Is Glass Your Next Big Thing?

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The short answer is probably not yet.

Glass is Google’s latest R&D effort. Okay, it’s a cool concept. Would I like to play with it? Yes, I probably would. Would I spend $1,500 to play with it? Nah. Absolutely not.  But let’s remember this: At $1,500, I’m not the target market for this product.

Glass is still highly experimental. It’s a piece of wearable technology whose greatest gifts are still in the future. So let’s look at what it is:

It looks like an eyeglass frame with a little cyborg-looking camera attached to the top of the right frame. You use touch gestures, head movements, and voice commands to control the processes and to turn it on and off. You can access maps, take pictures and videos, get information from the web, translate your voice to a different language. For as small as the actual hardware is, that’s quite a lot of activity. It gains access to all that information either through wi-fi, by using bluetooth, or by being tethered to a cell phone.

Being still in “Explorer” phase (that’s the name of the 8,000 people willing to pony up the bucks to play with Glass), it’s not a computer, nor anything like unto it. It’s not universally great to wear.  And it’s not easy to get, over and above the cost. The invitation must be redeemed at one of the locations dispensing the product, currently at the “Base Camp” locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. You must go yourself, you can’t send someone else to pick them up for you—although if I was spending $1500 on a really cool toy, I’d want to do that myself anyway. If you wear glasses, you have just a few options: get contacts, get lenses specifically for the Glass frames (and, you guessed it, they’re not cheap), or try to squish the Glass frame on over your regular glasses. From what I’ve read, it can be done, but it’s not easy, and it may not have the results you want.

Reviews, as you might imagine, have been mixed as to the functionality. What it does, it does very well. Navigation is done through Google Maps, which is still the gold standard of cellular-based mobile navigation. The camera seems to be just plain fabulous. Using the Google search algorithm is as comprehensive as it would be sitting at your desk on a full-featured computer. But you have to either talk to it or touch the controls on the right temple piece to make things happen, and if the idea is to be hands-free, then that means talking to yourself in a crowd. Regardless of how modern and tolerant we seek to become, talking to oneself in public repeatedly will induce the perception of instability. And speaking of instability, a couple of Explorers reported coming dangerously close to light poles and doorways while engaging in content. One user reported an eyestrain headache after trying to read a novel using Glass, and clearly that is not the intent of the device, but you know it will be done. Connectivity issues can cause interruptions in usability, because this is a cloud-only device. Nothing is actually stored on the Glass device. It is basically a single-user device, because it is configured through a Google+ account. The camera seems to not be configurable to be sensitive to light differences, so images in a darkened environment will still be very dark.

So here’s my take:
Unless and until they get really cheap, I’m going to pass.  I can take great photos and videos with my camera, my Flip camera, and my phone. I carry my phone with me and I think I’m disciplined enough to know when to put it away, and with Glass being wearable, I’m not convinced enough people will know when to put it away, especially if they’ve put expensive prescription lenses into it and thus have quite an investment therein. If Glass is what they normally wear with those lenses in, simply taking them off may not be an option, they will have to carry an extra pair of glasses, and my bet is that most people won’t do that.  I’m concerned, not so much that people will use them to take video of everything and everyone everywhere they go, but that the rest of us will think they are doing so. And honestly, some will do so. The privacy of the transmission to your Google+ account is only as good as the encryption that Google puts on the app (it works through your phone).  They have started paying more attention to stuff like that, so I imagine they’ve got that covered. And they have implemented stronger account security as well. Google is developing this product for a consumer market, but once proof of concept is viable, the Hounds of Hell may be loosed on an unsuspecting (or maybe a suspecting but powerless) public. My bottom line, it’s a cool idea, I don’t see today the practicality of it, and I see more danger to our privacy than benefit to the general public. Aren’t we connected enough already?


Image by Google

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