I’ve come around a bit on Google Glass. Not entirely, but perhaps 270°.
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To clarify, I’d be surprised if I ever adopted Glass personally. I’m just an old guy, stuck in some rut from the 1970s or thereabouts. A few of us try — often ungracefully — to pose as “with it” or “hip” or whatever terms they use these days, eliciting the kind of painful winces from our children that cannot come from any other source. I will continue to cling to my analog world, which gives me comfort in its materiality and the varied texture of its experience.
But as a market phenomenon, Glass’s heritors — those better-designed, lower-cost follow-ons that will roll out over the next few years — are likely to be more commonplace than I originally thought not long after the first experimental models came out.
And it’s not just that people can watch themselves having sex with other people while wearing Glass (although that app will surely move a few units). Nor that Glass will be acceptable in every situation, which it won’t. And it’s clear that there’s still work to be done with respect to driving while Glassing.
But the reason that Glass is going to work out in the long term is that in certain situations, it will be incredibly useful. Two come to mind right away, and several others suggest themselves as possibilities, if some privacy aspects can be worked out.
The first is industrial. Repair shops, manufacturing facilities, tool & die shops, inventory-filled warehouses, and even surgical theaters — any place where documentation has to be compared to the physical world — are ideal for the application of Glass. The work takes place entirely on company premises. So, some of the objections to Glass on social grounds disappear. Employers can set cultural expectations (e.g., thou shalt wear Google Glass on thy job). The precedent is safety-wear. Firemen may not always think they need those heavy suits, but insurance rules require that they wear them, and the chief won’t take no guff on the subject.
The second is during travel, whether via car, foot, train, bus, or bicycle. At various speeds, the real world rushes by, and an augmented view can enhance the experience tremendously. Here’s one of many whimsical demos showing how this experience might look. Just walking down the street and seeing Yelp, OpenTable, and Google Maps overlays on the landscape could be extremely helpful.
Scenarios that depend on a degree of social acceptance come out of places like the hospitality business. If the hostess or maître d’ has Glass to advise him or her, then he or she can make eye contact with the customer while receiving key information from the back of the house (e.g., we’re all out of the special entrée, the coveted two-seater by the window just opened up, throttle them back a bit because we’re blown away back here). In these situations, there is a professional reason for wearing Glass. Even though the location is on private property, restaurants and hotels are considered quasi-public.
Security, public safety, and law enforcement represent other, mostly public uses. An EMT arriving at the scene of an accident can start applying life-saving procedures while alerting others (e.g., the hospital) on what to expect, obtaining information about uncommon procedures, or even seeing the patient’s vital statistics on the heads-up display. Night watchpeople can automatically take pictures at checkpoints at regular intervals to demonstrate the state of the facility. State troopers can run a make while keeping an eye on the suspect.
Less likely are scenarios involve things like learning key facts about your interlocutor during a business meeting, about your date on your first night out, or about your partner’s family at your first big get-together with them. These applications will take a long time to become established because people will continue to be wary for many years of someone referring to an information source that they can’t see.
Despite the discomfort that Glass often engenders in public, it will likely catch on, first in private and semi-private settings and perhaps later in public. As this market finds its legs, expect other entrants — perhaps Apple and Samsung as well as many less-well-known companies like Vuzix, Xone, Recon Instruments, Epson, Warby Parker, and GlassUp — to join Google in the face-wearable category.