Through the Google looking glass

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There have been two major transitions in personal computing since the introduction of the PC. The first was the transition from the terminal/command line interface to windowed user interfaces. The second was the transition to gesture-based mobile devices. Both transitions reordered the industry, destroyed some companies, and led to the creation of new giants. The transition to active eyewear is no less significant. Once the user interface is perfected, it will allow people to — for all practical purposes — communicate telepathically.

It’s too soon to say how people will choose to use this and which applications will ultimately prove popular. Right now, we’re a year before the introduction of windowed interfaces. For example, augmented reality experts were quick to point out that Google Glass will be a poor augmented reality experience. That may be true, but its likely users will discover they are good for other applications, such as controlling music, navigation or ambient notification. At this stage, Google should focus on perfecting the platform and be prepared to go through several versions before we worry about which applications will be the winners. Leave that for entrepreneurs to sort out.

Active eyewear is a platform play, not a product. Eyewear, as with clothing, is a fashion accessory where individual tastes drive purchasing decisions. Fashion is, to put it politely, not a strong point for any technology company besides Apple. This is an opportunity for eyewear designers and manufacturers, such as Oakley, to bring glasses back into style and to offer consumers a diverse range of products to choose from. The winning strategy for Google will be to focus on enabling technologies such as micro projectors and short-range wireless, to make these components as small and easy to integrate into designs as possible, while leveraging Android as a development framework.

There is also an important demographic trend that nobody has mentioned. The kids who grew up with the Web in the 1990s are now turning into middle aged adults, most of whom will soon need reading glasses. The population everywhere is aging, and while glasses may not currently be in style with the generation who grew up with contacts and LASIK, fashion trends change, and can change quickly. In the near future, eyeglasses will no longer be a sign of disability, but rather of augmented capability, in short, a status symbol as well as a useful tool.

Brian McConnell is an inventor, author and technology entrepreneur based in San Francisco. He is the founder of Worldwide Lexicon, an open source collaborative translation platform.

Image courtesy of Flickr user i eated a cookie.

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