Fixing a broken Google Glass

Fixing a broken Google Glass

Summary: Can wearable computing be saved when its users are Glassholes?


This morning my esteemed ZDNet colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes declared Google Glass dead citing the exit of one of its prime cheerleaders, mister shower selfie himself, Robert Scoble.

Dead. As in, not pining for the fjords, passed on, shuffled off its mortal coil, dead parrot dead. 

Now, I'm not really the right person to step out and defend Google Glass. I've written enough materials in the past year condemning the thing so much that you'd think Google had run over my dog with one of its robot cars.

Just read some of the material to the right of this paragraph. You can almost taste the bile dripping off the pages.

That being said, I think the project (notice I did not say product, because it isn't one yet) has potential but it has some extremely serious flaws that need to be corrected.

[Edit: I spoke too soon. Glass Explorer Edition is now available for anyone to purchase. God help us all.]

Some of these Adrian already pointed out, such as the exorbitant price of the Explorer Edition hardware, the limited availability of the device, the sheer nerdiness of the product aesthetics, awful marketing, and lack of decent applications.

Oh, did I mention the horrible battery life, the lousy audio, the terrible low-res display, and the fact that when you use it for any length of time, it gives you a splitting headache.

Some of these things can be corrected with further iterations. The price of the device will resolve itself, the aesthetics will improve, as will the marketing. The apps will come.

I also believe that Google is not a stupid company and views Glass like many of its other initiatives, as a research project foisted upon the masses, as a way of crowdsourcing product development, just like it has done with everything else it has released to date. 

Adrian fears that because Glass has fallen on its posterior, it will potentially take the rest of the wearables industry down. I think we are being a bit too hasty here.

First, I think we can agree that wearable computing covers a number of form factors, not just augmented reality monocles like Glass.

In short, in a purely vertical scenario, nobody is being a Glasshole. The wearer is simply doing their job.

Wearable computing includes simple sensors like the Fitbit, smartwatches like the Pebble as well as more vertical-purposed and much more higher-end devices than even Glass.

These include those systems being tested by the military and police forces for anti-terrorism operations (such as for remote control of drones and robots) and those being used to assist in complex aircraft maintenance tasks or in other engineering scenarios, or even for medical/hospital use.

Vertical has always been the killer app for wearables. And in vertical scenarios nobody cares if you look bizarre wearing one or if the user is pointing a camera at you.

In combat soldiers are going to depend on such a device to give them situational awareness on the battlefield, and in a hospital a patient has more pressing concerns than some weird-looking medical equipment the doctor is using at bedside or at the operating table.

It's certainly no weirder and far less intimidating than being shoved into an MRI scanner.

In short, in a purely vertical scenario, nobody is being a Glasshole. The wearer is simply doing their job.

All the things wrong with Glass that Adrian mentioned can be improved with further development. But product development cannot improve the human beings wearing them.

Honestly, did we really expect Scoble, the very Glasshole template himself, to stay the course with yet another one of his fleeting tech infatuations? I'm surprised he stuck with it as long as he did.

Human behavior as well as our understanding of when to use these devices in non-vertical scenarios is what has to change. It's not acceptable to point a camera right in somebody's face either in any kind of interpersonal setting without consent, regardless of whether the thing is recording or not. 

I'm aware of course that miniature cameras have been the stuff of "Spy Stores" and Hammacher-Schlemmer and SkyMall for ages. However just because you can buy a product and record someone without their consent doesn't necessarily mean that it is legal for you to do this under any number of state laws.

Yes, we know you're under public surveillance all the time. But let's not mix law enforcement as well as private security with intrusion of personal privacy and simply not being assholes to each other.

We know we can improve the way Glass and other consumer wearables appear so as to look less intimidating to people around them. Google has done so as much by recently partnering with Luxottica, the world's biggest producer of prescription eyeglass frames, to make housings for Glass.

But even so, the camera sensor is large, and it is stuck in a fixed position. One way the problem could be dealt with if is if the sensor/display module could be removed, like a hot-pluggable component, and stowed in a pocket along with your phone.

