Google Project Glass Must Be More Than Fashion

Google should worry less how its augmented reality glasses look and more about what they can do.
Google I/O: 10 Awesome Visions
Google I/O: 10 Awesome Visions
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In the latest of a series of previews of Project Glass, the augmented reality glasses that Google intends to make available to developers early next year, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg has documented the week leading up to her Spring 2013 show in New York using a Glass prototype.

The resulting short film, posted by Google on YouTube and shot entirely with Glass, shows both the promise of Google's augmented reality project and the perils of pre-announcing a product before there's anything substantive to show.

Von Furstenberg is obviously taken with Google's technology. "I am so excited to introduce Glass to the fashion world and use this revolutionary technology to give everyone a unique perspective into fashion," she said in a statement provided by Google.

But Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who has been championing Glass, offers a statement that bears further examination. "Beauty, style, and comfort are as important to Glass as the latest technology," said Brin. "We are delighted to bring Glass to the runway together with DVF."

[ Learn more about Google's Glasses. Read Google Demos Its Augmented Reality Glasses. ]

No doubt beauty, style, and comfort are important to Glass, but are they as important as the technology? The aesthetic qualities of Google's glasses are non-negotiable, to be sure--glasses that aren't comfortable or elicit laughter are dead on arrival.

Developers will be paying $1,500 for a pre-release version of Glass and Google is likely to ask consumers to shell out several hundred dollars at least. For that kind of money, Glass needs a legitimate function to complement its elegant form.

Of course there are people willing to pay $4,000 for Oakley Elite C SIX sunglasses, which don't have any computational power. But Google Glass, as a tech product, really ought to serve some purpose beyond adornment and wallet lightening. Unfortunately, Google's latest preview does little to suggest that Glass aspires to be anything more than face flair.

Von Furstenberg's use of Google Glass is fine as a personal narrative, but her story could have been captured just as well with a mobile phone, a GoPro helmet-mounted video camera, or some other video device in a small form factor. Granted a fashion show may demand something more subtle than a strap-on camera, but few future Glass customers will be runway models.

Glass matters if it provides a convenient way to interact while on the move with the Internet: Being able to identify people just by looking at them, using facial recognition and Web search is intriguing, creepy, and perhaps inevitable. Glass as a head-mounted videocamera is inconsequential.

Certainly, Google wants it to be more than a way to document daily activities, even as it suggest that Glass will capture precious childhood moments that would otherwise go unrecorded. But the company needs to focus on the potential powers of Glass rather than pretty pictures. The five images on the Google+ page convey only Glass's potential as a fashion accessory.

In July, Brin posted an image he took with Glass while driving in Montana. "I love the composition of the landscape mixed with sunlight and the beauty of the sky," he wrote in his Google+ post. "I never would have captured this moment without Glass."

Perhaps not, but there are alternative methods for capturing images while driving, from a camera on the dashboard to a Google Street View car. There's no reason image-making has to be done from a lens embedded in eye glasses.

Nor is there any reason we have to capture more images about our daily lives. The idea that we need to share more is annoying enough when it comes from Mark Zuckerberg. Pray that Brin doesn't see Glass as a tool to increase Google+ usage or Google Drive usage--video, after all, takes up a lot of space.

Brin hints at some of the potential of Glass in his mention of an Instant Upload feature, something that will make Glass a meaningful tool for journalists and others at risk of having their cameras seized or damaged while documenting events.

Further hints along these lines would be welcome. There has to be more to Project Glass than meets the eye.

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