Google Glass: shut up and take my mom’s money

Last week Google send out a new video of Google Glass and how it works. The video shows more details of using Glass while doing everyday activities (maybe except the snake thing). They also launched a Twitter campaign for people in the US in which Google asks potential users to explain how they would put the new technology to use. Think of it as a really aggressive beta, something Google is known for (remember Gmail and Wave invites).

Although you all probably read this somewhere already, here are the details: Glass will be available for consumers at the end of the year, will have updates sort of like an app, uses GPS, and gets data through Wi-Fi on its own, or it can tether via Bluetooth to an Android device or iPhone and use its 3G or 4G data. And for those of you who didn’t saw the video, here it is:

Amazing, if you ask me. I think of Glass as a completely new kind of computing device; wearable, designed to reduce distraction both in hardware and software (contextual) and created to allow users to communicate following the path towards NUI’s; this actually might be the holy grail of NUI’s thus far. But you can consider me a geek when it comes to these kinds of new devices, so my opinion doesn’t say much about the general public. But Google is not aiming at a niche userbase of tech-savvy people; they are also aiming at my mom for instance. But how will they reach that? How to convince millions of people to wear something like Glass on their face? How many of us will turn into ‘Glassholes’?

Remember the smartphone and the tablet? Markets emerge fast.

Imagine somebody said 15 years ago, you will have a very powerful computer in your pocket, most people would reply that you are nuts. Now look around while on the train or subway.. Does anyone look up from their smartphones? Or what about tablets.. 3 years ago there was no market. Now I have 3 at home (including my girlfriend’s), but my dad has one, my mom has one, even my grandma has one. And while phones and tablets feel like devices (the medium is still there: we are tapping on a screen), wearable tech will have the computing power and will be able to perform many of the functions that your phone does now, whether it is taking pictures, surfing the web, reading emails or getting directions.

A new research report suggests wearable computing could become the norm for consumers within the next five years. ABI Research forecasts that by 2015, 485 million wearable computing devices will be shipped annually. Currently, ABI says about 61% of the wearable technologies market is attributed to sport/activity trackers. However, the research firm says a new category of smartphone-compatible devices are beginning to emerge. Glasses is one of them, but Apple is also moving into this space according to a patent filed by Apple in 2011 (uncovered by Apple Insider ) which confirms the speculation that Apple is exploring the possibilities around a so-called ‘iWatch’. Forrester has made similar observations.

So speaking from a market perspective, Glass could have real potential to attract a large userbase. But looking at the current popular wearables devices like the Fitbit, Nike Fuelband and Pebble we see that these are discrete devices. Well, there not on your face like Glass. Google has plenty of work ahead of it to make Glass suitable for the masses.

Not looking like an idiot

Right now, the glasses basically consist of a camera-battery-processor rig attached to plastic frames and lenses. This might look cool if you are someone in tech, but will it appeal to my mom ? I think the answer here is ‘no’.

However, signs that Google is working on a more fashionable look are here. TechCrunch reports on new patents that depict designs that resemble cheap paper 3D glasses, and hipster-like specs. The New York Times reports on a deal between Google and Warby Parker, an e-commerce start-up company that sells trendy eyeglasses, to help it design more fashionable frames.

I think this is top priority for Google in order to achieve their goal. If you look at other wearable pieces of functional technology, there’s a reason they’re not ubiquitous. Bluetooth headset anyone?

Talking to Glass?

Google had made it clear that speech will be the primary modus of interaction using the ‘Ok Glass’ phrase. The team at Google arrived at this solution after testing other nonverbal head-gestures which all were deemed too weird or uncomfortable.Actually, it’s a two-step process. First you have to touch the side of the device, or tilt your head upward slowly, a gesture which tells Glass to wake up. Once you’ve done that, you start issuing commands by speaking “ok glass” first, or scroll through the options using your finger along the side of the device. Most of the interaction is by voice however. This immediately raises the language barrier problems Siri has to deal with, Google’s Dutch however is already much better than Apple’s.

Over at the MIT’s Technology Review the case is made for phatic interaction. The term “phatic” comes from linguistics, and describes verbal expressions that aren’t meant to carry information or content, but are simply there to “keep the channel open.” Phatic feedback–meta-communication from the device to the user–is already commonplace and Glass needs lots of it:

Glass’s cumbersome voice-control system shows that nonverbal phatic interactions will need to flow in the other direction, too: from the user to the device. Google knows this. “OK Glass” is already a phatic expression, (…) The real vision of Glass, though, is less like a smartphone and more like an omnipresent companion that’s always paying at least a low level of attention to whatever it is you’re doing. “OK Glass” isn’t the equivalent of waking your iPhone up from “sleep.” It’s not an object you turn on and off; it’s an assistant whose awareness you direct. Nonverbal, “nudge-like” phatic interactions will make that process much more fluid–and much less socially awkward.

To me this makes a lot of sense. Especially the nudge-like part; just like my phone vibrating a little is a way more subtle and socially accepted notification-style then launching the theme from the A-team every time you receive a message or if my phone keeps repeating “Thomas you have a message” until I actually read it. These types of new interactions are heavily formed by cultural/social constructs, that’s why it is so imported for Google to test their Glass outside a tech-minded group of people.

Privacy, Privacy, Privacy

Google is again battling one of their greatest roadblocks: privacy. Glass opens up the door for a whole new range of privacy concerns. And there much greater then the concerns on providing ads that complement your vision through glass. Privacy advocates worry about a day when people wearing glasses could use facial recognition to identify strangers on the street or surreptitiously record and broadcast conversations.

Andrew Keen takes these concerns to the next level in an opinion piece for CNN:

“It is the sort of radical transformation that may actually end up completely destroying our individual privacy in the digital 21st century. But there’s something particularly troubling about Google Glass. When we put on these surveillance devices, we all become spies, or scrooglers, of everything and everyone around us. By getting us to wear their all seeing digital eyeglasses, Google are metamorphosing us into human versions of those Street View vans — now thankfully banned in Germany — which crawl, like giant cockroaches, around our cities documenting our homes.”

Keen also puts in some suggestions on what he would with glass following the #ifihadglass-campaign:

“I would make data privacy its default feature. Nobody else sees the data I see unless I explicitly say so. Not advertisers, nor the government, and certainly not those engineers of the human soul at the Googleplex. No, Google Glass must be opaque. For my eyes only.”

This privacy by design approach might be the only way of getting the regular guy involved with these types of intimate technology. Taking away the fear is a big part of the process.

Shut up and take my money

Yes, that how I feel about Glass. But like I said: I am one of the few who would actually wear it in it’s current design-state. Glass, to me, is innovation and experimentation in it’s coolest form. It fits the transition where the devices/technology we use will disappear and become part of what we wear (media are an extension of men a wise man once said), it fits the transition to a more contextual relationship with information and it might just fit a new and (finally!) useful way of working with augmented reality.

I can’t wait to see what developers come up with in the next months. Think about gaming for instance. Google already has a augmented reality game in which the real world is annotated with virtual information called Ingress. Glass could also be the key to explore urban environments in a new, more playful way.

So yes. Let designers have a crack at the aesthetics of Glass and let developers create awesome software to run on it. I will get one, and maybe my mom will as well.

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