Google Glass: Obnoxious and invasive at any price

Summary:Products like Google Glass will face numerous adoption challenges because they present issues in any number of social situations where privacy or desire to be "off the record" is most cherished.

Wearable computing has long been part of the holy grail of the pursuit towards integration of information science with human interface devices.

We've seen its use described in popular science-fiction novels and shown in movies and television (like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek") and has been the fodder of futurists for longer than I can possibly remember.

Image: Robert Scoble

There's no question that these devices will be used extensively, particularly in vertical markets for specific types of applications where hands-free computing has distinct advantages, such in the medical and military fields, as well as in breaking news reporting.

But products like Google Glass will face numerous adoption challenges because they present issues in any number of social situations where privacy or desire to be "off the record" is most cherished.

One might ask, why are privacy issues with Glass any different than any other device that can record, such as a smartphone or a miniature tablet?

They are absolutely different. Today, even with cameras on smartphone handsets, recording in certain areas is frowned upon, but at least there is time for the object of the recording to raise an objection and ask for the device to be put away. 

Because Glass is being worn, and might eventually be integrated into prescription eyewear, it's a "stealth" recording device. The object of the recording may not know they've been captured on video until it is too late. And, the device's ability to transmit that footage to the public-viewable cloud nearly instantaneously with a 4G or Wi-Fi connection will make it much more feared than a simple camera with localized storage.

In the "Explorer" edition of Google Glass that has now shipped to celebrity early adopters and developers, there is no indication whatsoever that the subject is being recorded.

Contrary to early reports, there is no LED or light or anything of the sort to alert that a video or a picture is being taken. This might be changed in mass-market versions of the device produced by licensing OEMs, but for now, one should assume that if Glass' 720p 5-megapixel CMOS sensor is pointed at you, you're on Candid Camera.

Glass and similar products that enter the market because of their potential for recording images and video in a stealthy fashion will be unwelcome in any place that people gather and expect some degree of privacy, and new social norms will have to be developed for their use as well as establishment of etiquette for obtaining the consent of those being recorded.

What about prescription versions of Glass? Won't it make it harder to remove them from people in social situations?

First, we're making a very big assumption that Google can get the eyewear industry to cooperate by licensing this technology. Google is probably not going to want to get into the eyewear business because there are too many styles, and people view their eyewear styles as being a very personal fashion choice. 

That being said, the balance of the designer eyeglass frame as well as the prescription eyeglass retail business, as well as the distribution channels for prescription eyewear — with the exception of Costco and Wal-Mart, which are loss leaders in this area — is effectively a monopoly controlled by the Luxottica Group S.p.A, based in Milan, Italy, which generates over €7 billion in net sales annually, based on their last financial statement.

Virtually every design patent for every licensed eyeglass brand you can think of is controlled by this firm. If Google even wants to play in this arena, it will be on Luxottica's terms. If you think Apple is litigious with protecting design patents, just imagine what Luxottica will do if it suspects Google is attempting to intrude on its business.

More than likely, I think that anyone who is serious about using these sort of devices will opt to use contact lenses or elect for corrective laser surgery, and they can simply just remove the device if someone takes offense to it being used.

And again, if Luxottica feels its long-term business is threatened by the device in any way that could potentially lead toward a downward trend in the use of prescription eyewear, God help Google.

For those too squeamish for corrective surgery or contact lenses, a "clip-on" version of Glass is likely to enter the market.

And the potential for backlash?

Well, there's already backlash to Google Glass. The fact that terms like "Glasshole" and "Doucheglass" are being bandied about already means that the general public finds the product and their users to be obnoxious.

There will be Glass-free signs posted in businesses of all kinds. I can certainly see them being banned from any number of public spaces under local ordinances passed which may govern when and where they cannot be used.

They will be prohibited from being used in schools due to concerns over student distraction and possible cheating. Government buildings will almost certainly prohibit them, as will airport security. There will be incidents of "Glass Rage" where people will get into fights over their use.

And there are probably scenarios for backlash we haven't even thought of yet.

Despite the clear privacy issues and challenges that Google will face with the eyewear industry, I do think that these devices will inevitably enter the mainstream, despite restrictions that will be imposed on their use.

If Luxottica feels its long-term business is threatened by the device in any way potentially that could lead toward a downward trend in the use of prescription eyewear, God help Google.

I think there will be an initial surge for prosumers/professionals and verticals at $800 with a mass adoption price point at about $500, with universal adoption at about $250.

That Android runs at the core of Glass is probably a good thing, at least for Google's device. Android is a known quantity when it comes to software development.

However, the type of apps we will see for augmented reality use are likely to be very different than what is used on a smartphone. I expect these to be more of the "telemetry" type apps that are simply extensions of things running remotely on a Bluetooth-connected smartphone, not unlike how current smart watches work.

I believe augmented reality wearable computers are likely to enter the industry by more than just Google, and there will be different ways to market the geotargeting aspects of the technology.

The obvious one will be augmented reality superimposed advertisements that hook directly into Google Ads, but there's huge potential for noise here. 

Topics: Google, Hardware, Innovation


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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