It has been a major recent news story that Google has shuttered the Google Glasses project. I personally saw tens of articles discussing all of the problems with Google Glasses (GG) and how it was “obvious” that they would fail. I personally am a big believer in the potential of smart glasses and, for reasons that still escape me, there seems to be an almost universal policy of negativity, in the press, in regards to GG.
Let’s begin with this point: the future of personalized computing is not in a wallet sized device that must be carried around, is easily lost and even more easily stolen. In fact, no one can even decide on the ideal size for this device, whether it should be small with a 4 inch screen or bordering on a tablet with a larger than 6 inch screen. The affinity that people feel towards their smart phones is almost as great as the perceived failure of Google Glasses. For some reason, the idea of wearing technology that would eventually replace a smart phone, was unacceptable to most people. And once again I wish to say that I don’t understand why.
There is such a thing as introducing a new technology too soon. Sometimes, despite the functionality of a technology, it’s still found lacking for various reasons. When Steve Jobs introduced the Newton, it was very much a first foray into the world of portable handheld devices. At the time that the Newton was introduced, high-speed wireless Internet was still a dream, and as such any portable device, of that time, was limited. But the Newton still was a very capable device and could very well have become the digital replacement for a clipboard and paper.
Despite its value, the Newton failed in the world’s marketplace. What is most fascinating is that the concepts behind it are still valid today. So, it seems pretty clear that timing is key when introducing something new in the tech world.
There were a number of complaints about GG that were valid. Many people regularly wear glasses, myself included, and for these people, GG was not readily usable. There was talk of compartmentalizing GG into a clip-on that would work with any pair of glasses. But clearly, that did not happen before Google shut down the project.. Nevertheless, GG prove itself in multiple arenas. Of most interest to me, was the success and further potential of GG in a medical environment. I am very saddened by the fact that further work into GG will not continue. I am hopeful that someone else, or perhaps Google itself, will pick up the glove and continue with a new form factor and product.
One of the arguments against GG was the potential invasion of privacy that it facilitated. People were extremely concerned that they would be filmed without their knowledge. I’m sorry to say but I find this argument almost laughable. Just recently, police officers were ordered to begin wearing video cameras that would track their entire day and night’s activity while at work. What that means is that any time you would see a police officer, you would have to assume you were being filmed. Add to that, the number of security cameras that line the streets of many cities, and there are very few places that you can go without being captured on digital cellulite. In my opinion, worrying that GG would further expose people to being filmed was nearly paranoid in nature.
I have already said it many times in this blog, that privacy is a lost cause. The faster we accept this as a species, the faster we will be able to benefit from a whole variety of technologies. I can fully appreciate people’s concern that they will be caught in awkward situations, even if it is something as mundane as playing with their nose. On the other hand, anybody who would take such a “compromising” photo and play it up is a fool. If the public’s reaction would be to scorn those who take advantage of constant videography of the public, then this would go a long way to shutting down voyeur-ship. Cameras and videocams are here to stay. But the public’s attitudes can shift and make it socially unacceptable to abuse these technologies.
I would be surprised if by 2020, there was not a tiny device that encapsulated all the functionality of present-day GG, along with a whole range of innovations. This device would snap on to regular glasses and be so small as to be undetected by almost anyone who does not stare directly at the wearer. For those people who do not regularly wear glasses, there might be an ear-worn device which slightly protrudes in order to be able to view the surroundings.
My point is that wearable computing that includes a camera is too useful to be shunned. I personally believe that the key will be the packaging of such technology, so that the general public will not constantly be reminded that it is “being watched”. When this happens, GG will come back with a vengeance and will succeed far beyond anything presently imagined.
Addendum: I am purposely specifying the following portion of this post as an addendum, in order to emphasize the pace of change in the technology world. Just yesterday, Microsoft presented its first formal look into the next version of Windows, presently called Windows 10. It was definitely a very impressive presentation, and I am definitely tempted to upgrade to this version when it will become available.
Microsoft introduced another technology which has pretty much the entire tech world abuzz. Microsoft introduced HoloLens, which is an extremely impressive implementation of 3-D interactive holograms superimposed on top of real-world objects. Microsoft delivers this experience via a totally new device, which is – you guessed it – a type of smart glasses. The demonstrations of this entire new system are breathtaking. and it seems pretty clear to me that such technology will usher in an entire new world of software and hardware solutions in all fields.
The potential of this technology in medicine is tremendous. I still find it hard to imagine that this science-fiction looking solution will be commonplace by 2020, but it will. So it already seems that the next generation of smart glasses has arrived, even before the body of Google Glasses went cold. I think it is also fair to say that the Google will respond in the near future with an entire ecosystem based on a next generation of GG technology. I think the entire world is in for a wild ride that will really change most things in our day-to-day lives.
Thanks for listening