The last few days have seen a mini-avalanche of commentary about Google Glass, a wearable ‘augmented reality heads-up display’, hotly anticipated for a late 2013 launch (at around $1500). As an early indicator of potential social impact, there are quite a few spoofs already out there. But what is it, and what are we to make of it? I will confess that I started out a skeptic (more on that later) but am now warming to the idea — but that it still has a ways to go.
The simplest way to describe the benefit of Google Glass is that it’s a way to get the benefits of various functions of a smartphone, without the disruption of a smartphone — mainly the need to use hands and divert attention to look at a screen. This headset will allow user-perspective photos, videos, maps and short visual messages, all voice-controlled.
An excellent short slideshow about Google Glass functionality can be found here.
Google has released a video showing fabulous user experiences being recorded: hot-air balloon flight, trapeze, onstage at the ballet, stunt pilot, skydiving, roller coaster, etc.
Exciting but a little breathless – – like the old joke about the little girl who wants feminine hygiene products for her birthday because they will let her ride horses and go to the beach like in the commercials – – most of the excitement is from the activities, not the device.
Another more (literally) pedestrian video shows a guy walking around Manhattan, continuously taking care of business using Google Glass heads-up info, seemingly enjoying his surroundings (cue gratuitous dog interaction) while simultaneously (and impressively) managing to not fall into a manhole.
This video was more interesting: it showed how it would feel to be continually engaged with the device – – but the texting-while-driving argument seems relevant here – – can we safely (and do we want to) ignore our surroundings as we focus on interacting with a device?
Google Glass has some obvious disadvantages. It is still a little space-age nerdy (although talks are apparently in the works with RayBan, Warby Parker and others), and still likely subject to the frailties of technology (dropped signals, etc). It also seems to have the capacity to depersonalize interpersonal human interaction when one (or both) parties are assisted by (and perhaps secretly distracted by) the unseen notes popping up in their heads-up display.
On the other hand, Google Glass embodies the remarkable promise of current hi-tech innovation. Rather than require humans to adapt to technology (think about having to learn DOS commands), it strives to adapt technology to natural human behavior to make life more functional and interesting. By this measure, Google Glass, by removing the need to constantly manipulate a phone, succeeds in creating a big vision – – but the big question still remains – – who is going to want to wear this thing?