Google Glass Gets Smeared: 11 Improvement Ideas

Comedians and pundits are making a mockery of Google Glass. Here are 11 ways Google could get the last laugh.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

May 7, 2013

5 Min Read

Developers may be able to help, if they can create compelling applications for Glass. A killer app of some sort, something that can't be done on a smartphone, would go a long way toward justifying Glass ownership.

But there's only so much they can do given the limitations of the Mirror API and the Glass terms of service. Google doesn't allow developers to profit from Glassware apps. That's not the way to incentivize the creation of innovative software.

The form factor is also a problem: Facial accessories demand attention and raise issues that other adornments don't. Glass, with its protruding lens, gets in your face, so to speak. It is confrontational. It asserts the wearer's right to capture images, something better treated as a privilege and negotiated on a picture by picture basis.

Glass shines a spotlight on our inability to control our privacy and it suggests the wearer is somehow apart from the social group, a spy of sorts or a privileged person with secret knowledge. If you've ever been chided by a companion for being distracted by a device, you've provoked something like the negative response that can be generated by Glass.

It should be noted that Glass itself isn't any more invasive than anyone armed with a camera or mobile phone. In fact, cameras with telephoto lenses are far more capable of privacy invasion than Glass. And mobile phones, when they record audio, can be hidden in a way that Glass can't be when worn.

Had Google chosen to develop a wearable computer for the wrist -- as Apple is rumored to be doing -- it wouldn't have seen its brainchild teased for standing out.

Here's how Google could help make Glass more appealing.

1. Price
This is obvious. $1,500 is far too much for what's presently the equivalent of a face-mounted Android phone. But Glass is a developer product, so you can assume the consumer version will be offered at a more reasonable price.

2. Visibility
Google Glass Consumer Edition should look like a pair of ordinary glasses, with no visible camera. Glass' biggest privacy problem is not that it invades privacy, but rather that it denies the wearer privacy by identifying him or her in such an obvious way. Someday, Glass (or a similar product) will be available as a contact lens. At that point, the social angst will be about brain implants.

3. Facial Recognition
Glass cries out for facial recognition. Google has to know this. Presumably it wants to avoid controversy. It ought to reconsider. The technology is out there and it will be implemented by governments, like it or not. Let the people have it too.

4. Panoramic Camera
A camera that captures everything around the wearer would be useful as a reporting tool and as a personal security tool. The panoramic camera ought to support constant transmission of video over the network to a remote server, to preserve a record of any incident affecting the wearer.

5. True Augmented Reality
Glass would benefit from apps that exploit having a screen between the wearer and the world. To do that, it would need to be able to superimpose graphics on reality in a more complete and convincing manner. Right now the screen is off to the side and up. And there's no mechanism to recognize object boundaries, which is important for aligning overlays. Practical uses for this technology range from the mundane, like being able to see where studs, wires and pipes are behind wallboard, to the exotic, like immersive games and interactive visuals.

6. Folding
One of the most annoying aspects of Glass Explorer Edition is the fact that the device doesn't fold up like regular eyeglasses. There's no hiding Glass in a pocket if you take it out in public. The consumer version should fold.

7. Gesture Detection
Glass can already be programmed to trigger its camera when the user winks. Broader support for gestures, like the ability to read sign language and to initiate actions in response to specific hand movements, would be useful.

8. Gaming
If Glass doubled as an Oculus Rift headset, it would hugely popular no matter how it looked.

9. Bluetooth Physical Controls
Saying "ok glass" isn't always convenient or socially functional. It would be nice to be able to link a physical item to the Glass menu navigation scheme. Imagine being able to scroll forward or back in your Glass timeline by twisting a ring on your finger or by swiping across your mobile phone screen (this is probably doable through a Glassware app).

10. Extended Spectrum
Glass is a visual tool. Google could better exploit Glass with accessory lenses that let wearers see ultraviolet and infrared light. Want to do a thermal assessment of your house? Glass could let you see where your residence is poorly insulated.

11. Go Gaudy
Glass tries too hard to be cool. Had Google designed Glass to look outrageous and clownish, ridicule would be pointless because wearers would obviously not be taking themselves seriously. Had Google played up the geeky social ineptitude of wearing Glass, it could have immunized its product from derision.

Google Glass isn't perfect, but it's clearly something worth improving. Though it's the butt of jokes at the moment, Google may yet get the last laugh. Glass isn't about a single product, it's about the next generation of mobile devices.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

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 master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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