The one big factor Google Glass is missing

The one big factor Google Glass is missing

Summary: Before we call Google Glass the next big thing in tech, remember that it’s still missing one critical element that all revolutionary products must have.

TOPICS: Hardware, Google
Image: Josh Miller/CNET

Google Glass has generated more excitement in the tech industry than any product since the Apple iPad in 2010. But, before we crown it as an industry revolutionizer, let's not forget that Google Glass still doesn’t have a clear response to the one big question that all revolutionary products must answer:

How does it make my life better?

Every game-changing product innovation over the past three decades had a very simple answer to that question. For example, the iPhone gave you the Internet in your pocket. The BlackBerry gave you email on your phone. The Macintosh (and later Windows) gave you a computer you could use without typing in computer codes.

Those were game changers. They made big promises, and they delivered.

What's the big promise with Google Glass? We still don’t have a good answer.

When Google talks about Glass it's totally focused on what it's like to experience information in a new way. The benefits are all implied. The only real improvement over the smartphone that you've already got in your pocket is that Glass can take photos and videos and share them a little bit faster. Pitching that as a futuristic experience doesn't make it any more useful. And, the current Glass camera is a step down from most smartphones.

I read Robert Scoble's 1,000-word Google+ post on how Glass has changed his life, which led him to proclaim that "I will never live a day of my life from now on without it." But, even after reading, I still didn't find any big promises for how Google Glass will make my life better. The stuff Scoble mentioned were all things that most smartphones can already do. Glass is a slightly new way to view information but it doesn't introduce any new capabilities. It doesn't make anything significantly better.

Image: Josh Miller/CNET

If you want further evidence that there's not a whole lot going on underneath the Google Glass hype, then all you have to do is look at the coverage from the tech press last week as Google put Glass into the hands of tech journalists. Most of the tech journalists spent a lot more time taking wonderfully narcissistic photos of themselves wearing Glass than they did telling us about how Glass was going to impact the lives of everyday people. And, while that is further proof that technology is integrating ever deeper with fashion, it's also a telling sign of how little Glass can actually do.

The most succinct compliment of what Glass has to offer came from my CNET colleague Lindsey Turrentine, who aptly called it "a handy monitor for my cell phone."

That's interesting, but not much of a game-changer.

In fact, it sounds like something that makes your technology experience more complicated rather than making it simpler. It's another device that you have manage. The functions of Glass overlap with the technologies that you're already carrying. And, with roughly 3-4 hours of battery life, it's another thing you have to jockey for a power charge.

That's too complicated. Today's winning technologies are the ones that make things simpler for our over-complicated lives. For example, Google Now automatically gives us uncanny reminders without us having to set up anything. The smartphone itself is a device that simplified our lives by typically replacing at least five or six other devices—iPod, cellphone, camera, GPS, notebook, etc. Even apps on smartphones give us a simple and uncluttered way to directly interact with the information and services that are most important to us. Simplicity wins.

If the simplicity factor for Google Glass is that it saves me from taking my smartphone out of my pocket, then that's not enough to outweigh the fact that it actually adds another device that I have to carry and forces me to wear glasses.

I'll admit that a big part of what makes Google Glass difficult for people like me and the ones who are most likely to read this article is that most of our technology time involves work. And there aren't many examples I can think of where Google Glass would help someone get more work done.

I'm not saying Google Glass is completely useless. I can think of a number of specialized uses where Glass could offer an improved experience:

  • Having access to information during activities where your hands are occupied, such as mountain climbing, biking, and other sports and recreation
  • Insurance agents recording video evidence and interviews on the scene of a claim
  • Travelers streaming their tourist experience home to family and/or close friends who couldn’t join them on the trip
  • Museum visitors getting automatic information on the exhibits that they are viewing, without have to fiddle with a phone or tablet; the same could apply for walking tours in historic cities

However, it's important to remember that those are all specialized activities where Google Glass could provide an improved viewing experience in relatively short bursts. In other words, it's not something you wear all the time. That's a lot different than being an indispensable new product that changes how you live and work in the way that the smartphone and the point-and-click PC have.

Google Glass does not offer one of those life-changing promises. Without that, we can't expect it to be the next big thing. At best, right now it looks like it's going to be an expensive smartphone accessory.

Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

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Topics: Hardware, Google

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  • :)

    so you complain about what you dont know? :)

    ok, so just think a little:
    1) dont need to touch my phone in many cases:
    2) navigation
    3) receiving messages, calls
    4) taking photos, videos

    enough for me!!!! huge innovation for me! = easier life in 90 %!

    dont need more for now
    • .

