The Google Glass post

The inspiration for this post came from a conversation that I had with Ian Wood around this time last year and a twitter exchange that I had earlier this week with Excapite. We started off talking about what Tumblr meant to Yahoo! and what it meant in the broader scheme of things in the digital eco-system  and the primacy of mobile device experience in the world now.

Nigel suggested that the future is likely to look like Google Glass, but that the current device is too early rather like the Apple Newton PDA. Part of the problem is a social one, the device usage is too conscious, so you have the ‘Glasshole’ phenomena as demonstrated by the white men wearing Google Glass tumblr account.

I suspect that the problem with Google Glass is partly one of execution rather like the HP-150 personal computer of the early 1980s. Why the comparison with a thirty-year old computer design?

Let me quote from chapter nine of Accidental Empires by Robert X. Cringely

The other problem with the HP-150 was what was supposed to have been its major selling point—the touchscreen, which was a clever idea nobody really wanted. Not only was it hard to get software companies to make their products work with HP’s touchscreen technology, users didn’t like it. Secretaries, who apparently measure their self-worth by typing speed, didn’t want to take their fingers off the keys. Even middle managers, who were the intended users of the system, didn’t like the touch screen. The technology was clever, but it should have been a tip-off that HP’s own engineers chose not to use the systems. You could walk through the cavernlike open offices at HP headquarters in those days without seeing a single user pointing at his or her touchscreen.

Funnily enough touch screens were tried again and again. They only seemed to sell in reasonable quantities when they were on devices that:

  • Didn’t have a keyboard (as standard) (PalmPilot, iPhone, iPad)
  • Didn’t try to do the kind of tasks that one would need a keyboard for. When one thinks about the the PalmPilot, the iPad and even the iPhone they are primarly information consumption devices

I think that the glance up display Google Glass has a level of social and user awkwardness similar to the touch display. Google are on to something, the use of sneaky applications that would provide the right information at the right time. But the very act of using the device is a big tell that is both distracting and takes away the social impact of the information provided.

If we think about the way similar displays are used in fiction:

  • The Terminator – it isn’t obvious that the data is being used as it is ‘in retina’ but cyborgs are really anti-social. In the first Terminator film, the posters showed the cyborg status information projected on to the inside of the Gargoyle ANSI Classics sported by Arnold Schwartzenegger
  • Jacking in to the ‘net in William Gibson’s sprawl series of novels have goggles and similar visual tools that augment the characters bodies; both of which detach the character socially as they go online or put them outside of the social norm with their artificial nature in the case of body augmentation

In real-life Zeiss and Sony’s personal cinema video goggle sets detach the user from their surroundings physically by concealing the eyes and psychologically by providing an immersive audio visual experience. So visual overlay may not be the best way of going about things.

When one thinks about the UN general assembly or news broadcasters, the participants get their cues via a discrete ear phone or assistant whispering within earshot. Sound may be a better way of providing sneak application information. However despite services like Siri the technology for audio input and output may not be there. At least in small discrete package with a reasonable battery life.

More information
Things are looking up for Google Glass | I, Cringely