Or simply swiveled out of view when entering an environment where the use of wearables is considered undesirable. 

I have no doubt whatsoever that technology will progress in such a way that it will eventually be possible to completely conceal a camera sensor, such as through the use of fiber optics. And it may be possible to conceal the entire display unit behind the eyeglass lenses or in the lenses themselves.

It may also be that at some point, such discreet wearables become so inexpensive that virtually everyone who wants access to them will be able to wear them.

In which case, we need to re-examine as a society how we interact with such things. And we should start thinking about it now.

In that future time, we will have to assume that we are always performing for a camera, and that the person on the other side of "Future Glass" can not only record you, but has access to a powerful sensor and software that can for example, detect changes in your body temperature or even read your heartbeat.

Perhaps the camera and accompanying software can even read and understand your facial expressions, even in a low-light scenario. Or has a sensitive microphone that can detect fluctuations in the tone of your voice, so that real-time analysis by the wearable or a more powerful wireless-tethered device can determine if you are under stress or are uncomfortable with the situation.

Now we're talking about apps that can actually do some interesting things.

This all sounds like science fiction, but the fundamental technology exists today in the Kinect sensor that comes with every XBOX ONE.

The Kinect sensor is a very sophisticated and sizable piece of equipment. But if we've learned anything about the tech industry we know that everything eventually gets miniaturized.

Whether it takes five or even ten years is of no importance, we have to start thinking about these social issues today.

We have a right as human beings to know if someone is using this technology in our proximity, and we should have a way to "opt-out" of situations where it is being used, either by the use of enabling technology that restricts their use or through good ol' fashioned, low-tech social reinforcement.

Society just simply needs to learn that there are times when whipping these out in groups of people that do not want them around is not okay. And until that lesson is learned, we will not hear the last story of "I was a Glasshole in public and I was assaulted."

Is the problem ultimately with Glass, the maturity of the wearable tech, or the maturity of the Glassholes? Talk Back and Let Me Know. 

Topics: Google, Cloud, Emerging Tech, Mobility


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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  • ....Maturity.....?

    How about the maturity of the critics? Are we assuming that everyone wearing Google Glass is recording video just because they can? I can record video with my Note 2 sitting in my shirt pocket quite easily. I did just that recently at a workplace discussion on BYOD when a member of senior management stated that no device like Google Glass that could record company functions would be allowed. After a few moments I started recording the rest of the meeting with my phone sitting in my shirt pocket. Playing back that clip was an eye opener for them but it should not have surprised anyone. We already have the capability to do much of what Google Glass is vilified for with devices we already have. We don't record unless there is a good reason to. I suspect that with Google Glass it is the same. Let's not be so paranoid that we see evil inherent in a device. You are being recorded constantly without your knowledge. At least with Google Glass it is on the users face for all to see. YOU can choose to leave or nicely ask to Glass user not to record (they probably aren't anyway). Much ado about nothing.
    • Not Entirely

      It's more that it's in-your-face. Sorry. Most people think of folks using phone cameras as looking at the screen while holding it up. With glass, the screen is already in front of your face and the camera is right there, so it's hard to tell if it's on, many times.

      Glass is dead because Glass just isn't good enough. The price is too high. Battery life is bad. App interfaces are bad. The number of apps is really bad, and many of us who have tried it with the thought of a killer-app that we were going to deploy to it have said "meh. Maybe Glass 2".
    • Yes

      We can assume that anyone wearing GG is recording. As far back as the initial specifications, Glass is always recording and sending images up to Google, even if the wearer isn't recording. Thats how it will do face and clothing recognition to be able to point out your friends or to see what you are looking at in order to send you relevant advertising. So, I suspect you are wrong on this.
    • Absolutly mindblowing. How so many dont get this is beyond reality.

      Im going to paint a very simple and obvious picture that is entirely easy to contemplate and digest.

