Google Glasses: Does This Make Sense?

Yes, I want Google Glass glasses. But here's why you probably won't.
Last month I looked at putting a phone into a tablet, a concept with (IMHO) limited appeal but not likely to fail altogether. This month, though, I've got one that really is going to flop--even though it's cool, exciting, and even revolutionary. I'm talking about putting a phone into eyeglasses or a similar head-mounted form factor, with Google's Project Glass being the current poster child for this approach. Whereas we'll see Phablets in some limited vertical and consumer applications, don't count on too many people sporting cellular headsets--think of this instead as the Segway scooter of the wireless world--intriguing, and, yes, cool, but ultimately very, very rare.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but how come we're not seeing Segways everywhere? This concept lit up the airwaves (to use an analogy) when it was announced back in 2001, and everyone--everyone--wanted one, or at least wanted to try one. Imagine a personal transportation device that's compact, environmentally friendly, and devastatingly cool. That's a Segway. So why is it, once again, that we're not all riding around on one today? (Just to be clear, I still want one badly, but, then, I'm a confirmed gadget addict who occasionally, or maybe a little more often than that, abandons the practical just for fun and adventure.)

The answer is simple--the Segway isn't at all, um, practical, in any broad-based sense of the word; think congested urban streets and sidewalks, and limited cargo capability. Think about tooling around on one of these when the weather's not all that great (I live in New England). OK, bicycles suffer from a similar handicap, but we see plenty of those everywhere. But, then, bicycles are much more cost-effective--a serviceable model can be had for less than $1,000. But a Segway--well, if you have to ask, you can't afford one. These are still priced like decent used cars.

So, to get back to the topic at hand today, cost is the number one issue here: Google Glass will cost developers around $1,500; the price for consumers is still unknown. But it gets worse, and let's start with that matter of practicality. A tiny touchpad for data entry and control--no keyboard. No cellular connectivity (yet). And, of course, if you already wear glasses, well, something to be done about that as well. Don't even think about wearing these while driving. While much has been made of limitations in screen and camera resolution and onboard storage, to be fair what we have today is a prototype, so let's cut Google (and everyone else who might jump in here--this means you, Apple) some slack at present--except regarding that part about practicality.

The concept of wearable or head-mounted computing, BTW, isn't new--before I started Farpoint Group, more than two decades ago, I worked in supercomputing and on a number of virtual-reality applications--you know, with expensive and uncomfortable head-mounted displays that were the best we could do at the time to provide an immersive experience for a single individual. Over the years display technology has become more compact, and we can even provision something akin to a HDTV experience for those seeking a personal video-viewing environment (the Google Glass display is in fact 720p, not bad at all). But there's a big difference between watching a video and managing information. This is without question great marketing on Google's part, but let's not get carried away.

And there's another big issue here: In a world growing ever more leery of eccentric behavior (yes, let's go with that for the moment), it's possible that such sophisticated technology as Google Glass may even be seen as a threat. Recently, in a report from the Associated Press, a computer science professor wearing a device not too dissimilar from Google's was assaulted by the employees of a McDonald's in Paris for fear he was violating their privacy. Extreme? Sure--today. But there's regardless a cautionary note here: Technological change that disrupts societal norms may not receive a warm welcome. For now, though, the limited capabilities--the impracticality--of Google Glass trump all other considerations. This is a toy for gadget freaks, and will remain such for a very long time. And, yes, just in case you were wondering--I want one of these, too.

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