Glass Half Empty
Smartphones rose to power because they took a device you always had with you and crammed it full of extra value. These portable computers used the ‘phone’ concept as a trojan horse at just the right time of mobile data, miniaturisation and social networks. Before long, most people will have smartphones without even thinking about it.
But they also only impact you at the point of consumption. Until you take it out of your pocket, it’s out of sight and out of mind. Like your watch, these inventions are hidden but just a ‘click’ away when required - like menus in web design.
Glass is different. It’s always there, ready to notify you or leap into search. But there’s a price: it sits there benignly on your face all day every day, whether you’re using it or not.
I think Google has done a great job of making Glass not look entirely absurd, considering the challenge. But it still intrudes on the most socially sensitive arena in existence, the human face. And, more importantly - it has to.
Google has talked about the ‘social cues’ built into Glass to try and overcome some of the stigma; the screen lighting up when you’re recording, the necessity to do something clear like speak or press the button to initiate that.
The ultimate example of this is the band around the wearer’s forehead. If you start making Glass too inconspicuous, you kill that social cue and expose yourself to even more of the articles lampooning it re. privacy.
Or, alternatively you can dodge that social price,sacrifice some of those benefits and just put it on and take it off when you need it.
If you choose to only wear it selectively, then comes the question of how etiquette shapes the Glass experience. For now, what qualifies as “non-Glass time” is probably a personal line but you’d imagine something like going on a first date is a given.
On the other hand, if you’re a proud parent hanging out with your kids, it’s a really simple way to record memories at a moment’s notice that will feel closer than ever to the original experience. Could Glass end up as popular as video cameras? They’re something we take for granted, we’re comfortable with but not something you find in every home.
I think for most people, for the forseeable future, the permanent ‘social cues’ of always wearing Glass will be too big a sacrifice for the advantages it provides.
Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be surprised if other, more casual wearable technology played a part thwarting adoption of Glass. Consider a watch that pairs with your smartphone and provides 80% of the notifications you normally get your phone out for. Pebble suggests we aren't far off. And why can’t the camera simply be an optional bluetooth accessory for smartphones ? I find this ‘modular’ future a more realistic mainstream trend in the next few years.
And perhaps another way to look at Glass is like the Pixl Chromebook - an ambassador, placeholder and tangible demo of Google’s innovation. It’s almost like a marketing story that makes it hard for journalists to accuse them of not being forward-looking and futuristic. And I think that chimes with their culture and would play to the company’s strengths.
Heart of Glass
If it doesn’t take off, can you imagine Larry and Sergey stopping wearing them in public? This isn’t like closing Google Buzz or Wave, which they could stop using fairly privately, it would be a much more visual sign of failure.
This is one of the reasons I’d imagine the guys are in this for the long run and committed to evolving the product wherever it goes. They have to keep wearing something, even if it’s not in the current form.
The Google Glass project is, like Google+, an irreversible step forward for the company — and I think it’s easy to miss the value of what that says about them.