Yesterday, Google’s CEO Larry Page made an appearance at the Google Zeitgeist event in London with some ungainly lump of plastic clinging to the side of his head. It was of course Google Glass, the company’s oddball new project that’s trying to mix Android, AR and your eyewear into one seamless whole.
Except it can’t, and it won’t. Google Glass has the potential to be the company’s biggest folly – a classic example of trying to get ahead of the curve by veering madly away from it. Why so bad? Because it shows a real lack of insight about the tech that’s currently sticking to the wall, and what’s been bouncing out of favour. Here’s what’s wrong…
At the moment, Google Glass is a weird mystery. I’ve seen the promotional video (below) that glorifies all the possibilities, but there’s been incredibly little in the way of specs and evidence that any of it actually works as advertised.
Every now and again someone from Google will wheel it out in public, but because of the personal nature of the product it’s a bit hard to fathom. You can’t get all that excited about what you can’t see. Google’s a child telling you about all the things their imaginary friend got up to today, and we’re all just politely smiling and nodding along.
And this is a problem. The absence of specs brings with it an absence of a clear selling point. Not that that’s the only problem, mind. I don’t know why I would possibly want Google Glass, largely because I don’t fully know what it does, but it’s also because I can’t see anything that it could do better than other, more interesting technology can do just as well.
A phone replacement?
Key to this confusion is that I’m not sure if Glass is designed to replace the mobile phone, or merely link up to it. And neither is Google, by the looks of things. Now, if it could completely do the former, we might be on to something, but as a phone accessory its redundancy levels go through the roof.
Why? Because you simply don’t need to have access to the kind of information it’d proffer during every minute of the day. Looking at a map while walking, or texting and calling people is all handled well enough on a phone because you only need to glance down occasionally to get the info you need.
What’s most frustrating though, is that Google’s got its priorities wrong. Glass doesn’t appear to offer anything new technologically; it’s just a mobile phone repackaged for your head. When I spoke to Paul Murphy of call recording company Call Trunk recently, he said that voice recognition technology hasn’t really changed in ten years. While the processes behind natural speech recognition have now sped up enough to squeeze onto your phone, it hasn’t really evolved.
With Siri and Samsung’s S Voice, we’ve got newly repackaged versions of that tech, but the back-end’s not been pushed on at all. It strikes me that Google could spend its time and considerable resources on advancing this or any number of similar fields in terms of raw tech, rather than simply bundling up what we’ve already got access to into a different shape.
AR is nonsense
It gets worse. A lot of what Project Glass is about is bringing augmented reality to the fore. But the tech behind that isn’t really anything particularly new, and there’s a reason why it hasn’t yet made the mainstream. No, not because holding your phone up in public is embarrassing (although that is true); it’s because it doesn’t really do anything massively useful.
I can only think of one example in real life where AR is a true aid: onscreen translation technology – where a sign or menu can be switched into your native tongue using a camera. But how often is that a problem that you couldn’t solve with your phone?
Another use, as proffered by Google Glass, could be labeling up people you’ve met before but who’s name you can’t remember, but that’s a bit of a stretch, and will probably add a layer of social politics (and confusion in busy rooms) to meet-ups that I could live without, anyway.
AR can be fun and sometimes impressive, but it’s not something that has many every day uses, let alone all day uses. And that’s not for a lack of trying.
Put it on my wrist
Ok, so, if not on your face, then where? Have you seen all the fuss about the Pebble Watch? Kickstarter’s most successful ever project, with over $10million in raised funds, proves beyond reasonable doubt that there is a huge market full of people who would quite happily have many of the features that Google has shown Project Glass doing slapped on their wrists.
The Pebble watch is just one of many such devices, but it’s small and inconspicuous, frugal on power and lets users access all the key features you’d need to from your phone: reading emails and messages, switching tracks and a load more by way of a developer SDK.
To my mind, if you’re building a device that takes some of the pressure off your phone, it makes far more sense to incorporate it into an accessory that people of all walks of life have been proudly wearing for hundreds of years, rather than into a pair of glasses, which can be seen at all times and which not everyone has to wear naturally.
Of course the real issue here – the one that’s by far the biggest reason why Project Glass is destined to land in the same ditch as Google’s other follies like Wave and Buzz – is that there doesn’t seem to be a single person at Google with any idea what the word ‘cool’ means. Wearing a chunky block of tech on your face is not, and probably will never be, cool. Nor aspirational. It’s geekiness turned up to eleven, and no one seems to have pointed that out to the people in charge.
That sort of geekiness is fine in the lab, but for a consumer-facing product? You can only get away with it when it’s something you can slip in and out of your pocket or in and out of view. But a product worn on your face is a beacon, and it’s one I could do without.
Far be it from me to stand in the way of progress. I’m willing to be told by tech companies that I need products and product types that I’ve never seen or imagined before. That’s happened many times in the past. But this? Google’s misread humans, and fudged the basic principles of people like about consumer tech. Long story short: I’m really not sold. Are you? Let me know below.