Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has said he finds having to talk to Google Glass out loud to control the interface “the weirdest thing” and that there are going to be “places where Google Glass are inappropriate.” My own experience of trying out the device, even briefly, confirmed to me that this product simply will not become a mass-market device any time soon. Indeed, if it has any future at all it will be either in disappearing inside normal glasses, or solely used by industry. I can’t see it becoming as ubiquitous as the smartphone in any way, and here’s why.
At a conference in Europe this week I briefly tried on a pair lent to me by an individual — who will remain nameless since Google has threatened to take back the Glass if they are used by someone other than the owner.
Suffice to say the experience was quite odd. For starters you are staring straight into clear space, despite feeling like you are wearing glasses. But then there is this small screen hovering slightly above your line of sight and slightly to the right. So you can’t flick your eye up directly, but up and slightly to the right. It’s not a natural movement, which implies Google Glass may need to be personally adjusted to the individual.
A friend – who wears contact lenses – who tried out the Glass for a full 10 minutes complained of an hour-long headache afterwards from having to look up at the screen.
Next up is using your voice to do various commands like “Take a picture.” If you have someone standing in front of you, this is extremely odd. Suddenly they are cut out of the conversation and you’re talking to the Glass. This is very unlike being able to check something on your smartphone while you are chatting casually to someone. The latter feels quite normal, but performing similar operations while wearing Google Glass would seem downright rude in front of someone.
Ultimately this suggests to me that Google Glass will be incapable of being used socially. Okay, people in the tech world may use it socially and wander around with them on at conferences Googling each other. But it’s my belief that ‘normal’ people will not.
In part this was suggested by Andrew Keen onstage at The Next Web conference in Amsterdam. His point is that there is “no permission” given when the person in front of you is brandishing Google Glass. He’s right, and I can see most people asking the person to remove their Glass before conducting a civil conversation. You just don’t see that happening when two people with smartphones start talking.
Where I can see Google Glass working is in activities where you require both hands to be free. Skiing down a mountain filming, using the Glass like you would a GoPro camera, for instance. And in industrial applications – building and manufacturing, yes, I can see this would work very well: “Show House Plans” for instance, would be a great command for a building app. And you can see the police suddenly thinking of a few useful applications.
But not in everyday interactions just walking around.
But the technology itself? Well, if it does disappear inside normal glasses perhaps it has a chance. But once again, interrupting a conversation with someone to interrogate it? We’ll have to rethink thousands of years of human interaction, and that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.
So Google Glass for me will be this era’s Segway: hyped as a game changer but ultimately used by warehouse workers and mall cops.