      Google Glass is purely an information recording, displaying and dissemination device where it has little other purpose and two of the most well know capacities of the device are to record both audio and visual information which it can do practically instantly on the users command without warning or awareness of others near by.

      Sitting around telling the world that there dosnt exist any weirdo's perverts, freaks, or simply Youtube hilarious "fail" video posters do not exist and there is nothing to worry about is the biggest steaming pile of crap I have heard of in ages.

      If you don't get it tietchen, its only your incredible shortsighted lack of empathy and insight into normal human beings, not some flaw in a few others who cannot understand your lack of concern about being surreptitiously recorded without ANY possible accountability by the person doing so.

      This isn't like some tricky concept. As far as I can see that any normal human who puts their mind to it can at the very least understand that a great many people don't relish the thought of their voice or picture being recorded without their knowledge and then the unaccountable invisible person who did it essentially being able to do anything they wish with it afterwards because you don't know them and you had no decent way to avoid or stop them.

      Even when I am in a vehicle and someone has their cell phone in the vehicle working on Bluetooth speakerphone they thoughtfully announce to the caller that they are on speakerphone and who is with them listening. Its not just politeness, its plain common sense.

      These people who seem to live by some code of "You should all just buck up and live with it" make me sick. And they make the vast majority of the world sick.

      Its time for these types to get a little humanity.
      • so when you take a picture

        of a beautiful landscape - you make sure no human being gets into your photo?

        and you have never taken a picture of, say, your child with another 25 childen in a background running around unaware of you?

        and, naturally, there are no 'spy' cameras for sale in case someone really really wants to take a picture of you.

        come on - cheer up!
      • ...If you don't get it .......

        What I do "get" is that we are being recorded constantly by various security systems, red light cameras, go pros on every type of sports gear imaginable, and many others. As I said in my post most any cell phone or tablet can record video without anyone being aware with little effort, If they want to. I recorded a meeting on my smartphone with 9 coworkers sitting around a table and nobody noticed. You are already being recorded!! Do you think that you are doing anything that someone would even want to record? You may be (horrors!!) be in the background of someone recording their kids playing. I take photos and video with my phone and DSLR in a wide variety of places and situations and no one I inadvertently caught in the background ever even seemed to notice.

        I suspect that some Glass users recorded more initially due to the novelty of a new device. With on board storage limitations and mobile data charges users would need to be careful how often they record video.

        The point is there is the POTENTIAL for abuse with any recording device. Don't let your hatred of anything Google make you so paranoid that you punch someones lights out or rip the offending device from their face and smash it. They probably were not recording you anyway.
        • re: ...if you don't get it...

          Tietchen: Evidently, you don't work in the defense industry. While there are some contractors that allow employees to bring in their cellphones making this possible (to record ongoing meetings, etc at work), some companies do not allow personal devices on their property.

          This is how it is where I work. you even have to walk thru a "scanner", to come in the door. So no, you can't just record anywhere you go....

          • You are in the Minority of businesses then ...

            Your business is in the Minority not the Majority in that case, and that is a low % of normal businesses.
            I have to agree with tietchen here ... In this day and age, we are being filmed/video taped, recorded and scrutinized each and everyday if we know it or not.
            London England has more security cameras per sq Km than any other city on the planet. NY is moving in the same direction, and other cities will do the same within the next decade. If it is not Police/Government cameras taking videos of you, then it is local stores with security cameras.
            And if that does not scare you a little, then you have to deal with the NSA, and their infiltration of everything else that we say/send and look up/search out.
            Yes, having a camera in your face can make anyone nervous and feel violated, but today it seems to much like the norm, and if you like it or not, they are here and they are not going anywhere any time soon!
    • Grand Moff Tarkin said it best

      As the line in Star Wars goes "You're far too trusting."
      • why not just make a physical cover for the lens.

        A physical cover cannot be programmed around and it is obvious to anyone looking that it is there. Together with a hard wired light that is literally powered by the CCD power that lights up when the CCD is charged and cannot be coded around either... That would ensure that the camera cannot work without people knowing.