      I think you need to read the article again. He addressed each and every one of your 'points' in it. In fact you are mostly just reiterating his point with a different conclusion/opinion.
      Koopa Troopa
      • It's ironic, but it has the capability of...

        reconnecting people to their physical surrounding. The increasing disconnect of the user from his environment has been exacerbated by the smartphone. I see people constantly walking around looking down at their cellphone almost every time someone uses a cell phone. Rarely do I see the bluetooth headset or earbuds unless the user is listening to music.

        This device will allow the user to simply look ahead and around normally as if he wasn't "connected" or using a cellphone. In many ways it's even better too because it would augment the data available to the end user regarding his environment.

        Would be great to see people saying hi or hello to people as you walk by. Right now, instead of saying hi or hello you're more likely to bump into someone looking down on their smartphone and no even bothering to say excuse me in the process.

        I would buy this at half the $1500 price.
        • Do u really mean that ??

          With Smartphone you know the other person is talking to the phone. With Glass, you really can't make out weather person is talking to u or lost in the glass.
      • no

        no, I just want to say that every one who thinks a little more about it doesn't expect can expect more just with brain reading feature....

        for now this is a huge innovation
    • I know the geeks dont watch TV or read newspapers, so....

      I have been blown away by the fact that dispite many IT savvy tech lovers think the privacy discussion about Google goggles is actualy a discussion about "do you really need to have privacy fears, do you understand we already get recorded plenty, dont you think this is really cool progressive tech, why dont you like Google goggles, your a caveman for not understanding this is progression, after all the primitives didnt like mirrors so if you dont like Google goggles you know no more than a cave man", the public privacy discussion is not about any of those things.

      The privacy discussion is about the general interests and concerns about the thought of eventually thousands roaming the streets POTENTIALLY recording them without their knowlege, and its without their knowlege because they may be operating at any time and they are right there in your face so you know the POTENTIAL exists, the potential from unkown strangers.

      I have noted with interests recent newspaper articles that are asking the very same kinds of questions, even happened across a television drama late tonight NCIS dealt with the very issue of the publics reaction and perception of being watched or spied on.

      Those who think that people who simply point out the WELL known fact that massive numbers of the general public dont particularly like the kind of scrutiny Google goggles bring to the average citizens life as they walk about their daily lives, EVEN IN THE PUBLIC, and the strong potential for public backlash because of that, and call people who bring that simple fact to their attention to them are simply cavemen who dont like advancement, dont get the issue at all and are simply shooting the messenger.

      I for one love new high tech gadgets. I also know a great deal about social psychology and I can tell you without any doubt, there is no point in shooting the messensger on this one. I know this website is cramed full of idiots who do everything they can to frequently shoot the messenger, the problem here is that the countless millions around the world who dont read ZDNet really will not care at all how insulting you get about people who point out that people will not care much for having these things around in the public in large numbers.

      The thing is, long term studies and all kinds of pretty well known and acepted knowlege about the general public indicate the potential is pretty darn high that a lot of people will have very very low tolerance for these things roaming around in large numbers in the public. Telling me Im a cave man, when Im not one of those people, isnt going to change any of those Joe Average types in their opinion.

      • :)

        the biggest sneakers are this is more dangerous just because of govs......companies like google you can deny, govs you can not = very easily logic
    • I would love my friends to get this.

      That way they can stream movie right from the cinema hall, and I can watch them without having to buy tickets.
    • In the real world, miniscule reasons while ignoring drawbacks.

      You advised us to; ok, so just think a little:

      1) dont need to touch my phone in many cases:
      2) navigation
      3) receiving messages, calls
      4) taking photos, videos


      Well. Ok. If most people even took you seriously at all, they might have thought about your reasoning’s a little. And likely came to the obvious conclusions.

