It is fashionable to laugh at Google Glass, the clumsy wearable computer that sits on your face like a pair of spectacles and uses one of the lenses as a screen.
But this scorn is misplaced. Google Glass is going to be a huge multibillion-dollar business for Google—eventually. Here’s how that will happen, and why the critics are wrong.
There has been a line of high-profile tech writers forming in front of Glass’s putative coffin, each with their own stake for its heart. Robert Scoble captured objections to Google Glass best:
What is going on here in a world where I am carrying around a camera and EVERYONE uses their phones or a GoPro but Glass feels freaky and weird?
Google has launched this product poorly, is what.
Jeff Bercovici of Forbes said the same thing. “Whatever the faults of Glass as a device, the backlash it has encountered during its prolonged beta test period is the result of misjudgments made in the campaign around it.”
So did Gene Marks. “It’s designed poorly. I bet if Steve Jobs were around now he’d chuckle every time someone wearing Google Glass walks by. Don’t worry Steve—the rest of us have got your back. Google Glass looks ridiculous. And too obvious.”
Some prominent early adopters have gone so far as to send the device back to Google, they dislike it so much. Matt Lake of Computerworld had a long list of complaints about it, including the way it disrupts eye contact between people when you talk to them. “It's called glassing out. Your eyes roll over to the right to look at the screen, and the rest of the world goes out of focus. People can't make eye contact with you, and if they're versed in popular psychology, they read things into your lack of eye contact.”
And Washington Post tech reporter Hayley Tsukayama absolutely hated it. “It made me miserable. For wallflowers like me, wearing something that draws constant attention is more or less my personal idea of hell. I've heard just about every privacy concern raised about Glass, but, as the one wearing the device, I wasn't expecting that the privacy most invaded would be my own.”
Glass makes you look ridiculous, and everyone hates you for wearing it.
It seems so obvious: Glass makes people look ridiculous, and everyone who sees you wearing it hates it.
One of Business Insider’s reporters was attacked for wearing a pair in the “wrong” part of San Francisco.
So was this woman, who wanted to wear them while eating at a restaurant. Another restaurant claimed Glass users ruined its online reputation when staff there asked them to stop wearing their glasses.
Clearly, this is a misbegotten device that will ultimately fail, right?
First take a look at the list of apps that can be used on Google Glass.
Sure, there are a lot of generic games and Instagram-like photo apps on that list. But there is also a huge number of apps that are obviously useful purposes for business: NavCook, so you can follow a recipe without using your food-covered hands. Glass Feed, an app that allows you to inject content created in Glass to an RSS feed for Facebook, Evernote or Twitter. Evernote, for, well—Evernote. YourShow, a sort of personal teleprompter for people who give a lot of presentations. And Crystal Shopper, which scans barcodes and prices and helps you check Amazon for cheaper prices.
Google Glass is a security device.
It is business, not consumers, that will save Google Glass from itself.
One of the problems with the way critics view Glass is that they have tried wearing it in the wrong place—in public, in restaurants, with their friends—and have been shocked when it hasn’t shown any benefits.
They should try wearing it for work purposes.
Anyone in the security industry will benefit instantly from Google Glass: Every police department, every private security firm, every military unit, every nightclub bouncer crew, every mall cop could use Google Glass and an always-on cloud video recording function. It would take almost all the guesswork—and the lying — out of eyewitness accounts from law enforcement personnel.
Police in the tiny Middle Eastern state of Dubai are using the face computer to help identify stolen cars, according to a report this week in the Gulf News.
Two apps have been created for the Dubai Police’s Smart Services. “One,” Colonel Khalid Nasser El Razooqui told Gulf News, “will allow them to take photos of traffic violations from the Glass,” and the other app IDs wanted cars by cross-referencing license plates.
Google Glass is also being explored by such major police departments as those in New York City and Los Angeles as well as smaller ones like Byron, Georgia.
Most people think that Glass will thus usher in a surveillance state. (We’re already living in one, according Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, but let’s push on for the sake of argument.)
Google Glass could deter racial profiling.
I worked for the New Jersey Law Journal in the early 2000s and wrote about the period when the N.J. state police were required to use dashboard cameras on their patrol cars as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over racial profiling on the Garden State’s turnpike system. At first the state troopers hated the cameras because they thought it was an invasion of their privacy. Some suspected they hated the cameras because they would record instances of police brutality at road stops. (And no doubt the cameras improved the behavior of some officers.) But months after they were installed, the cops came to love them: It turns out that motorists who are stopped file a large number of unfounded allegations against state troopers, and most of the time the dashcams proved that the motorists were lying, not the police.
You could easily see the same thing happening with Google Glass for police. A constant video record, stored in the cloud, of every law enforcement encounter would deter cops from racial profiling or other bad behavior. And the testimony of either the suspect or the cop in any encounter would be irrelevant — let’s just go to the Glass video!
Surveillance is merely the most obvious use. But there is a larger use in private business at the enterprise level, too.
Pretty much every company on the planet has a reason to use Glass.
Put simply, try to imagine the number of businesses that could use the ability to see something far away from a remote location, but would rather not fly their personnel there. If you’ve ever taken part in a conference call, using video or not, you’ll know that businesses have an ever-growing need for remote services.
With Glass, there is no need to send anyone, anywhere. Just hire someone local who owns a pair of Glass. The oil-exploration industry has discovered this (apparently visual site inspections are a costly part of finding oil). Doctors are already distance-learning new surgical techniques via Glass. And deaf people can get sign language services on Glass when once they could not.
Some of Google’s critics have vaguely come to realize that Glass will be huge, but not as a consumer product for everyday life. It will be huge as a specialist enterprise product for business. As the Washington Post’s Tsukayama eventually figured out:
After a few earnest days of trying to make the thing work, I stopped trying to force the issue and used it as I would in real life – in situations when I needed to watch something hands-free, or when I wasn't required to actively engage with other people. In those cases, Glass worked as promised. It delivered updates to keep me informed without overwhelming me and acted as a useful second screen to my smartphone.
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