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.

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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?

The augmented reality dashboard

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.

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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.

  • Michael Kummer

    Just because there are no specifications available yet, doesn’t mean an idea like Google Glass is crap. 

    Why would you think it replaces a phone? At least to me it seems to be clear that it is a convenient output device augmenting a smart phone. 

    Most of the information shown in the clip is available on the phone’s screen as well but in a much less convenient way. If I have my phone in my pocket (especially while driving) and I need to SEE some information it makes perfect sense to have it outputted by something like Glass.Visualizing important information in a convenient way seems a logical step in the right direction.To me it seems like you’re getting paid by Google’s competition since your article lacks any substance and facts.

  • ???? ???

    I totally disagree with you. Even if Project Glass is a Bluetooth device connected to your phone in your pocket, it would still be very much helpful. We have become so much dominated by Apple’s short term view of the world that when Google comes up with something that is very long term, that project is compared with Siri and S Voice and verbally discarded.
    I believe that Google’s Project Glass, in one form or other, will be with us for a long long time, even decades, when Siri and S Voice will have been long forgotten.

  • ???? ???

    This is an unasked for and unwanted free advice to Apple. Apple, now you are not a small company anymore and with 120B $ in the bank it is time that you start investing in long term bets. START ‘APPLE LABS’ IN US, UK, FRANCE, GERMANY, CHINA AND ELSEWHERE WHERE YOUR MONEY IS.

    Half of the bets won’t work out but others would and that will secure long term future of Apple.

    • Anonymous

      Who’s to say Apple doesn’t do that? It just doesn’t like to get people’s hopes up with unreleased products.

  • Anthem69

    mix this with a leap or kinnect style sensor so you can move the items in front of you in virtual space watch videos etc and its golden. virtual games , virtual hollidays , and 3d function right on your glasses. have directional sound projeced to your ears and a function to pollotise the lenses to turn them into your custom 3D glasses at the movies or use them to change how dark they go for sunglasses all good. i know im talking about an eventual evolution of this idea but all all seem good to me.

  • Scott9236

    I honestly can’t believe the lack of imagination the writer is displaying. Nothing useful for it to do? Oh my god. Killer app – make women look younger, augmented reality makeup, or hell make them look different, better. Just to be fair, men would be fair game too. Getting bored with the spouse in bed? Map a younger version, or a movie star on top of your spouse’ face a la avatar. Inevitable. And revolutionary, very disruptive of so many aspects of contemporary society. And what really is the fundamental difference between this and makeup or plastic surgery.

    Subtitles while speaking to someone in a foreign language?
    Work instructions while building something or doing an activity?
    Living in virtual world as you walk around the real one? Whatever strikes your fancy a medieval world, a sic fi one, whatever. Build your own world on top of reality that. Others can see. Redecorate the house. Redecorate a city. Do google searches while viewing an object, price or spec comparisons. Have info in front of your face during a business conversation. It’s endless. Cooking, recipes. Directions. Watch movies or tv and not use the augmented part. View the web without a computer. My god this is inevitable. Read vet or vinge’s new sic fi book to learn details. He wrote a whole book about this. Please. This is so inevitable kids of the future will think of cell phones screens like we think of telegraphs. Please. Fully customizable reality. Inevitable if the tech exists. The next step will be in contact lenses….

  • Anonymous

    The author seems proud of his deficit
    imagination. Trolling?

    1) Google Glass is the shortest path to tighter human-computer interface
    at this point in history. It is a technology 1 step before neural
    integration, 2 steps before “natural” intelligence amplification, and 3
    steps before autonomous AI. (Which is not so desirable for the mankind,
    as once denounced by Stephen Hawking. We may be better off amplifying
    human intelligence.)

    2) Stephen Hawking and other immobilised people’s dream.

    3) Eyes-friendly, sight saving to those with already strained vision.
    Healthier for wrists, fingers and elbows than mouse and keyboard. Saves
    you from Deep-Vein Thrombosis and trapped elbow nerve unlike classic
    computer stations.

    4) There are many people who spend most waking hours in front of
    computer, using it as “extended cortex”. This device would free them
    from sedentary living.

    5) Delivers privacy of display. (At last!)

    6) Human is “simply” a (any) reasoning animal. Since human without
    intellect is essentially an ape, and raw intellect without the element
    of humanity in it is basically a computer, I believe that Google Glass
    could be likewise used to augment animal intelligence. All it takes is
    to run the proper software on top of it. Then we would need to grant
    citizenship and other human rights to animals… Then animals might own
    and run corporations. Unimaginable today… taken for granted tomorrow?

    Elaborating on point 4. The author consistently fails to acknolwedge the
    needs of computing “power users” who would be the biggest beneficients
    of this technology. Talking as if people like us don’t exist or are too
    marginal to matter. Is it on purpose, to annoy us? Yes, it is easy to
    get us off balance in this way. We feel threatened by
    innovation-aversive, ignorant masses in power. For a good reason so: as
    recently as 10-15 years ago, psychiatry treated intense computing
    lifestyle as a mental disorder, not a choice. Some people have been
    forcibly deprived of computer access by their “loving” families.
    Meanwhile others, who happened to live in institutions (jails,
    hospitals, care houses, homeless shelters and whatnot, with their
    lifestyles determined BY OTHERS), were (and still are) denied unlimited
    computer access because “it’s a luxury”, not essential need. People, who
    had seemed our allies in world view, failed to show support when we
    needed it most. In similar vein, psychiatry might set out on “curing”
    “excessive” intellect itself. Isn’t intellect a special case of
    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder after all? The author seems exploiting
    this anxiety by flaunting his threatening lack of understanding before
    the reader’s eyes. I am more scared of “benign” characters like this
    than outright criminals. The author writes: “I don’t know why I would
    possibly want”. “I, I, I.” Sir… there exist other people too, you
    know? Their aspirations could differ from yours.

    • Anonymous

      Valid points, but I rather fear that Adam’s point was that Google’s likely to do a terrible job of it!

  • central heating

    Do google searches while examining an object, cost or spec assessments. Have info in front of your face throughout a enterprise conversation. It’s endless. Cooking, recipes. Directions. Watch videos or tv and not use the augmented part.

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