Plenty of haters have taken Google Glass to the woodshed, but they’re missing the bigger picture: Google solved the big technical problems, and even made wearable tech look cool. Glass’s transition to the mainstream is a when not an if.

google glass sergeybrin
photo: Noah Zerkin

“There are three sides to every story: Your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying.” – Robert Evans (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”)

I recently met up with my friend and one-time business partner, Steve Lee, who is product director on the Google Glass project, and before that, ran product management on Google Maps for Mobile. Other than a quick tour of the device, Steve basically let me dive in, so as to experience Glass with a beginner’s mind. I won’t bother reviewing the basic capabilities and specs, which have been covered exhaustively already. Instead I want to focus on some of the points that are in debate, and whether I believe that Glass is destined to succeed.

Glass is translucent; designed to be invisible

In “Waves of Power,” David Moschella shows how new disruptive industries begin as verticals, since the complete product solution requires one provider to deliver the whole enchilada. The new industry continues on this path until the solutions finally reach the “good enough” stage, when the larger trend becomes horizontal orientation, so as to achieve ubiquity, commoditization and the broadest possible ecosystem. (In passing, one can see the battle between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android in this light.) The endgame, so to speak, is that the technology becomes persistent, embedded and ever-present to the point of being “invisible.”

It’s a paradoxical concept to be sure. On the one hand, the technology is everywhere; how can it be invisible? On the other, it’s because it’s everywhere that we no longer think about it as exceptional – and, equally, grand solutions can anticipate and incorporate its ever-presence.

Take for instance the evolution of social mores around cellphones. Every day on my morning bus ride to work, virtually everyone is peering into some device, immersed in another world – a concept that once would have been considered rude and shocking. Similarly, I recently endured a ride near a phone-yapping lawyer who was advising a prospective client on their legal rights – casually and unconcerned, within full earshot of others. This is the new normal.

I think that in the not very distant future, the new forms of interactions that come from using Google Glass – or a very close version of them – will not only be accepted, but commonplace. Google Glass is going to be the NEW, new normal.

Designing a new kind of native experience

To further the point, many have suggested that wearing Google Glass out in public will carry a negative stigma, implying rudeness at a minimum, and privacy invasion at worst. My gut tells me that those people are flat out wrong for two reasons. One, that particular cow has already left the barn (my morning bus ride is emblematic of this truth.)

Two, Google got the design ethos exactly right. It’s a device that is designed for everyday use, but also an adornment that is designed to look good when worn as an accessory. For instance, I never post pictures of myself in my articles, yet I specifically wanted to post a picture of myself wearing Glass:

Google Glass

Why? I think it looks good in the same way a merino wool Zegna sweater looks good.

That in itself is a key narrative: Google has taken the ultimate in geekery and made it feel cool.

The hard technical problems solved

In the age of mobility, connectivity and apps, native experiences will flower and bloom prodigiously. Seen in this light, Google Glass is a credible new flower, growing a little bit every day. So is it ready for prime time? In the continuum from alpha to beta to mass-consumer ready, I’d call it a pretty advanced beta.

The bottom line is that it’s clear Google has solved the hard technical problems, the way they think about the complete solution is well thought out, and I can see a clear segmentation path for how they will take this to market.

As such, if you believe that using your voice, simplified touch actions and augmented visuals is a logical native modality for being social, creative, curious or communicative, then Glass is worth a look.

That brings me to the screen, which is neither obtrusive nor ineffective. It’s there when you need it, and it works. That’s analogous to being embedded to the point of invisibility – until, you have a native moment, and then Glass is at the ready. That in itself is a triumph.  Moreover, its voice-directed interface, interaction with smartphones (for 3G service) and touch controls are mightily impressive.

What is a bit pedestrian, though, is the experiential richness of the actual services that you can access through the system’s card like screens – both Google’s and third party ones. For the device to evolve from missionary to mission-critical, this is the area needing the greatest improvement (although, to be fair, we are at the earliest of days of Glass as a developer platform).

The road to mainstream

For me, the key variables start with pricing. The Explorer release is $1500, which obviously targets a very select niche. I can easily see such a device going for $600-800, since there is no carrier subsidy to lean on. Positioned as a fashion accessory at that price point, Glass should grab a Louis Vuitton-esque slice of the market. That’s single-digit millions of units annually. It’s not until such a device gets to $300 or less when one can expect tens of millions of devices selling annually. But in a five-year horizon, that scenario is not hard to see playing out.

