Google wants to clear up some misperceptions about Glass. We have our own views on the truth.
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Google Glass provides a new perspective on the world, but people have trouble seeing it for what it is: a work in progress.
To push back against misperceptions about its computer-augmented eyewear, Google on Thursday published a list of the Top 10 Google Glass Myths.
"In its relatively short existence, Glass has seen some myths develop around it," Google explained on its Google+ page for Glass. "While we're flattered by the attention, we thought it might make sense to tackle them, just to clear the air."
Yet Google has not addressed perhaps the most important question about Glass: Does it have a future? Technology blogger Robert Scoble, an early fan of Google Glass, published a Google+ post on Wednesday expressing doubts about Google's commitment to the project. Scoble, who thrives on taking provocative positions, said Google's lack of clarity about Glass's intended purpose indicates that Google hasn't made up its mind about how it sees Glass. And in the absence of clear answers, Scoble says technology investors have become reluctant to fund Glass-oriented projects.
Google offered a restrained response. "We always appreciate feedback from everyone -- even Robert -- on how to make Glass better," a company spokesman said in an email. "In the last 10 months we have shipped nine new software updates and made three hardware updates based, in large part, on feedback from our Explorers. We continue to move quickly and are excited by what's coming down the pike. Glass remains a prototype and we'll keep improving it before making it more widely available to consumers."
Google has in the past abandoned products that have been slow to take off, like iGoogle and Google Wave. But in attempting to dispel Glass myths, it's clear the company is trying to counter negative public perception. Confronting the problems head-on seems inconsistent with a plan to throw in the towel.
These myths are the ones that worry Google.
1. Glass is the ultimate distraction from the real world. Google argues that Glass lets you look up and engage with the world rather than staring into a phone or tablet: "Big moments in life -- concerts, your kid's performances, an amazing view -- shouldn't be experienced through the screen you're trying to capture them on. That's why Glass is off by default and only on when you want it to be."
Google Glass wearers, interacting at the Google Glass and Future Health meetup in June 2013. (Source: Ted Eytan)
Translation: You can still be human if you use Glass, even if you look like a cyborg.
It's a fair point. But Google isn't going so far as to question whether it's necessary to capture all those big moments in life. Some things in life are best experienced in all their glorious impermanence, unrecorded and unmediated.
2. Glass is always on and recording everything. "Just like your cellphone, the Glass screen is off by default. Video recording on Glass is set to last 10 seconds. People can record for longer, but Glass isn't designed for or even capable of always-on recording (the battery won't last longer than 45 minutes before it needs to be charged)."
Translation: Read the manual! We've already explained this at length in our Glass FAQs.
Oh, Google. If you had only seen your own 2009 video "What is a browser?" you might have anticipated the inevitability that people would misunderstand Glass. The video is a reminder that not everyone cares about fine distinctions like "off by default" and "on by default." In the real world, people don't even know what a web browser is. They just want stuff that does something useful and they're not inclined to think too deeply about it.
3. Glass Explorers are technology-worshipping geeks. "Our Explorers come from all walks of life. They include parents, firefighters, zookeepers, brewmasters, film students, reporters, and doctors. The one thing they have in common is that they see the potential for people to use technology in a way that helps them engage more with the world around them, rather than distract them from it."
Translation: If you're having trouble engaging with the world, our technology can help you, nerd. That, and Glass can be useful to anyone who can't spare his or her hands to manage a keyboard or tablet while on the job.
There's a second thing Glass Explorers have in common: A spare $1,500 to join the Explorer club. A better strategy would be to argue that Explorers are, as you suspected, technology-worshipping geeks, but these are the exact people you want testing Glass.
4. Glass is ready for prime time. "Glass is a prototype, and our Explorers and the broader public are playing a critical role in how it's developed... And, in the future, today's prototype may look as funny to us as that mobile phone from the mid '80s."
Translation: You should see the contact lens we're developing.
