A Case Study in Bleeding Edge
by Justin Smart
I am a self-proclaimed consumer tech geek. Note that I said “consumer” because I do not claim any significant level of IT expertise. Aside from being my family’s (and sometimes my friends’) designated tech guru, I have only a passion for, and years of tinkering with, consumer tech to back up my geek status.
Which is why I was so excited to try the Google Glass. But then I did.
Perhaps I had heard and read too much. Perhaps it was overhyped, either in the tech news or in my head. Perhaps I was bugged enough by my inability to see the screen clearly because I had to swap my prescription glasses for the no-lens Google Glass frames. I’m not really sure what happened, but I was hugely disappointed.
I tried. I tested. I showed my wife and kids. But I just couldn’t get excited about Google Glass.
You see in the world of ideas, there are those who want to lead and those who want to be first. The former is known as being “leading edge.” The latter has often been coined as “bleeding edge.”
I know Google isn’t the first, nor are they the only ones looking at wearable tech. But the Google Glass is definitely in the bleeding edge category in my mind. It has taken what was an idea, packaged it up in a unique way and made it available to the masses to just see what happens. They are literally at the front of the pack with this level of wearable, integrated tech, and that position always yields jeers and sometimes receives cheers.
I suppose I am doing both right now. Post-Glass demo I cheer Google for staking an aggressive claim in the race into wearables. I cheer them for what I know they will do with the ideas eventually. I cheer them for the overall contribution and investment they are making in the tech space overall. We need those who will bleed on the edge, because that’s what pushes the envelope.
But as for me and my house, with Glass as it exists I have to jeer for now. I took a few photos, sent a couple of messages and searched the Internet a few times. For all those actions, I’d rather see the results on a much bigger, brighter screen and have a more fully-functioned UI. To do it on a floating screen was cool, no doubt, but I’m convinced leading edgers are ready to take what they’re learning from Google’s foray into the space – and the blood they’re letting – and take it to the next level.
In other words, the big idea is still out there. Glass will be a stepping stone to finding it.Back to Overview
Sergey Brin recently ignited conversation about Google’s Glass by claiming that using a mobile phone was ‘emasculating’.
He might be right, but do wearable computers really offer us a better option, or is Glass likely to be filed under ‘Massive Fail’ in the near future?
Before I get started, let me mention that I’m a massive fan of wearables and related haptic tech.
I’ve been waiting years for these things to turn up in my local BigMart, but frankly I get the feeling that Glass isn’t the product to take wearables mainstream.
I don’t want some dorky glasses. I want connected contact lenses, with a projection keyboard and pressure pad clothing interaction so I can actually feel the catapult as I fire angry birds through the air.
I want something with it’s own TB storage that fits on my keychain, so that I don’t have to worry that the homemade Lord of the Rings skin I’ve pasted over my real-world commute will go down as soon as my train goes through a tunnel.
Here’s five reasons Glass can’t provide me with all the options…
1. Voice control sucks, big time
When we think of voice control we imagine ourselves on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, barking orders at a helpful computer to make us a cup of tea (Earl Grey. Hot) or find out where Mr.Data has left his car keys.
In reality it doesn’t work that way:
Do you really want to walk around shouting “Take a bloody picture now Glass!” at your own head like a loon, only to have your haptics order you a large pizza?
We’ve all seen the results of even mild accents on voice control systems, and for the foreseeable future, Glass will be almost entirely voice control, otherwise what’s the point?
Good luck getting results if you aren’t from the Valley.
2. It looks stupid
Not that people are averse to wearing stupid things of course, but do we really think Dr.Dre can make the currently nerdy Glass frame as ubiquitous as Beats on the street? Will he even bother? Glass currently looks like it’s straight outta Compton, Surrey.
Google does seem to realize this, and is already talking to Warby Parker in the hope that they can provide something slick and stylish, but let’s face it, wearable computers are supposed to make us look like this:
For the foreseeable future, we're still getting this:
People don’t really want wearable computers – they want connected fashion statements. Give it some flair Google!
3. It's hugely expensive
OK, so you’d probably punt $1,500 on a new MacBook, but would you really spend that on a phone or tablet?
A laptop has multiple functions, whereas Glass is essentially a mobile device.
Even the iPad has entry models at less than a third of this, and is far more functional. Think about it – can you really even use Pinterest via Glass?
Or copy and paste those directions? Or play Candy Crush Saga without making yourself boss-eyed?
Aside from maps and telling your social networks to share a video of you (walking into something due to your limited field of vision), there’s no appropriate apps infrastructure. That leaves Glass with limited functions, ultimately pushing it into the realm of mobile Wii Despite massive sales, even with Android the gaming options are limited. Can we really expect devs to take on Glass in a satisfactory way?
4. Google fails to meet demand for things
Google are a magnificent, exciting company, but let’s face it, they have a track record of being absolutely crap when it comes to actually shipping hardware.
Remember the #NexusFail? No, not many people do, because they never received their Nexus so couldn’t moan about it on Twitter.
If Google wants to address the price and supply issue they’ll need major league production facilities, and currently they just don’t have them.
Until there’s a stream of automated factories parked next to the server farm in Iowa then we can expect massive delays, and for a luxury item that’s a big no-no.
Of course, Google could always team up with someone else to help produce the hardware, but who, without looking pointedly at any factories with a picture of an Apple on the side of them, has the exacting tech production facilities to address demand?
5. Can you really have a great UX on a HUD?
In the world of mobile, we seem to be drifting towards larger screens, with more functionality, and without a high-level (think Iron Man Level) interface, a HUD just can’t compete.
Interestingly this brings up a lot of fundamental questions about mobile interfaces .
All mobile displays are designed with one thing in mind: You are using a flat screen.
On a mobile, if you want to zoom out, you tap and do that weird splayed fingers movement (we decided it was just called ‘zoom’ in the office). How do you zoom out of HUD?
In real life you lean backwards.
There’s an entire generation already growing up with ‘double tap’ functionality firmly embedded in their minds, and while it’s not impossible, is the mass market really ready to start learning and using an entirely new gesture system?
Of course, there’s always voice control. For absolutely everything: “Glass, take a sneaky picture of this smelly weirdo that I can post on Reddit for lulz and karma”
For advertisers this brings up more problems. Is there an agency out there that is all set to redefine display ads in an entirely new way? Or are we just set to get a display clogged with pop-ups and billboard ads skinned over the top of the regular world?
This vision of the future is old. If Google wants Glass to be a success, it’ll need to come up with some pretty radical AR functions.
To be honest, I hope that Glass will be a huge success, but to coin a phrase, #IfIHadGlass I'm not sure I'd be able to use it for much without some serious hacking.
What do you think about Glass? Must-have or extra windscreen? Let us know in the comments!