Three lies about Google Glass

The conventional wisdom about Google's experimental smart glasses project is all wrong. Here's why.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt shocked everyone last week by telling The Wall Street Journal that Google isn't killing Google Glass.

Schmidt's comments were viewed as a surprise and a revelation, even though he was repeating what Google had said previously about its smart glasses project.

People thought Google was sunsetting the Google Glass project because they believed the press.

I love my peers in the tech press -- individually. But as a herd, we can get it wrong.

In general, the great masses of tech journalists and bloggers are a band of trendy and easily influenced conformists who sometimes care more about staying in tune with the echo chamber than about objective reality.

The perfect example for this is how the tech press mob convinced everyone about three Google Glass lies: That Google Glass was an unacceptable invasion of privacy; that it was an overpriced elitist plaything; and that it was a failed and now dead project.

Lie No. 1: Google Glass is an unacceptable invasion of privacy

Google Glass has a camera on the front. Because of that, a tsunami of me-too opinion pieces slammed the project for threatening people's privacy. The argument went like this: We'd have no way of knowing if those "Glassholes" were streaming video 24/7 and recording everything we say and do.

(But if they were, you actually would know. You'd be able to see clearly in the prism exactly what the tiny display was showing. And when it's recording video, Glass lights up with the image of what's being recorded. Glass is the worst secret surveillance camera ever invented.)

The fear was: What if people record and stream everything and show that recording to who knows who?

For that reason, Google Glass was portrayed as unethical. The tech press asserted itself as the guardians of privacy and protectors of the public from the scourge of live-streaming video -- that is until Meerkat and Periscope came along.

Now, many of the journalists who slammed Glass as a live-streaming invasion of privacy are using their smartphones to stream live video of everyone in sight to anyone simultaneously watching live.

The Meerkat and Periscope phenomenon is being driven by the tech press, mostly, recording every second of SXSW and chronicling every drunken San Francisco tech event.

The advent of Meerkat and Periscope revealed that the tech press echo chamber about the threat of Google Glass's potential for live streaming was hypocritical.

Lie No. 2: Google Glass is an expensive toy for elites

Google Glass cost "Explorers" (beta testers) $1,500 plus tax. That price was immediately criticized as far too high, and it was held up as proof that Google Glass was a shameless plaything for the rich.

What they didn't tell you was that you weren't paying for hardware. You were paying for highly personal, concierge-like tech support. You were paying to be on the ground floor of an experimental, totally new category of consumer electronics. And you were paying for replacement units. (In my own case, my Google Glass unit broke twice, and I was given replacements with no questions asked and at no additional charge.)

More to the point, Apple subsequently came along with the Edition line of Apple Watches, which range in price from $10,000 for the cheapest model to $17,000 for the most expensive one. According to much of the fanboy media, this is a reasonable price for a gold watch -- it's actually lower than the prices of many other gold watches. Never mind that -- unlike regular high-end watches, you won't be giving the Apple Watch to your grandson as a family heirloom; it will be obsolete in two years. (To be fair, the pricing of the Apple Watch Edition collection is a point of controversy.)

Even the "regular" Apple Watch plus an iPhone is pricey. For example, my preferred setup would be an iPhone 6 Plus with 128GB of storage, which costs $949 unlocked. I'd also like the 42mm stainless steel case Apple Watch with black Sport band, which costs $599.

Together, that iPhone and that Apple Watch cost $48 more than Google Glass.

A strong consensus has formed in the tech press that $1,500 is way too much for a totally experimental, unique and well supported new category of consumer electronics device.

But in the light of what's considered reasonable for Apple products, the cost of Google Glass is actually not that high.

Lie No. 3: Google is killing Google Glass

Google announced in January that it was "graduating" Google Glass from its main R&D lab, called Google X, into its own product division, and that Glass sales would be discontinued until the shipping version of Glass was ready for prime time.

The tech media generally reported this to be something of a face-saving way for Google to kill off Google Glass. The news was reported as evidence that Google Glass was a failure. It was also widely reported in a passive-aggressive way, with reports saying "Google says the move doesn't mean Glass is dead."

Yet two weeks later, Google made the exact same move with a project with the exact same status. Project Tango, a system for rapid indoor mapping from a smartphone or tablet, was moved from the lab into its own product group.

But in that case, the tech press reported the move to mean that Tango was "getting real" and "becoming an official Google device."

Announcements of two identical transitions from lab to product group resulted in completely different conclusions by the tech press, because the media echo chamber had convinced itself that Google Glass was a failure.

My point isn't that negative commentary about something like Google Glass is invalid. It's that the tech press as a group often forms these kinds of groupthink opinions that are asserted as truth, when in fact they often reflect the biases and self-absorption and conformist mentality of the tech press as a group.

If we believe the press-orchestrated conventional wisdom, we'll end up with some false notions about Google Glass, which in fact is an awesome public "beta" of a prototype device that will be widely used in the future because it will become a really interesting consumer electronics device.

Beware of the conventional wisdom -- it's often nothing more than the inclinations, biases and preferences of a nonrepresentative and highly conformist group of people in the media.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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