There's a lot being said about Google's new wearable computer, and not all of it is positive. Even though it's still very early for this to be considered a consumer device Glass awareness has crossed over a bit into mainstream. From SNL, to Tumblr people are discussing the futuristic looking tech for better or worse. From the usefulness of the technology, to privacy concerns to social implications, everyone seems to have an opinion on one side or the other about a piece of technology only a few people have actually used. Robert Scoble, early and very vocal user of Glass has compared it to the feeling he had when he first used an Apple II. Engadget's Editor-in-Chief, Tim Stevens sees potential but at the current $1500 price and it's current capabilities it's not worth it. Of course all of that will change and they are mass produced and developers build apps to be used on Glass. So is this the big leap in wearable computing we've been waiting on or is it another one of Google's half-baked ideas that's been overhyped by tech elites and bloggers?
One of the most often asked questions I get from people that don't read tech websites on a daily basis, aka "normals" is what the hell does Google Glass do? In it's most basic form it's a way to get pertinent information to you that can be seen quickly and privately without interrupting whatever you're doing. Functions like urgent emails/messages, breaking news, directions, reminders, and search can all be done with a serious touch gestures (on the side of device) or voice commands. Thankfully Google has taken steps to make sure you aren't inundated with alerts every few minutes by encouraging developers to only send the most urgent or important information to Glass in their apps. For instance in Gmail only emails you've labeled as "important" are sent to Glass, all other emails will have to take the old boring smartphone route. There are also third-party apps that are being built for NY Times, Twitter, Path and many others. But most of this sounds like the same stuff I can do on my phone minus the instant video/photos, what's the killer feature?
Apple will have an easier road to acceptance with a wrist-worn computer, however Google Glass, if it can get pass the initial social awkwardness, is more likely to create a real paradigm shift in mobile computingA lack of a killer feature seems to be Glass's achilles heel for the moment, as it probably will be for Apple's rumored wrist computer (iWatch) as well. Once you get over the "wow factor" of the technology how long will you use it? Wearable computing, at least in the beginning, merely augments notifications and makes them easier to deal with and possibly less intrusive. Time will tell if the technologies will mature pass this point. Apple will have an easier road to acceptance with a wrist-worn computer, however Google Glass, if it can get pass the initial social awkwardness, is more likely to create a real paradigm shift in mobile computing. Augmented reality as creepy as it may sound, could have massive benefits to us socially. There are social applications (personal information), informative uses (museums, landmarks), and in advertising (information and discounts on products nearby). All of this technology already exist today but it's poorly implemented and rarely used mainly do to the smartphones form factor.
The second biggest misconception I hear about Glass is where to wear them. We've all been so conditioned to having our smartphones with us 24/7. Our phones are by our beds at night, at our desks at work, we assume that Glass will be the same way. Even though Robert Scoble has jokingly claimed he's never taking them off, I'm pretty sure this technology, at least in its current state is situational. Would you wear Glass to work? Probably not, at least in most jobs. But if I'm going to the park, a museum, bike riding, I'd definitely would want to have Glass with me. More sensitive locations are places like restaurants, bars and other public places with lots of people. Obviously over time, as wearable computers become more ubiquitous and useful, what's considered weird today could easy be seen as normal in 5 years.
The thing that's really gotten the attention and concern about Glass from a lot of people, in and out of the tech community is the privacy implications. As usual, a lot of things are being blown out of proportion. There aren't many things you can do with Glass that you can't do with technologies that are already available right now, or your smartphone. The biggest complaint is the possibility of someone recording or taking photos of other people without their knowledge. Again, something that already happens thousands of times a day, but admittedly can become even easier with Glass. For now the Explorer Edition models of Glass do not have any type of recording indicator on the front of the device to let others know that you're recording. I'd expect Google will have some sort of red light on the consumer version of Glass when it's officially released. Currently you have to make a physical or audible gesture to take video or a picture. However there has been code found in the device that allows for gesture commands and one developer has already created a way to take photos by winking.
Another privacy worry is with Google itself. Google will be generating incredible amounts of data from these devices that it will use to better serve you ads. Google has banned advertising on Glass at least for now but there is tons of money to be made using augmented reality and commerce. Matching willing buyers with sellers in a particular area is the ultimate in contextual marketing. Google has always walked a fine line of amassing tons of data while keeping the trust of it's users. I believe as long as users see a tangible benefit of sharing their data, (see: Google Now) I don't think most people mind as long as they feel Google is protecting that information from outsiders. It's a trust circle and once that circle is broken it's hard to get it back, ask Facebook.
Will it be uncomfortable to have a conversation with some that's wearing a camera on their face? Of course. Will we as a society eventually get over it or will it become a custom to remove Glass during certain situations? These are the type of things we will have to figure out as a society as we go, just as we have with cell phones, smartphones and even radios. If Glass becomes more than just an expensive toy for geeks, a social etiquette will form as they're used by more people.
It's hard to tell if Glass will move beyond the elitist, geeky stereotype that's quickly forming around it. The Tumblr page "White Men Wearing Google Glass" has become a huge hit online and SNL mocked it's functionality last night. Google has always used the exclusivity angle when it releases it's products. Starting with needing an invite to use Gmail, exclusivity has always worked to build hype for Google. Positioning it as a luxury item is more of something from Apple's playbook and could backfire on Google if they don't announce a more reasonable consumer price soon.
Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt says a retail version of Glass wouldn't be out till next year so it's unlikely we'll hear anything about price at Google I/O in two weeks. Once released I'll bet they'll cost somewhere between $200-$500. Far from an impulse buy for most people but cheap enough that it won't be seen as a %1 luxury item. The more people that have them the faster they'll appear "normal". There's a huge "Glasshole" movement growing that paints Glass wearers as douche bags, the new "guy talking on his bluetooth". Or as someone else put it, Google Glass is becoming the equivalent of the obnoxiously large mobile phone Michael Douglas used in the movie "Wall Street". When you seen someone in the 80's with that phone you automatically assumed they were an a**hole. Google, stop Robert Scoble from being creepy and give Glass to people that don't look like my supervisor.
It's going to be interesting to see the contrasting methods of product releases if Apple debuts it's wearable computer this fall. Google publicly finds it's way with Glass and developers, years before it's available while Apple secretly shapes their products internally and releases them fully mature into the wild with developers waiting in tow. Neither way is better than the other, I'm just glad we have two talented companies approaching technology in different ways. The best of both worlds.