I haven’t yet decided if Glass is a device that I would use everyday all the time, or on spot occasions. Then again, who says I need to? This is more about viability and heartbeat, and the fact that there are lots of jobs for such a device in personal, interpersonal, and industry vertical job categories.

On this front, my eyes don’t lie.

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  1. Basit Mustafa Sunday, May 12, 2013

    Mark, I think you make an important point (GOOG has solved some key tech problems), but I disagree that the technology is “there”.

    1) It is *NOT* invisible. It’s far, far from it. Yet. If I truly could not tell if your glasses has GG integrated or not, then it is invisible. Anyone who has seen any pair of glasses will wonder why your glasses are weird looking. That’s a good segue to #2…

    2) You’re one of the few people who think Google Glass isn’t obnoxiously ugly (ok, fine, maybe not when “people” is tech-industry pundits, but, when you consider people to be “people on earth, many of whom actually aren’t techie geeks”). Please don’t offend Ermenegildo by saying an early prototype tech geek device somehow looks good in the same way. Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, sure, but these are about as fashionable as a Bluetooth headset.

    3) Google has MANY technical issues ahead of them to make them invisible. Google Glass is a GREAT first step to a real, awesome technology. It’s a bit like bag phones in the 80s (but not totally, because people weren’t trying to pawn off the bag phone as a “fashion accessory”), a few, ardent folks who (thought they) needed it carried them (most probably just left them in their cars), and it gave rise to a huge mobile movement. I think this is where GG’s value really lies.

    I hope GG begins a lineage of products that are truly invisible and unobtrusive. Google Glass is, unfortunately both not at all invisible and incredibly (aesthetically and interface-wise) obtrusive. But, it’s a major innovation towards something mainstream. But, no, I think your eyes *ARE* lying to you, it is NOT invisible! And, no, it DOESN’T look good (at all, but that’s just an opinion…).

  2. Dennis Wingo Sunday, May 12, 2013

    Yea just like Dean Kaman solved the human transportation problem with Ginger….

  3. beautifulwood Sunday, May 12, 2013

    Repeat after me:

    This is not useful for a normal person. This is not useful for a normal person. This is not useful for a normal person. This is not useful for a normal person.

    Thank you.

    And by the way; you’re a fine looking, handsome chap, but in the picture you’ve managed to make yourself look like a dork.

    Most people don’t want to do that.

  4. It’s Marking Theory. First it’s visible, so people feel it’s different, try to regulate it, then after some time, it’s absorbed in the culture, until the next thing comes along:


  5. I only ask one thing

    what is going to happen to your right eye in the not so distant future?

    kind regards, nobody

    1. OMG. What a hilarious question. I’m laughing!

  6. Eric Dykstra Sunday, May 12, 2013

    Get out your pocket protector. Yes you look that cool wearing Google glasses

  7. @Basit, your takeaway (and I am sure, many others) is 100% valid. That’s the point of the quote that I chose, and equally, the hard reality of fashion. For every fashionista, who thinks outfit X looks brilliant, there are ten others, who think it looks ridiculous.

    That stated, I have talked to a broad cross-section of people, both within tech, and outside of it, inside of silicon valley bubble and outside of it, and far more find it cool and compelling than don’t…at the right price.

    FWIW, I had one of those early transportable phones in the mid-80s, and while in retrospect they look ridiculous today, then they were pretty darn cool. Every product can only be judged in the context of its time…just like fashion.

  8. Guys don’t understand? Google glass invisible from where?

  9. I would like to set this one on my home. LOL. what you guys thinking?

  10. Glass looks like a very intrusive technology. It’ one thing for someone to read/use their device (akin to a book). It’s quite another matter for someone to be continuously pointing their device at you.

    Am hardly a technophobe, but I will be completely ignoring anyone who attempts any kind of social interaction with me while wearing any invasive tech such as glass.

    1. Google would have had me clamoring for one of these if it didn’t come with a camera. Cameras aimed at my eyes (if I look at a glass-wearer) are intrusive, invasive and rude.

      Who the hell thought a camera was a brilliant idea for users? There are a billion things Glas could do without a camera and make the product 100x less intrusive.

      I’m sorry – I will be avoiding Glass users unless Google decides the camera is not needed and removes it.

      I’m waiting for it to be banned in more places than Las Vegas casinos and strip joints. I don’t imagine corporate offices will like it either.

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