Unless you don’t pay much attention to technology news, or have been living with the Cave People of Alpha Centauri recently, you’ve probably heard by now that Google has released a concept video for their new “smart glasses” project, “Project Glass”, presumably running a version of Android.
The video has inspired excitement, contempt, and humor in spades. It has inspired parody videos like Google Glasses: A New Way to Hurt Yourself and Windows Project Glass: One day too…. It has inspired competitors to step up their game with competing projects. It has inspired critics to question the very merits of the endeavor and even compare it with flying cars. It has inspired speculation on how it might, some day, affect the stock value of Google.
Slow down, everyone! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Google Glass Project certainly has the potential to be revolutionary, but right now its barely past the concept stage into actual field testing. The point of a concept video is to demonstrate a possible near-future for the technologies, it is not an advertisement for a finished product, and Google isn’t claiming that it is. The “One day…” in the title of the concept video means just that, one day, in the not-too-distant future, when some of the supporting technologies have evolved.
Unlike Apple, which broadcasts what should be called “concept videos” as commercials for finished products (we know for fact that their devices, and especially Siri, can neither do all the things they show in commercials nor do any of them as smoothly), Google has traditionally kept a clear division between concept videos of a future that they believe will be, and a finished product for the market.
The suggestion has been made that if the real glasses don’t immediately live up to the expectations raised by the video, they’ll flop on the market, but again this is not an advertisement, this is a concept video, like Corning’s A Day Made of Glass, and no one expects that any time soon our car dashboards will be replaced with Gorilla Glass “smart displays”.
Reality never quite matches concept videos… until it exceeds them in ways they never imagined at the time, and sometimes from companies other than the ones that promised it. Something like Google’s Project Glass as depicted in their concept video will exist some day, and Google wants to be the one to bring it to us. There’s a reason competitors are now scrambling to find an answer to this project: they know it’s probably the way of the future, as well, and they don’t want to be left behind.
I simply dismiss anyone suggesting that people won’t wear these for fear of looking “foolish” by pointing to the success of Bluetooth ear pieces, despite the fact that it makes them harder to tell the crazies talking to themselves from the sane people talking on their earpieces, and despite how absurd I personally think someone looks who never takes off their earpiece in public.
Think of these glasses as Bluetooth+: not only an earpiece, but also an eyepiece (i.e. the Heads Up Display), a camera, and some app functionality. If you’re already looking ridiculous wearing the earpiece, why not go all out? Besides, knowing how Google operates, they’ll no doubt open source the technology to other companies, providing the software for their hardware, resulting in stylistic differentiation to reach consumers with a variety of tastes in eyewear and a variety of needs from the technology.
It’s also fairly easy, with very little imagination, to envision some vital roles for these devices. A taxi or truck driver (or policeman or rescue worker, for that matter), for example, could follow maps and GPS with integrated traffic information, weather conditions, emergency alerts, and more, all without using their hands.
Like many Google projects, Project Glass is an investment in the long-term and isn’t expected to change the world tomorrow. It’s about getting to the next market before anyone else even knows it exists, getting known as a brand for making that product, ensuring the long-term success of projects tied to Project Glass (Maps, Google+, Google Search, etc…), and also shaping and patenting the technology of the future, if only for defensive purposes. It’s an investment for years to come, so we’re all going to have to learn the value of patience, and not judge a product before it has even hit the market let alone had time to mature.
In the meantime, one thing that is certain is that the potential of this project is striking fear into the hearts of competitors across a variety of markets, who know that they will either have to adapt or die before long. Facebook should be especially concerned, since the Google vision for Project Glass is heavy on Google+ integration, and it won’t get any easier for Facebook to compete on the Android platform.
This is precisely what I was suggesting in Google+’s Secret Weapon: Real Life, when I wrote, “How do we share through real life? Increasingly we are doing this through connected devices. PC’s still reign supreme for social network sharing, but the future of social sharing is through other types of connected devices.”
If Google increasingly owns the platform running these connected devices, which will soon include the first generation of “smart glasses”, and Facebook is still lacking a competitive mobile platform, they will find it harder to stay relevant to a world that no longer does social primarily through the channels they helped pioneer. Android 4.0 features Google+ Integration, as will every single version of Android to follow as it finds its way onto an almost endless variety of connected devices.
Apple should, I think, also be concerned about whether any “iGlasses” they might market will have the same appeal in a market where their one-size-fits-all approach to devices may not work as well, given that eyewear is an actual fashion accessory traditionally available in a wide variety of styles. This is a market where Microsoft’s licensing approach might represent a more viable competitor for Google Glass should they produce their own software for smart glasses. Eventually this technology will migrate to contact lenses, as well, or at least it seems safe enough to assume that it will.
Project Glass will change the mobile market forever, and consumers will eventually adopt the new technology in droves, even if it never becomes ubiquitous (anymore than Bluetooth earpieces have become ubiquitous). The only questions that really remain is how soon the average person will feel the effects of this technology, directly or indirectly, on their daily lives, and which companies will triumph and which fail in the market. There’s no guarantee Google will win this war, but they would surely lose if they didn’t try.
I love technology and how it changes our lives. There’s something almost spiritual about how new technologies connect and empower us. And it’s really cool, too.