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Google Glass will soon be invisible – and the new normal

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“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.

37 Responses to “Google Glass will soon be invisible – and the new normal”

  1. yet another steve

    One of the problems is that it comes from google, one of the creepiest companies ever, ever tracking us more and more.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever find such a device useful (when I’d want it most is while driving… but is that going to be safe/legal?)

    I DO know that I don’t want google data mining my eye movements.

    Yes, I’m a tinfoil hat guy who uses Duck Duck Go. I used to think following all my browsing was too close to reading my mind. Now we’ve got eye movement tracking…

  2. Edaps

    I already have concrete proof it will fail. just compare the number of Bluetooth headsets you see today compared to 5-7 years ago. People ran out bought them, wore them everywhere, realized how dumb they looked and eventually stopped wearing them (or at least put them in their pockets when not in use) the same thing will happen to glass. Not to mention they solve any problems. People tend to adapt to things that solve problems, this is the same reason that googles wallet will also fail.

  3. I’m kind of surprised at all of the hate in the comments.

    First, while GG is not “invisible” at this stage, that’s not what the author was saying. He said it is moving towards this point, both by being (fairly) unobtrusive (in both appearance and usage) and by increasing ubiquity.

    Second, I don’t think the fundamental technology here is either more intrusive or “rude” than cell phone technology. It’s how people use it that may or may not be rude, not the tech itself. Is see plenty of asinine behavior being perpetrated with cell phones (ex. recording concerts and events and thus blinding people behind them). If anything GG will remove some of this obtrusive and explicitly rude behavior. Of course, creepy use of GG is possible too. Because the technology is interacted with in a way different than what is the norm today, it will be necessary for new social conventions to evolve as to what is and is not acceptable use (and use conventions). But dismissing the technology and form factor outright because of potential misuse by rude or socially inappropriate persons is ridiculous.

    Finally, the appearance of glass is neither that bad nor that obtrusive, especially given its early state of development. The look is not my particular cup of tea, but is is far less obtrusive than the glasses and sun glasses that I see many people wear.

    It’s hard to know at this point whether GG will mature into a worthwhile project, but I think that most of the nay sayers to-date are making much ado about nothing. The real test is, will GG deliver compelling functionality at a compelling price. I’m inclined to believe it will (whether in Google current iteration or in a later, more advanced one from Google or someone else). But I seriously doubt it will fail (if it does) because it doesn’t meet some people’s sense of fashion or because some idiots might end up using it in ant-social ways.

    That’s my $.02.

  4. netgarden

    I think that there are a few narratives that drop out of the comments that I want to spotlight.

    One is the asymmetry of control that some feel with a device like Glass. By that, I mean individual consumers will decide if Glass is to be successful or not, but to the extent it is successful, EVERYONE will be subject to its glance. Fair or unfair, that ‘loss’ should be cast alongside the loss people casually give up every day with their data on Google, Amazon, Facebook, iTunes, credit card companies, the trackability of their smartphones, surveillance cameras, etc. My only point is that the indignation seems to ignore the fact that the barn door is wide open, and has been for some time. We just have selective attention.

    Two is the valid question of what happens to all of this data, who owns it, what granularity of control should be built into such systems, and what does the lifecycle of such data look like. My general bias is that Google is walking an interesting line when you are paying them hundreds of dollars for a device vs. getting a “free” service, which is another not so subtle reminder that free isn’t free…but most of us are happy to make that (faustian) bargain, anyway.

    Three is the assertion that this is a device for insiders, geeks, and serves no purpose for the ‘common person,’ when in reality, the apps for transportation, training, shared learning, logistics and peer-to-peer messaging are fairly democratizing and universal, I think.

    A final thought there. As others have noted, invisibility is not an absolute. It’s paradoxical by nature. If anything, the net takeaway is that as such technologies become ubiquitous we need a more reasoned view on what the right public policy is, where business needs to be held accountable, where consumers need control, and where market forces can dictate.

    But again, I’d argue that we close our eyes to those same governing realities in arguably more critical areas like health care, gun control, banking, our prison system, military spending, our education system, etc.

    Tail, meet dog.

  5. Someone

    To be honest, i agree.
    It’s the same for samsung galaxies and notes.
    I mean c’mon. Tell me i’m not the only one who’s been told “How in the world could you go around talking to a huge monstrosity of a tablet phone in public”
    You know what? I do. And people were amazed by it.
    And even better. I see people with huge and small tablets alike in buses, at school, and on streets. This would’ve been considered horrible, rude, and risky, considering it’s a huge pricey device that just screams “Steal me”.
    And btw,
    It’s not so hard to fix the camera issue.
    Why not add a tiny little light. Similar to newer laptops. When the camera is on, the light will also be on. This will tell people whether you’re using that camera or not.
    If it manages to pull off, it’ll become as common as today’s tablets and phones, while actually being helpful to working people too.

  6. I agree with your overall point that Glass should succeed given time and that it will become functionally invisible. But I also think that there are a lot of people out there who fear the new and different. It’s funny that people compare it to Bluetooth headsets without realizing that lots of people use Bluetooth headsets. Maybe not everyone but they’ve been functionally invisible for years now. “Functionally invisibility” means that they are so common no one really notices them. It also helps that they have become cooler looking and more subtle. Glass has the potential to do the same. This is assumes that this knee-jerk reaction to the new and different doesn’t spread to everyone. Right now it seems to be infecting quite a few people. With it comes an irrational ignorance of facts. Like the fact that every smart phone has a camera. Every smart phone owner could be quietly recording video of you every day. But that doesn’t bother Glass critics. The fact that every technology started out looking stupid and seeming unnecessary is something else that doesn’t occur to them. The telephone itself was something many thought would simply not be a device the average joe needed. My parents hated my Walkman and still don’t listen to music on the go. But earbuds are so common, they too are functionally invisible. This is the point, I think. If Google sticks to their guns, and keeps supporting this new form factor it will, one day, be as invisible as you say, Mark. But those of us who believe in it will have to suffer plenty more slings and arrows before that day comes.