        I'll still be able to record you secretly on my phone, pen or go pro, Or the dash cam /reverse cam on my car, but you'll be safe from the really obvious camera on my face.
        • I'd also argue that the camera in the Samsung smart watch is worse.

          Because people don't think or know the watch has a camera and you don't even need to be looking or pointing at someone to take a photo .. Much less obvious and problematic as I'll bet nobody is telling gear watches off before Going into change rooms or private meetings etc.
          • Possibly, but...

            ...a watch isn't anywhere near as in your face as something partially covering the eyes of someone you're trying to talk to.

            Frankly, I don't even understand why this is so controversial; it's incredibly obvious just how violating Google Glass is of basic interpersonal social principles. It's about other people's positions, not yours. Anyone trying to defend the glasses by disqualifying other people's genuine discomfort with them is only exacerbating the problem by refusing to acknowledge people's basic social expectations, thus being the so-call "glasshole."
    • Once a glasshole, always a glasshole

      Part of it is comfort level, not simply privacy. If we were having a chat and I had a large news-camera on my shoulder, would it matter if I'm record or not? The feel of the conversation completely changes by having a camera openly pointed at you. Have you ever seen family videos where mostly normal friends and family become complete idiots the moment the camera is pointed at them? It's very difficult to be yourself in front of a glasshole, and there's nothing that will change that.
    • It's too subtle

      Sure you can do most things on your phone or tablet that you can do with Google Glass, but with Google Glass, the actions are far more physically subtle - whether real or just perceived - than the vast majority of people feel comfortable with. With a phone or tablet, most people (at least enough people to not cause major social discomfort) have to manually interact (meaning with the hands) with the device somehow, making it obvious to anyone around you that you're doing something with it.

      There's a very big difference, and the real heart of the problem is actually people like you, who either don't or just plain refuse to acknowledge the difference.
  • Google Glass, in it's present incarnation, is dead.

    AKH is right. Enough said.

    Future high-tech wearable augmented reality gear, like a few of the examples Jason postulated, will be developed and deployed - primarily in defense related products first and then perhaps as broad based consumer devices next. However, I have had a rule of thumb (since the '70s) that consumer technology ALWAYS lags behind equivelent or deployed technology found in the Armed Services or available from the Military-Industrial complex by at least 10 years - probably 15, IMO.

    That's just the way it has been and perhaps the way it always will be.
    • The choices are armed services and consumers?

      How about medical professionals?

      Hey! Maybe Army and VA doctors will get a whiff of what's going down at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. And just imagine what Hawkeye and Trapper John could have done with Google Glass on M*A*S*H*.

      I suspect that lots of niches for Google Glass will crop up in the commercial sector.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Maybe for Glasses, but not Google Glasses specificly.

        You missed something in that article -

        "The Glasses used by Beth Israel were modified for the hospital by a San Francisco startup called Wearable Intelligence to read the QR codes. Patient records are not shared with Google, according to hospital officials."

        If you look at the picture, it appears that they are just using the existing screen and camera (no sense reinventing the wheel), and pulling out the Google portion of it.

        I think the major issue with this technology is that "Google Glasses" benefits Google far more then it does the end user, which is the part that makes people suspicious.

        More people are understanding how Google makes it's money, and that's the part that would scare people away from "Google" Glasses.
        • William.Farrel: "pulling out the Google portion of it"

          What does this mean? I'm quite certain that the operating system used in Google Glass by the staff at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is still Android (did you think that it was replaced with Tizen?!). All Wearable Intelligence added to Google Glass was the capability to read QR codes. The operative word is 'customization'.

          As for sharing patient records with Google, that would be a violation of HIPAA. Neither Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center nor Google wants any part of that. And I'm sure that many other commercial uses of Google Glass would involve enterprises choosing to not share sensitive data with Google. Ever hear of the phrase 'company private'?
          Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Not customized - "modified"

            That is what the sentence says, it doesn't say "customized".
          • Do you speak English?

            Customize is a synonym of modify:


            That means the words are interchangeable.
            Rabid Howler Monkey