Really, we should be grateful to Google for testing Glass in public. The issues it raises about the social expectations of privacy and personal interaction
need to be hashed out. In a decade or two, there will be far more variation in the form and function of mobile devices, and we're not ready for the consequences.
5. Glass does facial recognition (and other dodgy things). "Nope. That's not true. As we've said before, regardless of technological feasibility, we made the decision based on feedback not to release or even distribute facial recognition Glassware unless we could properly address the many issues raised by that kind of feature. And just because a weird application is created, doesn't mean it'll get distributed in our MyGlass store."
Translation: We will wait until Facebook falls on its face implementing facial recognition before we go there.
Regrettably, ubiquitous facial recognition will arrive sooner or later. It's already being used for law enforcement. It will only become more effective and more affordable, at least until privacy concerns make veils and balaclavas fashionable outside of a religious context. Just wait: Flesh-toned putty and stick-on eyes, to defeat facial recognition systems, will become all the rage among the next generation.
6. Glass covers your eye(s). "The Glass screen is deliberately above the right eye, not in front or over it."
Translation: We understand how important eyes are for social interaction. That's why the Glass screen is positioned off to the side, where it's really annoying.
Seriously, Glass is lopsided -- the battery is on the right side -- and it draws your eye in a way that gets old after a while. The ergonomics have yet to catch up with the technology. A helmet with a full visor display would be more comfortable for long-term usage. Hold out for the consumer release.
7. Glass is the perfect surveillance device. "Let's be honest: if someone wants to secretly record you, there are much, much better cameras out there than one you wear conspicuously on your face and that lights up every time you give a voice command, or press a button."
Translation: If you want to sneak a video of someone, use your mobile phone.
Google nails it, while missing the forest for the trees. It doesn't matter what the device does; it matters how the device is perceived. And putting a lens on your forehead is bound to make people wonder, especially people who don't know a search box from a browser (see previous page).
8. Glass is only for those privileged enough to afford it. "The current prototype costs $1,500 and we realize that is out of the range of many people. But that doesn't mean the people who have it are wealthy and entitled. In some cases, their work has paid for it. Others have raised money on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. And for some, it's been a gift."
Sorry, Google, but Glass Explorers are privileged -- I write that as one of them -- if not in the context of San Francisco real estate and tech salaries, then in the context of the world with a rising gap between rich and poor. When Larry Page says he'd rather leave his wealth to Elon Musk than to charity, it's clear that the world looks different through the technologist's lens than it does through the blinders of poverty.
9. Glass is banned... EVERYWHERE. "Glass functionality mirrors the cellphones (down to the screen being off by default), the same rules apply."
Translation: Banning Glass is no longer a guarantee of free media coverage.
We in the media cannot resist bans or prohibitions -- they're simple enough for all of us to understand -- but "Glass Banned" stories are getting old. The outrage over Street View grew tiresome and we all moved on. We can do the same with Glass, and maybe even explore some of the nuances.
10. Glass marks the end of privacy. "When cameras first hit the consumer market in the late 19th century, people declared an end to privacy. Cameras were banned in parks, at national monuments, and on beaches. People feared the same when the first cellphone cameras came out."
Translation: Social is the new normal. Now please post more frequently to your Google+ page. We're beginning to think you might resent us because we forced you to join our social network.
The flaw in this argument is subtle. Glass is not the end of privacy. It's the end of privacy as we knew it before the mobile revolution. It's another drop that dilutes our privacy. But it's fair to say that Glass isn't unique or solely responsible for diminishing privacy. All of us, with our desire for free services and our mobile devices, are to blame.
And more than that, our government and other governments are to blame, for no country recognizes the unqualified right to communicate privately over public telecommunications channels. Privacy is not dead. Rather it has become the exception. And Glass doesn't improve the situation.
Nonetheless, for all its flaws, Glass is a worthy project. Google deserves praise for risking failure and for pushing the envelope. Glass may not survive in its present form, but the second and succeeding generations of the technology will be even more worthwhile.
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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
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