitive. The best example is that Google now will look at my calendar and where my next appointment is and then look at the traffic to my route and alert me when its time to leave in order to get there on time. This is one small example of the value an anticipation engine will generate.

    Another could be if I am out of my area for lunch and have a break between meetings. It may know my lunch preferences or favorites and recommend a place to get lunch before my next meeting. Perhaps if it is super smart it could look at my address book for friends around me who may also not have lunch plans and suggest we get together perhaps even send them a request once I acknowledge. A smart devices based on anticipation of my needs,wants, and desires is the next frontier.

    It is also the ultimate in ecosystem or platform dependencies if done right. If it knows me and anticipates me like a true assistant, I would never fire it.

    1. For me the differentiator is not the relative state of anticipatory technology implementation.

      The difference is that, of necessity, Google will be dining out on my information, blabbing it around town for dollars exchanged for I don’t know what, whereas Apple, having collected its pound of flesh with my hardware purchase, will be content to keep my mundane secrets. I don’t want my hardware doing for me what I have not specifically asked it to do.

      1. I don’t disagree and perhaps that means that Apple is in fact in a better position to deliver a fundamentally more valuable anticipation engine. They can use my most personal data in a way that’s more valuable than Google simply because their interests in that data are different.

  7. Google tend to put adverts on new devices or services cautiously, often launching a new product without any for years. An when they do add ads they are usually well tested before they are let out into the wild, with formats suitable for the service.

    Google has only rarely launched a new product where adverts were at the centre of the product from the beginning, Gmail is an example of them not doing this, Google + still has zero adverts about none Google+ products.

    Google pricing for glasses, 1500 quid for the developer version suggests that they are not going to be subsidising this hardware, if they planned on that surely they be giving them away free to developers. Google business model for glasses will be the same as their business model Nexus Q was and that is to sale the hardware at profit. An it will be years before we see them attempt to build in adverts into services that run on the device.

    1. Gmail was a notable exception. As Microsoft is happy to point out, it has been ad-supported since day one.

      1. What was frustrating for me is when I set up one of the companies I worked with with the paid version of gmail/Google apps for $25 a seat and you were supposed to be able to opt out of ads. Never happened even when everyone and the admin selected “opt out”.

        My theory on the above post is not so much that Google is being careful as they are still collecting data to build market data for selling the ads. From what I know, which is not as much as you guys here, not everything is cross departmental when it comes to ad placement at Google, at least probably not right out the gate.


      2. don`t forget that it is gmail that took the email to G era. the email box free space were all limited to around only 10M back then.

  8. You can’t be sure that EMFs damage the brain.cause there are various sources which cause sparse
    damage daily by their prejudicial
    radiation such as computers and mobiles . so if one of these sources was
    dangerous that means we live in a technology jungle!

    1. If you like, my first novel, The Empty Spaces, was about an app that took over everyone’s smartphone, caused undue impact on the device’s processor, pumped out far too much EMF and killed everyone’s ability to taste chocolate and marijuana. And called aliens. But it was fiction.

  9. “…to succeed with such a mission, every user must hand over to Google an exponentially larger set of personal data..”

    That pattern extends the old ad model and the newer AdWords model. Neither is viable to extend indefinitely.

    User-driven “pull” methods based on user-owned personal data streams will replace it. A.I. techniques that support this exist. There’s no need to push an ad if marketers are prepared to respond in the moment to a user. Context awareness + networked A.I. eliminates spam and the ‘problem’ of limited mobile screen space for ads simultaneously.

  10. If the Apple “watch” is to be believed (and I don’t, but if it is true it will not be a “watch” per se) this also further demonstrates the two companies’ interaction philosophies. Google glasses allow intrusive ads without you ever needing to pull out a device. Apple would rather not trouble you until you want to turn your attention their way. Always on vs on demand.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *