Is Google Glass the future, or just a flop?

January 22, 2013
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google glass girl

The much anticipated and often imitated (but not quite replicated) Google Glass is having a few hackathons in the coming weeks. At these hackathons, developers will get their first opportunity to check out the newest Google concept. It will be a controlled environment, with in-house Glass engineers on hand to troubleshoot and offer general guidance. This is the first major step toward Google Glass becoming reality rather than the tech unicorn it has been.

The hackathons comes on the heels of Google filing a patent recently for a projection keyboard, used for Google Glass. We know Google is serious about Glass, but should they be? What can we take away from all these developments? A great idea that has some interesting possibilities, but we’re left to wonder: is Google Glass worthy of our attention? Is this the next frontier, or the next Nexus Q?

Conceptually cool

Google Glass is in its infancy, so our job right now is to imagine what could be. It opens our minds up for critical thought, and all great things start with that. Right now it’s fairly benign technology, but what could the future bring? If we open our minds a bit and explore the possibilities… this Google Glass thing is scary good.

google glass laser projection

Life saver

If we take what little we know about Glass right now (it’s a wearable camera, more or less), it already has a ton of potential. A surgeon in Ohio could wear them during surgery while another surgeon in California looks on. A new procedure that could be collaborated on and discussed live, while the doctors were hundreds or thousands of miles away. A S.W.A.T. bomb squad tech could wear them and get collaborative advice to dismantle a bomb for those times a robot simply won’t do. These types of scenarios make the project worthwhile.

A true replacement?

I wear Gunnar glasses almost all day long. They’re really lightweight, and non-intrusive. If Google Glass are as light as my Gunnars, I can see them being a daily-use item for just about anyone. If they’re bulky or obtrusive, it will dissuade people from trying them.

Something we haven’t seen addressed yet is eyesight. Our eyes are a bit like fingerprints, and we all have some sort of niggle about how we view and perceive things. Many people already wear glasses, so we must wonder how Google Glass fits into that equation. Will it need to be calibrated professionally, or is there built in function to do so? If I can’t see commands to begin with, how will I calibrate it?

Reality 2.0

In taking a step back, we have to wonder just how things we already do will be incorporated. Will there be apps that are ported to Google Glass? An Angry Birds game that uses your background as the setting? Pretty awesome! Think about being in a large city, playing Canabalt using the rooftops of existing buildings.

If Glass has a laser keyboard, you could project that onto a desk and work on a document. Our current method of mobile productivity is phenomenal, but Glass would really elevate it. Things like reading the newspaper could be like, well, reading the newspaper. Google Glass has the potential to give us all those things we love about life, just in a very virtual way.

Is it realistically relevant?

With a ton of great promise, we also have to wonder if Google Glass is ready for prime time. A laser keyboard is interesting for a variety of reasons. It means we’re not ready to go completely hands free. We need something tactile and tangible, even if it’s virtual. We’ve pondered some really cool ideas and concepts for Glass, but we should also consider whether or not Glass is so different it will be rendered useless.

Maybe we’re just not ready

We fawn over them, and wish so much that they were ours… but why? Google isn’t even sure what they’re for, and Glass is their baby! When the designer isn’t even sure why it exists, why are we desiring them? Sure, we’re all geeks who want toys, but then what?

There is still no actual use for Google Glass, and that’s probably why you don’t have them right now. We dream and desire, but we’d have no use for them right now. Developers are just now realizing what they’re all about, and it’s those men and women who are the real muscle in this scenario.

At the beginning of this article, I pointed out Google Glass could be like the Nexus Q. Google was ready to roll with the Nexus Q, but developers pointed out its shortcomings and sent it back to the drawing board. The device was eventually pulled from our prying eyes, and has since been forgotten.. Are we looking at the same situation with Google Glass?

Sergey Brin demonstrates Google Glass

Sergey Brin demonstrates Google Glass

They’re silly

Let’s be blunt: Google Glass looks silly. Look at Sergey up there; glasses that have no lenses, an oblong box affixed to the side of the frames. I mean, give me some clear plastic lenses or something. I’m already going to be walking down the street waving my hands around like a mime. Can I get some interchangeable lenses? Throw me a bone, here, Google!

The utilization has a lot of promise, but think of a world where people are waving their hands about and typing on desks… and you can’t see any of it. A world filled with people doing some sort of Tai Chi everywhere you go, and working where nothing else exists. You’ll see people tapping out emails on the side of buildings, or folks waving their hands around frantically trying to get that ball to spin in a game of Flick Soccer.

What we want, but what we need?

