The delightful xkcd strikes again:
There are only so many Google Glass units out there now, but imagine a world where they’re even more plentiful than the smartphone — to not have one is to be less than whole. Then you might very well have people using them so casually that they lose self-consciousness and get lost in the moment of just trying to take a good photo.
The guy in this video is happy to demonstrate for you.
The original Google Glass announcement left me stunned. I had never seen anything like it before. To me, it was one of the only product announcements that has come close to the unveiling of the iPhone in 2007.
Just like back then, it was a moment so exciting that I couldn’t resist telling everyone I knew about it. Sure, the Project Glass concept video that was released in April 2012 was exciting, but to see the product become a reality was something else entirely.
Google Glass is not the evolution of the Smartphone. It’s an entirely new product that’s in a class of it’s own. Glass’ purpose is to enhance the world around us, not distract us from it. It augments our reality, bringing the physical and the digital together in perfect harmony. It’s there when we need it and it’s invisible when we don’t.
Everyone I’ve showed it to tells me the same thing. They tell me “It’s like something from the future”. I agree with them. Google Glass is years ahead of its time, but to me it just means that the future is already here, and it’s a future that’s made of Glass.
Marcus Wohlsen wrote what I think is a fairly persuasive piece arguing that Google Glass will be a commercial failure because you look like an idiot using it. My good friend Tom Lee calls Wohlsen’s piece “truly awful” and goes on to write a fairly persuasive piece about the importance of heads-up displays and mobile computing. The issue here is that pioneering a successful product category and pioneering a successful product are actually different things.
Google, in mostly great ways, is a company with a geek/engineer ethos down to its soul. But that means both that it might make a product like Glass without due consideration of the “how does it make me look” factor (engineering over aesthetics) and also that it might invest in great innovations without due consideration of their prospects as businesses (engineering over commerce). This makes Google one of the great forces for the good in the world, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Google Glass turns out to be a fairly unsuccessful product and nonetheless five years from now everyone who’s anyone is unwrapping a great new heads-up display device for Christmas.
The first real-world demo of Google Glass’s user interface made me laugh out loud. Forget the tiny touchpad on your temples you’ll be fussing with, or the constant “OK Glass” utterances-to-nobody: the supposedly subtle “gestural” interaction they came up with–snapping your chin upwards to activate the glasses, in a kind of twitchy, tech-augmented version of the “bro nod”–made the guy look like he was operating his own body like a crude marionette. The most “intuitive” thing we know how to do–move our own bodies–reduced to an awkward, device-mediated pantomime: this is “getting technology out of the way”?
Don’t worry, though–in a couple years, we’ll be apparently able to use future iterations of Glass much less weirdly. A Redditor discovered some code implying that we’ll be able to snap photos merely by winking. What could be more natural and effortless than that? Designers at Fjord speculate that these kinds of body-based micro-interactions are the future of interface design. “Why swipe your arm when you can just rub your fingers together,” they write. “What could be more natural than staring at something to select it, nodding to approve something?… For privacy, you’ll be able to use imperceptible movements, or even hidden ones such as flicking your tongue across your teeth.”
These designers think that the difference between effortless tongue-flicking and Glass’s crude chin-snapping is simply one of refinement. I’m not so sure. To me they both seem equally alienating–I don’t think we want our bodies to be UIs.
Heidegger’s concept of “ready to hand” describes a tool that, when used, feels like an extension of yourself that you “act through”. When you drive a nail with a hammer, you feel as though you are acting directly on the nail, not “asking” the hammer to do something for you. In contrast, “present at hand” describes a tool that, in use, causes you to “bump up against some aspect of its nature that makes you focus on it as an entity,” as Matt Webb of BERG writes.
On Friday I was invited into Google Labs New York and given the opportunity to try out Glass.
I declined to put on a pair.
There are many people who are exploring what Glass could be, evaluating and providing feedback to Google, exposing and conditioning their networks to the idea of Glass as a viable part of the technology landscape. The selection criteria for being a Glass explorer/evaluator/shill* has been as carefully thought out as any part of the bring-Glass-to-market process. Many early adopters are willing to pay to get their hands on Glass. Others will be paid (in kind or in cash) for providing feedback and related services to the Glass team – and I’ll be interested to know how many of those will reveal their consultant relationship when they talk about Glass publicly. While targeting trend and thought leaders, early adopters and legislatures is not novel, few projects or companies have such deep pockets to do so as comprehensively with such a disruptive product.
In most situations I’d jump at the chance to try Glass out. With most technologies clients want to understand everything about the user experience from how consumers first discover a service, first impressions out of the box, what will drive consistent use or more likely, how it will end up at the back of a drawer gathering dust. Like many of you I make a living from this rich contextual understanding that comes from first hand experiences. It pays (well) to have a natural curiosity about this space and I enjoy being surrounded by colleagues that like to sketch with code and bits – the drill that knows how deep it goes, or a tape measure that can remember everything it measures are two wonderfully understated and subversive examples of explorations that our Munich studio shared this week.
You’ll find no shortage of people willing to write about their hands-on experience of using Glass and I’m not convinced I have too much to add to the conversation around the hands-on product experience. I do however have something to add to the impacted-by-glass-experience for people who feel caught in Google’s proxy: the Little Sister data dragnet.
This isn’t a public declaration of never wanting to wear Glass or a philosophical stance against Google or that form factor. I can think of three Glass use-cases that I consider utterly compelling that could drive adoption, but that include significant social disruption. Instead it’s an appreciation that when it comes to privacy and un/acceptable behaviour in our public spaces there are stakeholders that go well beyond the community that will read this, with whom for now I prefer to maintain a closer affinity.
Stepping out of the Labs meeting and onto the New York streets my colleague Robert Fabricant asked the following question: If you could dictate the exact moment of your first perfect Glass experience what would it be?
For me it will be that short time between a bullet exploding out of a barrel and the moment it penetrates the skull: a lifetime of meaningful experiences played back before my eye. That cinematic-techno-utopian assumption of a life exquisitely recapped is of course wishful thinking and as inevitable as the Glass form factor itself. I suspect a far more realistic scenario is that the last thing I would hear is the sound of the gun-shot, and the last thing I would see is an interstitial advert for earplugs.
Thanks to Matt for the invite and the Google team for hosting.
* frog recently completed a project for Visa in Rwanda that included a short film on the opportunities for financial inclusion, in which I appear. I’ll write about the experience at some point.The line between evaluator, proponent and shill is a nuanced one dependent in part of where you stand.