Opinion: Google Glass won't match the hype

Read the gushing Google Glass praise and you might believe there's enough people who care. Look at the slight excitement surrounding the speculated Apple [AAPL] iWatch and it seems pundits prefer Google's [GOOG] goggles, but will the public agree? I don't think so. There's too much wrong with Google's idea.


[ABOVE: Google's Sergey Brin and his blue-tinged spectacles.]

Reality distortion field

It isn't just me who thinks this. Take a look at the company's attempts to get important people to use the things. Google's having a tough time getting Silicon Valley insiders to do so. That's because the technology glitterati feel the things distract them from "real" relationships.

Take a look at those who do wear these things and you find them to be constantly distracted by the viewfinder in their right eye. 

This means that when you're chatting with these people it's hard to tell if they're enjoying your conversation or are instead deeply immersed in checking their Google+ news feed in hope that somebody, somewhere, may have the strength of character to say something vaguely interesting.

The irony is that while these goggles aim to bring the world together, they form an actual barrier between humans attempting to interact in the real world. They create a reality distortion field.

That barrier consists of a combination of different factors:

  • Their design, which inevitably will attract praise and criticism;
  • The presence of a viewfinder in the eye that enables people to switch out of the situation they are in;
  • In use these devices put people into a mind set in which the better things are always "out there" rather than right here.
  • In other words, once you become addicted to Google Glass, you cease to live in the moment.

Accidents will happen

Google's Sergey Brin tried to make a case for these things last week. He hunched himself over some Android phone to make the point that "rubbing a featureless piece of glass" is not the ideal way to interact with people who aren't there. So much better, (in his view) to stand upright and squint at a tiny picture situated in front of your right eye while muttering commands to yourself and attempting to find the activity switch with your right hand.

In a moment of comedy gold, Brin even managed to claim that smartphones are somehow bad for your genitals -- and he wasn't referring to the regular scare story of mobile phone masts creating cancer clusters:

“Is this the way you’re meant to interact with other people?” he said as he used his smartphone. “It’s kind of emasculating.”

I'm not sure what Brin meant by this. I can't figure out any way in which a smartphone can be seen as disempowering (I even tried a Google search to find a reason). Brin's statement's also a little misleading, as Google's glasses need a smartphone's power and connectivity for full effect.

Google's glass goggles are going to be a giant problem for city authorities. We already read regular scare reports claiming deafened iPhone and iPod users are prone to getting knocked over when crossing the road, and that's just because of loud music. Google Glass goes one better: not only will users be able to listen to loud music, they will also be watching the video when they should be watching the road.

That's yet another way in which Google Glass users will be divorced from the moment, lost in their own technical sensation bubble, vulnerable.

Google Glass won't match the hype

[ABOVE: "Are you looking at me?" The answer is she probably isn't, judging from her eye's fixation on the tiny screen. Image c/o Antonio Zugaldia and Flickr.]

Augmented reality?

Distracted from reality Google's Glass gang will be easy targets for street crime. People wearing these things will tend to be slightly better off, making them good targets. When a wearer chooses to walk the street outside of their gated community, technology hub or hipster hangout, Google Glass will be the equivalent of a sign saying "Mug me now". Austerity-afflicted street criminals will happily oblige.

That's what I call "emasculation".

Some may think that in the event a Google Glass user is being attacked, all they need to do is switch on image capture on their glasses and ask the things to dial emergency services. There's a merit in the argument --it's true in theory -- but it isn't how things work in practice.

You see, for most of us the way we react in an emergency has nothing to do with how we hope we might react. It depends on how your Amygdala works: are you wired to fight, flee or freeze?

A little neurology: The way you react to danger isn’t logical, but reflexive. The Amygdala is hard wired to take immediate decisions when you face danger. These decisions are implemented by your body way before your logical, "thinking" brain realizes what's up. Taking control of that immediate reaction is why soldiers go to boot camp.

I'm not certain the brain's evolved to use Google Glass just yet. Indeed, the false sense of security of their potential use in an emergency may cause more trouble than it solves.


[ABOVE: An image from a recently-published Apple patent filing, c/o Patently Apple.]

Standing on the shoulders

Innovation's a great word.

Google isn't the first company to begin development of smart glasses. Lorex, Vuzix, Lumus and many others already offer various forms of intelligent, connected eyewear.

Apple was reportedly looking at eyeglasses way back in 2008, one-year before Google's then CEO, Eric Schmidt left Apple's board. That departure came shortly after the Android OS changed from one a little like Palm and into one a little more like iOS, a move which sparked a series of tedious lawsuits from all sides as big corporations struggle for control of our digital lives.

Way before Apple and Google, University of Toronto professor, Steve Mann was exploring the notion of wearable eyewear. Widely regarded as the "father of wearable computing", Mann has built and used numerous wearable systems every day since he began researching the category in the '70's.

One thing Mann didn't experiment with was advertising, which fundamentally underscores Google's entire business. I'm not entirely certain I want ads beamed directly at my eye when I'm trying to find my way to the closest second-hand bookstore to pick up a rare copy of the Whole Earth Catalog.

Mann writes:

"While the goal of Augmented Reality is to augment reality, an Augmented Reality system often accomplishes quite the opposite. For example, Augmented Reality often adds to the confusion of an already confusing existence, adding extra clutter to an already cluttered world. There seems to be a fine line between Augmented Reality and information overload."

Google's challenge is to ensure Google Glass augment reality, rather than diminishing it.

Personally? Like anybody interested in technology I'm keen to put these things through their paces. I am however not yet convinced that challenge has been achieved.

Will iWatch do better?

Apple's seeming decision to favor a wrist-worn device (iWatch) seems far less likely to add clutter to our digital lives. That's because while the device may be powerful and pervasive, it will only be apparent when you choose to use it.

By its nature such a device augments reality, rather than getting in the way of your relationship with it. Apple has plans for an entire platform of augmented devices waiting in the wings.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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