      1) = So what? I don’t even get what the problem is? You find yourself touching your phone so often it’s a problem? You’re kidding right? What do you do for a living? What do you do in general that has you scrambling for your phone so often you would rather be ridiculed, avoided by the public and want to look like a neo maxi zoom dweebie? Just ridiculous. “I want a product that keeps me from having to touch my phone so often!!” Ok. Score a huge one for Google goggles with people who have to do a bunch of phone touching all the time.
      2) Navigation? Ummm…you got me scared with this one chum. A lot. Just like the guy who says “I love my portable DVD player because it kills the boredom when Im by myself on a long drive”. You sound like an accident waiting to happen. Get outta here.
      3) Receiving messages and calls? Seriously, is this where the touching the phone part comes in?
      4) Taking photos and videos? Well, with such limited video time before it kills the glasses, 20 minutes Ive heard, its not much of a ground breaker, particularly with such a crap camera. And oh! By the way, those happen to be the very features that will likely make the public avoid you like some kind of pariah. Its not me saying that; its decades of social psychology.

      Sorry, but all your points are weak in the extreme and are hardly worth anything close to $200 for most people. The reason why these things make people stop and ask questions is because they stand out like a sore thumb on your face and look futuristic. They are just going to become little more than whats perceived as a public nuisance in short order.
  • What?!?

    If you don't get how this makes your life better, then you are a complete moron. I would explain it to you, but it's so obvious that if you don't know the answer to that question now then you probably don't have enough intelligence to ever understand it, or tie your own shoes.
    Shawn Hensley
    • So you don't know.

      It sounds like you can't tell us how it will make life better, so I will go with that they won't make life better.
    • Only a dumba$$...

      makes that comment, "I would explain it to you, but it's so obvious that if you don't know the answer to that question now then you probably don't have enough intelligence to ever understand it, or tie your own shoes."

      Holy crud man, get out of your computer chariu, brush the crumbs from your belly and get a life. The only people who say things like that are those who have no valid response. If you cannot respond to what he said in an intelligent manner than shutup and continue to read.

      You just make yourself look like an id10t otherwise.
    • Ok, I'll state the obvious

      How it makes your life better. The people who say they don't see how it makes life better because it doesn't do anything "new" ate the same type of people who probably said the automobile doesn't "have a purpose" because they already have horses and carriages that do the same thing. It's not that glass does "new" things,
      It's that it does "many" of the things you do already now, but way better and easier. Siri doesn't do anything new, bit it does the old stuff better and easier. With google glass you get information instantly without using your hands or interrupting another activity like driving or working, you can read and send text messages effortlessly without using your hands, you can answer calls without your hands, you can take a picture or video without reaching for a camera or a phone, and from a POV without even thinking about it, as a tourist, you can look at a landmark and instantly know what it is and it's history, it is everything your smartphone is, GPS, phone, camera, google search, Siri, almost built into your head, it does everything you are doing now, but better, faster, and easier than ever. Is it for everyone, probably not, but I think it will be used far more than Siri. FYI I am a doctor and specialize in how humans think and interact with their environment and this is from that point of view the most suited device to how humans think and interact with their environment. Smartphones and laptops and tablets do not interact with the brain the way it "likes" and takes some effort, a device like this will quickly be accepted by the brain and require almost no thought or effort within a short time.
      Shawn Hensley
      • Autocorrect

        Autocorrect hit me on that one, haha, most of it you can figure out, it did remove that I'm a doctor of psychology, not a medical doctor.
        Shawn Hensley
        • The neurological aspects of the glasses.

          Part of the problem is how to keep a device like Google Glasses from interacting too much with one's brain which will have consequences we can't anticipate. I've been very vocal about my fears of how humans will mis-handle the knowledge and power the glasses it will give it. But this is another concern.

          Because of the adaptive way our brain works, altering input like Google Glasses does can be dangerous because it can effect how information is processed by the brain. A professor in Canada- Michael Persinger- show this with his "God helmet" that uses electro-magnetic waves to alter input to a brain thereby altering the thought process.

          I am NOT a formally educated doctor but "lay expert in neurology" according to the Department of Neurology at UCI. I'm very familiar with radical brain trauma and how to live with it. Since this issue does have to do with neurology so let me delve into it a bit.

          Soon you, your thoughts, and your emotions will be vulnerable to hacking; not just your computer or your phone. Look at the God helmet's ability to change thoughts (a marketers and a political tyrants dream), flickering lights ability to cause epileptic seizures in millions (12k children that were hospitalized after a Pokemon show with flickering lights), and how a the flickering caused by helicopter rotors have caused crashes even though the pilots were not epileptic. Video games and TV's have caused seizures unintentionally, but an animated GIF was intentionally put on the web-site for the Epilepsy Foundation of America a few years ago.

