Fear and loathing of Google Glass

I’ve blogged a few times before about the merits and flaws in the current iterations of Google Glass. I consider Google Glass to be an interesting idea; because of the potential contextual nature of its content provision; but the product is flawed and ultimately a failure in the consumer space due to its product design and current limitations of technology. The Atlantic carried a very interesting piece that hyphothesised that Google Glass was failing because it was an assistive technology and assistive technologies make use feel week. However, if that was the case Glass should be fine with just a rebranding exercise, rather like glasses moved from being a weakness to a hipster accessory.

Whilst I agree with the hypothesis that Google Glass can assist people, I don’t think that ‘disability aids’ are the correct analogy for Google Glass; instead Google Glass augments the majority of current users in theory; it is a telephone rather than a hearing aid. It is about making the user even better; think of it as having the personal assistant who whispers in your ear at a party the names of the people that you should know and where you met them previously, a personal concierge service like a shopper or a tour guide.

Failings in Google Glass

  • Google Glass isn’t discrete. The glance up display Google Glass has a level of social and user awkwardness similar to early implementations of the touch display that tried to incorporate it with a keyboard like the HP-150. 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
  • Google Glass is interruption-based media. From point of view of someone conversing with a Google Glass wearer, the sudden pauses and ‘zombie-like’ eye drift are disconcerting. Rather like if someone kept answering their phone in a meeting. The problem here is one of technology, Sony’s smart eyeglass prototype and Epson’s Moverio BT-200 which display the content directly in front of the wearers vision are more likely paths for a future successful solution as would some sort of discrete earbud with aural content delivery
  • Google Glass has too short a battery life. With a usable battery life of just 45 minutes usage time, users have to manage the device to husband power resources. Whilst Google calls this a design feature to try and prevent wholesale privacy invasion; the downside is the audience distraction. The reality is that I don’t think battery life is a feature but a function of battery technology failings at the moment. This could improve overtime with improvements in chip power consumption, power management techniques and incremental improvements in battery chemistry formulation

Glass Rage
Google Glass incidents happen for a number of reasons:

  • The wider socio-economic tensions that are breaking out in San Francisco between the digital haves and the local have-nots. It is a similar but more visible tension to that seen in Dorset or Cornwall as moneyed London city workers buy a weekend place or telecommute from the country and in turn drive up property prices out of the reach of local people. You can see it in Central London with bankers, foreign investors and Russian oligarchs looking for sanctuary and safety from the British legal system. The problem is of course, that gentrification kills the very elements that attract tech workers to San Francisco: authenticity, diversity, a little bit of risk-taking, arts and culture. This is what happens when Richard Florida’s cluster theory reaches a ‘point of inflection’; when the creative classes devour and destroy what they craved just by the nature of their sheer numbers
  • The unknown. The majority of Glass users who have undergone a well-deserved drubbing seem to conduct themselves in an anti-social way using their device as if they have some divine right. Without wearing Glass they would be described as foolish, stupid or even borderline sociopaths. It is the same with most technologies, early adopters through their social normative compass out the window when they are trying the new, new thing and are then surprised when the world pushes back. Common sense and good manners should be a hygiene factor rather than a service pack. It takes years or longer to get this right; mobile etiquette is still an issue, some three decades after cellphones started to become popular

There are some use cases for glass that make sense
Glass would be much more useful, (at least until the technology is able to address some of the shortcomings listed above) in an industrial environment; for instance working in a tight space servicing a jet engine or augmenting a warehouse picking team’s work. All of this is dependent on the device being sufficiently robust to deal with a dusty, solvent-laden environment safely. It is probably no coincidence that Google is now trying to pivot towards the enterprise, but I could counsel against using Glass at the moment in customer-facing / front-of-house roles.

More information
People Don’t Like Google Glass Because It Makes Them Seem Weak – The Atlantic
The Oculus Rift | Facebook post
Epson Moverio BT-200 see-through smart glasses
Sony Shows Smarteyeglass Prototype to Developers – CIO.com
I like: Sony’s Smarteyglasses
The Google Glass post