Last week at the Local U in Philadelphia, we had the chance to touch, marvel at, play with, drool over Matt McGee's Google Glass.
While I was underwhelmed by the idea of the Glass being a hit consumer mass market product, I was overwhelmed by the impact such a mobile, always on, internet connected product would have on local search when one does hit the mainstream. I asked the other Local U faculty the following questions:
Macintosh was a metaphor for desktop computing. The iPhone became the metaphor for smart phones. The early products defined what other products needed to be like.
1) Do you think that the Google Glass is a metaphor for the next generation of small, wearable computers?
2) Is it a winner?
3) Do you think that Google will make Glass the market leader in the category?
Hear what David Mihm, Will Scott, Mary Bowling, Aaron Weiche and Matt McGee have to say:
1) Google Glass is a loser. I don't see it as something that mainstream America, or mainstream world, will wear or find value in. Until someone is able to integrate ALL hardware/wiring into a normal-sized glass frame, and integrate the display into a normal-thickness glass lens, I don't see this catching on. Non-geeks do not want something that turns them into The Borg. And non-geeks do not want to talk to The Borg, either.
Frankly, Google doesn't do hardware all that well. Chromebooks, Nexii -- neither of these has the sex appeal of ANY Apple or Samsung product. I don't dispute the utility of something like Google Glass, but I don't see Google winning this "category."
2) First of all, what's the category? Wearable technology? If that's the case, nope. It'll certainly give them a couple-year head start, but as we saw with the iPhone and Samsung, that market-leader-in-hardware position is pretty tenuous. The fact that their first iteration is so clunky and has already received a considerable amount of negative attention in the mainstream press makes me skeptical of any market-leader position they may have been hoping to gain.
I remember one of my earliest favorite books: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash was an early iteration of the cyberpunk genre in which the action took place in real and cyberspace, sometimes simultaneously. This was a time when "cyberspace" was imagined in 3D virtual reality, and not the flat planes we experience now.
One of the ways in which characters interacted, especially those who were introverted - yet hiding in plain sight - was as what Stephenson called "gargoyles". The gargoyles wore not just wearable computing devices, like Google Glass, but full-data collection rigs interacting in real time with cyberspace.
From that time, sometime in the early '90s, I have dreamed of wearable computing. Many say that their devices make them smarter. There are an equal, if not greater number, that insist that their devices make them more distracted. I'm in the first camp, a smart enough, omnipresent device will make me smarter, and likely less distracted.
It's a hard line to toe. The potential for distraction only exacerbates some of the problems we are now seeing with humanity and our ever-distracted offspring.
But, the opportunity! The always on, always connected, never lost. Both physically and digitally, never lost. Yes, we all need to unplug sometimes, but the opportunity of Google Glass and wearable computing boggle the mind.
I believe in the wearable computing paradigm. It's coming and very quickly the development will make it so we can't tell if someone's in "cyberspace" or not.
Google glass is an alpha version. They are likely to fail. Their usability is limited. The application set is small. The potential is amazing.
If, on commercial version 0.9, Google can produce a device which is so innocuous, imagine what they can do with the versions 2, 3, 10. I'm sold. It's coming. I want some.
No, I don't think Google Glass will become the metaphor because it has the name Google in it and just calling it Glass is not going to be appropriate to describe the variations that will pop up. I predict Apple will come up with something with a catchier name, do a better job of promoting it and will more quickly get it into the hands of consumers to steal the thunder.
I think it depends on how the smartphone battle shakes out. Android has the lion's share of the smartphone market and we know how Google ties its products together and incents consumer expansion into new products. But in my opinion, Google is walking a thin line with advertising and if it gets any more aggressive, we could see an ugly backlash, especially if Google starts showing too many ads an inch from our eyeballs.
Google does seem to have a product with Glass that can be the first to market and make an impact for small computing devices. I'm not sure if eyewear will be the most attractive or ubiquitous device choice in the long term, but I do think that more communication and computing devices are headed our way that are not smartphones.
The other main driver of its success or failure will be price. Watches, necklaces and other accessories already integrated into our daily lives may prove to be more intuitive or functional over time ... or maybe even something that doesn't yet exist.
With the promise and timing Glass seems to have ... I'd tell Google not to mess this up.
In the short 15 minutes I had to utilize Glass I was impressed with the voice recognition as we were in a very noisy restaurant and it received all of my commands clearly. It made search, directions and social posting seem like a breeze and I'd love to see its deeper integrations at work. On the negative side, you have to glance off and up to the right to really concentrate on the screen. I found that distracting and not very fluid with the other things I was engaging in.
It's too early to say. Let's see what Apple dreams up first. Or Amazon. Or Microsoft. Or someone else. Glass is the metaphor right now because it's the first device of its kind to start getting mainstream attention, and because it's from Google.
Is it a winner?
In its current form, Glass isn't ready for mainstream adoption. It lacks some needed functionality and user controls, and there's no app ecosystem around it yet. That'll come in time, it appears. If Glass only gets apps or integrations with Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, it'll be well on its way to giving a good portion of consumer society enough to make the device worthwhile.
That said, the stuff Glass does now it does very well. Directions and navigation are really good. Photo-taking and video-making are good, and will only get better. Voice recognition is usually good.
Do I think that Google will make Glass the market Leader in the category? It already is, right? The question is who and what is going to join the category.