          Another issue is that it forces you to accept how it works. Many (not all) epileptics will get a warning that a seizure is on its way. They have learned to function in the world by paying attention to that warning. If they run into a web-site with a malicious GIF they know to turn their heads away from the screen. But what if you were driving your car and you get a warning? Unless your hands are free and you have time to take your Google glasses off while keeping your prescription glasses in place you are in trouble and so are the cars around you.

          The promises of a better life smells of what Timothy Leary promised LSD would do. Even if it will make you feel better and a world where everybody feels better might mean some aspects will be nicer. What if other aspects prove to be nasty? What if the good aspects aren't enough to overwhelm the negative ones but the existence of good aspects will blind a person to the existence of the negative aspects? Thus leaving people even more vulnerable to them?
          Dave Keays
          • Interesting, but all is not as it seems

            1) The "God Helmet" did not alter input to the brain, but disrupted signals within the brain, allegedly creating seemingly spiritual or parapsychological experiences. Also, it failed the test of reproducibility.

            2) What do you mean by "altering input like Google Glasses does"? As I understand it, inputwise Google Glass is just like having a TV or computer screen visible up and to the right.

            3) Yes, flickering lights can cause epileptic seizures in vulnerable people, including prople who did not previously know they were vulnerable, but it's a bit of a stretch to go from there to mind control.

            4) It is possible to achieve a limited degree of mind control with subliminal messages, however this has been a possibility for decades with virtually all video and audio media, not just with Google Glass, which is why there are laws against surreptitious use of subliminal messages.

            5) People with known risk of seizures from flickering are cautious about potential flicker sources, and would be unlikely to use Glass, particularly whilst driving, until an app was available to automatically interrupt flickering images.

            6) Even if an epileptic were unwise enough to get into the scenario you described, they have several options: a) turn off the Glass; b) close the ONE eye that sees the Glass screen until they can safely come to a stop and take further action; c) use voice command to navigate away from the flickering image; d) unless they are extremely short sighted they can take off both Glass and glasses and still see well enough to safely slow to a stop, as long as the drivers behind are paying attention.

            7) You seem to be assuming that people will have the video display on all the time, becoming a permanent part of their visual input. Whilst there will be people who will tend to do that, it's not that much different from the people who sit in front of the TV or computer for six hours a day, or those who have a live TV always visible while they work (e.g. in the kitchen).

            Have you even tried a Google Glass to know what it is like? Whilst it is good to be mindful of potential problems, treating potential problems as real problems doesn't strike me as being mentally healthy.

            Mind you, I'm not a fan of Google Glass, as it seems to be too immature a technology and concept, too expensive, and ugly to boot, but I don't think it's the devil in disguise either.
      • You left out one important thing.

        Is any of that important enough to live within the limitations of the device?

        That's a question too many people don't think about, and yes there are quite a few limitations to this device.

        And just to let you know, I understand the interaction of the eye and brain better then many, and I can tell you this is not the best way for the human brain to interact with the environment in terms of processing data.
        William Farrel
        • Just curious

          You said: "And just to let you know, I understand the interaction of the eye and brain better then many, and I can tell you this is not the best way for the human brain to interact with the environment in terms of processing data."

          Are you a neurological researcher?
          • Not quite. But here's the reason, because you asked nicely

            I was born with a condition in one eye, Congenital corectopia (eccentric pupil to many, and not Axenfeld-Rieger syndrome) while the other eye is 100% normally developed. I could go into every detail but lets make a long story short.

            While most people with the condition as prominent as mine have varying difficulties seeing what is considered "normal", I am a rarity as I've functioned "normally" sight wise all my life, even though examination of my eye says I shouldn't.

            I've played hockey, drive, scuba, everything anyone with 2 perfect eyes can do, every bit as good, and I've never noticed. (I have dark brown eyes, so nobody around me ever notices, either.)

            Part of what they want to understand is how much (if any) my brain has compensated, partly because I've had the disorder from day one, So I had volunteered my time to those at the eye institutes when they asked, as many doctors could go their entire career and never see the condition in person, and I got to see cool scans of my brain (it's big!)

            And I've learned a great deal along the way, both about the interaction between the eye and brain, but sensory input too, so I have a good understanding of the problems most of the Google glass users will likely have difficulty overcoming.
            William Farrel
      • Are you sure?

        Is GPS, Phone, etc... built into the device or does it use your existing phone? Maybe in the future what you say may be true and at that time the author may change his opinion but we are talking about what Google has provided us today. For now it is a COMPANION device for a lot of those activities.