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.

Google has stated that no advertisements will be allowed in third-party apps on Glass. I think it is highly unlikely that Google is going to make Glass an advert-free zone. It is far more likely that it intends to reserve ad network promotion for basic device functionality so that app developers cannot abuse the system. 

More likely the advertising on the device will have to be targeted according to the user's Google+ profile and to search context, through queries such as "Okay Glass, show me pizzerias in a one mile radius."

Based on my "+1" of pizza restaurants on Google+, I could see the device popping up overlays if I'm near a particularly good one, such as a place with a particularly high Zagat rating. And it might even show me pizza restaurants that have paid for particularly high AdWords placement as well.

What we think of "advertisement" will be defined entirely by how much Google "juice" an AdWords customer is willing to pay for in order to get in front of literally as many eyeballs as possible. These will not be "pitches" for product as such, but jostling for position on an augmented overlay.

Geotargeted and context and query-based visual augmentation will almost certainly make up the bulk of the revenue model, at least initially.

But I also see Glass as a supplemental ecosystem for the existing Google Play application store, particularly for Android smartphone apps that have the ability to extend their reach into the new device through "telemetry" or Glass-optimized user interfaces.

There may be other types of Glass-oriented content that Google is looking for developers to produce that the wearers can consume and can be monetized. Perhaps industry or interest-specific augmentation overlays, much like the way dictionary add-ons for word processing packages were sold to the medical and legal industry in the 1980s.

In terms of enhancing our overall communications and collaboration experience, I'm not yet convinced it is going to raise the bar. We already have the capability to do pretty sophisticated video chat and video conferencing with smartphones and PCs and it still only has limited use.

Where I do see this making some impact is in social networking. Clearly this would be a win for Google+ and a blow to Facebook. "Liking" and "friending" people could be an act of simply pointing at an icon floating in space over somebody's head, as opposed to having to look up their profile.

The adult film industry will certainly use this device with consent, but imagine what unscrupulous, ethically-challenged sociopaths might do with Glass. 

Status updates could be dictated and photo-sharing services like Instagram could be made obsolete. So it might add some transparency to Social Networking as opposed to it being the chore that it is today.

Still, I think the technology platform has to prove itself before it becomes more than just a more sophisticated replacement to existing Bluetooth headsets. 

At the moment Glass uses very commodity system-on-a-chip (SoC) with fairly off the shelf display, camera and battery tech. Google will need to develop the technology a little further if wants to put devices on the market that are usable for more than just a few hours at a time and can really make use of the life-logging capabilities as opposed to running out of gas after 20 minutes of video recording.

They will need much lower-power SoCs and more sophisticated battery chemistry, so that the majority of the heavy lifting is done by a wireless tethered smartphone instead. Google can certainly get millions of Glass devices pumped out with the current reference design, but it may not be palatable in its current form due to short battery life.

Social and technology limitations aside, there is a significant vertical pivot in all of this. Medical, law enforcement, private security, scientific research, pharmaceutical, and aerospace. Any profession where hands-free device operation is an asset.

Even if Google Glass flops in terms of mass-market adoption, the vertical applications are tremendous, and on that alone the technology should be considered successful if it gets penetration into those industries.

There's another industry that Glass is going to get penetration, and it should be obvious to everyone — pornography.

Google may not intend the product to be used in that fashion, but let's face it, first-person, close-up perspective views of sex acts are as much the holy grail of the adult industry as wearable computing and life logging is in the collective consciousness of science fiction. In fact, the two have often come hand and hand with each other. 

Natalie Wood with the "Brainstorm" lifelogging headset, 1983.

For example, the production-cursed 1983 Douglas Trumbull film "Brainstrom" starring Natalie Wood and Christoper Walken depicts a lifelogging technology similar to Glass — which also has the ability to record sensation and emotion — that is misused and is exploited by one of its inventors to chronicle his bedroom exploits with women, and then share it with his colleagues.

The adult film industry will certainly use this device with consent, but imagine what unscrupulous, ethically-challenged sociopaths might do with Glass. 

If you think "sexting" is something to be wary of, and you're concerned about having your children exposed to it, that's nothing compared to what Glass has the potential to be misused for.

Google Glass will make some sort of industry impact in 2014. Whether that is strictly with early adopters, "prosumers" or use in vertical markets, this is difficult to say. It's also hard to tell this early on whether or not the product is acceptable in its current form given the limitations it has in terms of battery life and just how exactly it might be monetized by third-party developers.  

What is certain, however, is that there is a nearly universal negative reaction to the life-logging and stealth recording capabilities of the device. Regardless of how cheap Google Glass eventually becomes due to efficiencies in mass production, it's obnoxious and invasive at any price and its potential for abuse by the ethically challenged and sociopaths among us is virtually unlimited.

Is Google Glass an obnoxious technology at any price? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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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