Localizing Wearables, Schmerables: If Google Glass Had Italian Stylists

Done with Big Data? Kicked Statistical Machine Translation to the kerb (or “curb”, if you’re in the U.S.)? Nodded off during those discussions about agile, scrums, burndown charts, sprints, and the rest (while ignoring how the accompanying 1,500 pages of product doc will be translated)? Did you duck when someone mentioned “Obamacare” and “Spanish”? Never fear, your new fascinating localization conference/webinar/blog/trendingnow engagement topic is here: wearables (w7s).

Google Glass image from Jack Morgan
Google Glass image from Jack Morgan‘s very cool “ok, glass” project (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License)

Immediately, everyone thinks of Google Glass, Pebble, WIMM One, and so on. Indeed, the wearables discussion currently appears to be dominated by Glass and by other wrist-based devices (the Apple iWatch to be, the imminent Samsung Galaxy Gear, that FitBit or FuelBand you never really used, and so on). But there is much more to wearables, or as the European Union (EU) might have it Intelligent Wearable Meta Products. Interest is global, and again, we see the cloud as pivot for use cases.

The EU has put together an interdisciplinary, cross-country team of experts in sensor technology, computer science, web programming, biomechanics, rehabilitation, and sports to explore methods and tools for creating smart clothes, for example as a platform that can be used and customized by downloading apps for various uses. And you in the UK, you all thought the whole idea of wearables was pants, right (kinda)? In Silicon Valley there are calls from technology partners for integrating wearables widely with cloud APIs and new business cases are emerging rapidly. Some big venture capital activity is going on given the promise of market size (estimates as high as 19 billion USD by 2018).

So, the tech trend of wearables is no longer a fad. It’s already consumerizing fast, as big business takes notice, explores the possibilities, and learns about what users really want (or they will when they’re given it). A whole ecosystem of experience is emerging of how what we wear becomes what we use for work or fun. That Apple  appointed a former Burberry fashionista to head up their retail and online stores wasn’t because the head of fashion at Wal-Mart was busy at the time.

Yes, think of the internationalization and localization requirements of all those components that make up the whole wearables user experience. Lots of possibilities for exploration, discussion, and smart solutions to take innovation global.

Take the dimensions of localized style alone. Fashion, branding, colors, cultural conventions, gestures. Figured out that big “why?” behind a gold-colored iPhone and the Chinese market yet? And then there are the considerations of sporting wearable devices in places that could cause all kinds of issues with privacy, data protection, the violation of personal or cultural norms, you name it. What about internationalization of the technology itself? What languages and character sets are supported for interactions? Or maybe consider how the user experience (audio, visual, tactile) might need to be culturally adapted or personalized, and by whom and for what reason. In all, some fascinating propositions and topics for the globalization, internationalization, localization, and translation (GILT) industry to consider.

And what of wearables as translation devices in their own right? Real-time, augmented reality translation apps have been around for ages, but the prospect of wearables accessing cloud data and being integrated with a broad range of platforms other than smartphones takes translation, understanding and communication much further. Reach out to those startups now!

Watch this space (though your Google Glass beta perhaps) and start a conversation. However, the first person to get up at Localization World and bemoan a “lack of industry standards” because out of fear the text expansion space on the Pebble won’t accommodate German can buy their own drinks at the bar. The rest of us have moved on.

It’s not a bad thing that more globalization interest in wearables emerges as fast as possible, however. Let’s encourage it.  I wonder, if the fashion experience aspect of Google Glass had been an initial consideration and had been left to Italians, might those specs look more stylish than the current versions? Now, not looking as good as an Italian in public is a real UX cause for concern. The styling dimension is unlikely to stay uniform  for long, however. So, keep an eye on those runways!

Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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