    My favorite is the commenter who repeats over and over that Glass “is not usefull for a normal person.” Neither was the smart phone and before that, the cell phone and before that, the telephone. And before that books and reading and writing and paper and… oh, I could go on… all the way back to fire, I think…

  7. I will have to make sure I have a camera on me and start recording whenever I see someone with Google glass on. I guess Google’s idea is, if you don’t wanna have someone else sneakingly recording everything you do, wear a mask or just don’t go out, period. It’s a free world, stop living your life if you don’t want someone else to do whatever they want with secret recordings of you. Nobody’s stopping us!! Hahah suckers!!

  8. pleeker

    I’ve had Glass for a week. Showed it to four different groups of people this week — ranging from 11-year-olds to 80-year-olds. Only one person vehemently hated it after getting to try it on and see what it does, how it feels, how it looks, etc. The 50-year-old female nuclear engineer thought it was beautiful and said she’d buy it immediately if she could. I’ll be writing about this Monday morning on

    BTW, Michael Grant, to save battery juice, Glass turns off after about 8 seconds of inactivity. It doesn’t “force itself” into every conversation because chances are really, really high that Glass will be off when the other person is talking to you. And the only way to wake it up is to either tap it, or to tilt your head up (kinda like on the SNL parody). In short, it’s exceptionally difficult to not know when the other person is using Glass.

  9. Muhammad Adnan Bashir

    Google glass is something can’t be adopted by common working people. For me it is not acceptable.
    It is not because I oppose change-of course I accept change- but I can’t accept this complete new concept, which is changed version my routine and everything I do with my android.


  10. I don’t think that Glass will be a hot spot in the market. All wearable electronic devices are in competition with fashionable necessary devices like glasses, watches, etc.
    This is a complete different domain electronic companies are entering, and I do not think that consumers want to walk around (dinner places, cinemas, dancing halls, etc.) looking like robots or astronauts.
    Instead of thinking to sophisticated, the mobile industry have to turn a step back, change the mobile communication strategy and design new attractive and inexpensive products.
    Detlev G. Pinkus JSC South Kuban Design Factory, Russia

  11. eyetops

    300 million cctv cameras plus in the UK and we don’t bat an eye at them. We are sooo geared up for this tech here:

    all that CO2 reduction – no more big hungry screens
    getting your arm back – school-run Mums can have 2 hands back on the buggy
    engineers saving time and money left right and centre

    to all the haters – if a tech giant brought out a tablet that made your farts smell like hot biscuits, you’d still have good old whinge – stop dragging society’s knuckles in the mud and have a bit of fun for once

    from desktops to laptops to eyetops


  12. Mark we are dying to try them and are looking for a few hors debug time we are iseewhatyou say and our aug reality app and device fixes deaf! We have our own device but technically should work on glasses to. this would make comm possible for 6.5 miliioon americans alone.

  13. netgarden

    @dennis, I personally think that Segway never could get around two things. One, the cost was prohibitively high to become mainstream. Two, as a new kind of transport vehicle, there was never any uniform sense of where and how you’d use it. Once, the initial buzz wore off, it just seemed to be relegated to quirky oddity.

    @AnthroPunk, I am not familiar with that construct, but I agree with the way you frame it.

    @Eric, William, Simon, you say TUH-MA-TO, I say to-MAH-to. We agree to disagree.

    @Simon, to your pushback as to why the mainstream will want this device, my core thesis is covered in the piece, “…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.” Put another way, if the iPhone is for your hip, and the iPad is for your backpack (or purse, bag, etc.), Glass is for your head. I don’t think that it’s a big conceptual leap, and critically, I feel that Google’s design and execution puts them in a position to succeed. That stated, I am not suggesting it’s a slam dunk.

    • Michael Grant

      I do not think we can agree to disagree.

      With an iPhone, we can: when you and I are face to face talking, it’s in your pocket, or at worst on your hip, not intruding into our interaction—at least if you are not being rude. Not so with Glass: it forces itself into our interaction whether I want it to or not. Or do you plan to take it off every time you sit down with someone?

      At best, it is a visual distraction, and that assumes you do not interact with it *in any way* while we are face to face. But you know how rude and/or distracting it is when the person you are talking to is continually checking their cel phone? Glass has the potential to be significantly worse.

      “I swear, if you take another glance up and to the right while we’re talking, I’m outta here.”

  14. Simon

    Firstly, this device only looks good to geeks or people who really, really want to spot the next thing (probably were slow on picking the iPhone).
    Secondly, this article doesn’t really say anything other than high prices prohibit mainstream sales. So what? That doesn’t mean the product is any good.

    I’m still waiting to hear why mainstream will want this device and why mainstream will put up with people wearing a camera pointed at them is acceptable.

  15. metanautm

    Appreciate your opinion and whatnot, but:

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

    How very wrong you are. Admittedly, my two cents. Fortunately, it isn’t inconspicuous yet, so it will easy to avoid the Glassholes.

  16. iizthatiiz

    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.

  17. netgarden

    @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.

  18. 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.

  19. Basit Mustafa

    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…).