The rumored pricing for Google Glass is insane. At $1,500, these are a steeply priced luxury item right now. We balk at spending $600 for a cell phone, so another piece of hardware is just not needed. We have phones, tablets, and now this? We’re getting a little out of control. This doesn’t really fit into any kind of category, and that’s part of our confusion.

Chrome-Android-convergence

Fragmented space

We’re missing a lot of pieces to the Google Glass puzzle, and a large piece of the puzzle is the OS. Will it be Android? Some kind of Chrome OS? A completely different OS meant purposefully for Glass? That’s yet to be seen, but the upcoming hackathon info may shed some light on that. Developers will get the chance to mess with the “upcoming Google Mirror API” at the hackathons, so maybe that will lead us toward an official OS.

For anyone curious, here’s a quick lesson on API’s: API stands for Application Program Interface, and is the set of commands programmers use to write programs for an OS. While we now know the API is new and different (as it should be), we still don’t know what OS it’s going to use. Will the new API allow for easy porting of apps? Will apps even need to be ported? It’s mobile, so we assume it’s Android… but it could be a totally new operating system.

The OS nightmare

If Google isn’t careful, they will confuse and convolute their own space. If Google Glass does have a totally different OS, we now have three offerings from Google: Chrome, Android, and Glass. Getting two to work well together is tough enough, a third could be a nightmare. Take into account all the other operating systems out there (iOS, Windows, Linux, etc.) and third party developers are being put through their paces for sure.

Glass has a huge upside, and most of that is easily imagined with Google services. Imagine navigation with Google Glass on, or Zagat in true 4D. Can you imagine how amazing Ingress would be? Google can do whatever they like with their own stuff, but not making that really easy for third party developers would be their downfall. Most of what we utilize is designed, built, and imagined outside of the Google headquarters, and they’ll be wise to go to developers this time rather than expect them to jump on board.

Let’s get real

In imagining a day in life with Google Glass, we’re left to wonder just how safe this is. Is it wise to walk around with augmented reality eyewear? We try to multitask too much as it is, and we all know people can’t walk and use their phone at the same time. Will having eyewear that feeds the info to you be a blessing, or a curse?

On one hand, we’re not really diverting our attention. We can keep our eyes up and remain aware of our surroundings. On the other, the device is feeding us information and asking us to not deviate our attention, and that may be necessary. Driving and not focusing is the same thing, no matter how you present it. We have to wonder if we’re ready for reality and technology to become one.

Does this change anything?

While it’s fun to consider the ins and outs of what Google Glass could be, we should keep in mind that nobody really knows what it is. We know the basics: headwear, small screen protruding out, a keyboard function, video and photo capabilities. While those present a lot of merit and upside, they are just the beginning. Google Glass has the benefit of breaking new ground on unfounded territory.

Google-Glasses-Concept

Humans 2.0

We seem to be inching our way toward merging with technology, both physically and psychologically. Google Glass has no business as a secondary piece of equipment because Glass is a replacement to what you currently have. If Google does the right thing with Glass, we’ll all be wearing our technology in 5 years time. Does that sound insane? Think critically for a minute.

The first iPhone came out in June of 2007. That was almost 6 years ago, and that one device started an entire industry. One small device set the tone for the next 6 years, and maybe a lifetime. It was innovative, it was dynamic, and it held a ton of promise. Those same things can be said of Google Glass, and we should think of it in the same light. Glass has had the same type of subtle hype, and has realized the same wonderment from media and tech fans.

We consider smartphones a part of life. We don’t dare leave home without them, and we’re using them with increasing frequency. If one device can change the way we live in 6 years’ time, so can another. It’s such a poignant shift, and hard to imagine how it will fit in, but it can. Google Glass could fragment the market, but it could also unify it. A projected screen has the possibility of being re-sized  and that neutralizes all this silliness about phones, tablets, phablets, tablones, or whatever moniker we give them. If one device can neutralize this screen size mess, I’m already interested.

Conclusion

We’re standing on the edge of tomorrow with Google Glass. It’s so radically different that it presents a ton of possibility. Glass also presents a lot more questions than answers at this point, which is as frustrating as it is exciting. In being such a giant leap forward, Google will have to be in this for the long haul. I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t catch on immediately, so Google may need to bide their time and let people warm to the idea of wearing a headset rather than carry a device.

Google Glass is not revolutionary, it’s evolutionary. What Google Glass gives us is a glimpse into the next frontier, a new way of interaction. We can ponder its capabilities all day long, but the possibilities are too vast to wrap our heads around. We toss the term “game changer” around, but Google Glass isn’t that. It doesn’t change anything, it defines it.

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