The future of Google Glass

Get used to it: this is what walking down the street will look like if Google have their way

This weekend I read Robert Scoble's two-week review of Google Glass.

He makes two pretty bold statements:

1. I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor). It's that significant.

2. The success of this totally depends on price. Each audience I asked at the end of my presentations "who would buy this?" As the price got down to $200 literally every hand went up.

But "who would buy this?" is a very different question to "who would wear this all the time?".

The question of whether voice-controlled internet HUDs are in our future is probably an academic one (they are) - the real issue is how widespread will their adoption be, and crucially: in what situations will it be 'normal' to wear one?

I think Google are seriously barking up the wrong tree by implying it could or should be something we would wear and use in every day situations like walking down the street or hanging out with friends. Here's why...

Voice control is a bit rubbish

The technology for voice controlled appliances has existed for a long time, but - to use the simplest example - we don't control our lighting this way, even though it might be more convenient some of the time.

Neither do we control computers this way. Siri and Google voice search have a measure of popularity but by far the most common use case is whilst driving. If and when full speed conversational voice comprehension gets beyond 99.99% this might change, but that's a good while away yet.

See also this recent piece in the MIT Tech Review: Your Body Does Not Want to Be an Interface.

Overall then, I think there is good evidence that people prefer to use their hands over their voices to interface with... well... almost everything. 

Also, aside from a few super-simple initiation-type actions (taking a picture, recording a video), I would be surprised if there were many tasks that, even whilst wearing Glass, couldn't be completed more quickly by pulling out your phone.

Wearable devices... on your face

Think about bluetooth headsets. Are they more convenient than holding your phone up to your face? Yes. Do they (still, after over 10 years on the market) make you look like a bit of a douche if you wear one walking down the street? Yes. But are they perfectly acceptable in situations where talking hands free is safer and preferred? Sure - I don't bat an eyelid if I see a truck driver talking into one.

The same thing applies to wearable cameras. They are popular for cyclists, skiers and snowboarders... and to be honest, I'd be surprised if I saw a skydiver without a GoPro fixed to their helmet. But I'd also be surprised if I saw someone with a head mounted GoPro walking down the street - and here's the thing: making it smaller and less obvious doesn't change that - if anything, it makes it creepier.

The ideal action companion

There are many situations a voice-controlled HUD version of a smartphone would be extremely popular however: they're about the perfect companion for skiing, cycling, rowing and running - head-up data displayed in real time, plus GPS tracking and video recording with an interface that doesn't require you to use your hands. Sounds like a perfect fit.

Things will get even better once the visual overlay can get to full augmented reality levels: compete against your previous personal running bests by training against a ghost runner or rider.

The technology could also be great for drivers (many luxury vehicles already incorporate a HUD) and would also have its place (with the right custom software) in many work environments from cycle couriering to construction to law enforcement.

The future of Glass

It's clear from the recent press coverage and promotional material that Google want users to wear the headsets all day long. Presumably Google are pushing this angle because it fits best with their commercial agenda - they can't gather much extra information about you or the world if they're only getting to look down ski runs.

For me though, it'll be more interesting to see what the likes of Nike, GoPro and others do with the platform and technology - because that's where its immediate future adoption surely lies.