Myopic Criticism Overlooks the Platform’s Long-Term Prospects
Google Glass is — in every way — a Google product. I know that sounds like an obvious point to make in a piece about my early experience with Google Glass. Yet it’s an important point. Google’s the only major tech company that would consider making such a product available — even on a limited basis — this early in its lifetime.
Google is a company built on distributed projects and experimentation. Some work, some fail and some rise to become disruptive forces beyond Google’s own expectations — the success of Android’s a fine example of this. But all its potential products are designed to reinforce the core business, either directly through advertising or indirectly by providing services that consumers learn to love and in turn provide Google with the fruits that advertisers can harvest.
I make this point because I didn’t want to begin this piece by stating what I’ve read in countless other reviews and blogs: “Google Glass isn’t ready”. It’s no surprise that a product costing more than $1,600 after tax and only available to the general public for a day isn’t ready. Google Glass was the headline announcement at Google I/O in June 2012, and Google has been encouraging developers to provide feedback and bring innovation and utility to Glass since then.
Google’s never been like other tech companies and, at least for now, not every tech company is seeking to pioneer face-based computing. Google’s doing what it’s long been doing, but on a far bigger scale: providing building blocks, opening up APIs for developers and allowing the ecosystem to help it innovate. Real development can’t remain behind closed doors in an age of platforms and APIs on everything, although Apple remains the exception to that rule.
So regardless of my first thoughts on Glass, I have to admire Google’s ethos. This incredibly expensive science project runs a very real risk of being flamed by tech bloggers and early adopters before it gets off the noses of geeks, oddballs and tech experts. (My wife would argue that I fit all three descriptions.)
I’ll outline the shortcomings of Glass only briefly, as nothing I say will be new to many readers (and you can read about them in more detail elsewhere). It has a terrible battery life, and the functional user interface gets horrendously cluttered when new apps are added. For me this is among its biggest problems, albeit easily fixable. For example, pushing Twitter notifications to the Glass results in an endless timeline of tweets that fill your information stream and can’t be dismissed.
The overall usefulness of the current Glass model is also questionable. However, the question should be answered by the very initiative that’s allowed me and many others to purchase Glass and try it out. The big, lasting questions are about privacy, and whether twitching your head and eyes up and down will ever be socially acceptable. Unless it turns out you’re having a fit. The trouble is, it’s likely to be hard to tell.
A more immediate challenge also remains: will people wear it? I live and work in the tech bubble that is Silicon Valley — the UPS man said he’d delivered many of these packages to the area in a 48-hour period — but there are still few public settings where I feel comfortable wearing Glass.
However, these concerns are perhaps largely irrelevant, as today’s Glass isn’t the product that will sell to consumers. Developers and early adopters will play a big role in defining what Glass becomes, and it won’t be exactly the product that Google originally envisaged. Collaborations like this aren’t a new concept — the iPhone that launched in June 2007 was very different to the iPhone following the release of the software development kit and the launch of the App Store.
Google Glass has limited utility, but that’ll quickly change. Glass is unlikely to be a mass-market product — my bet is that it ultimately finds its way into commercial environments where there’s a real need for the hands-free delivery of information. Google’s work in pioneering the technology is likely to offer far more value as an open platform for others. Google just isn’t quite there yet.
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