Now that Google Glass devices are making it out into the real world through Glass Explorers, the debate has started. Are these things just an expensive joke? A device like a Segway that seemed cool but never took off as some expected? I’d say no, and I’ll draw from the TV series “Arrested Development” and movie “Wall Street” to help explain why.
It’s The Next Segway!
If Mike Butcher of TechCrunch didn’t originate the Segway comparison, he’s sure had one of the best summaries of how Google Glass might go that way. Based on his limited experience in wearing them, he wrote:
So Google Glass for me will be this era’s Segway: hyped as a game changer but ultimately used by warehouse workers and mall cops.
To illustrate his point, here’s a picture of perhaps one of the most famous and annoying Segway users ever, Gob Bluth, from Arrested Development:
This, I would submit, is what some people may feel as they see others wearing Google Glass, a device that they believe will ultimately remain high-priced, used by few and won’t change how we do things. And also, that some people may look like jerks wearing them, just as some may appear that way riding Segways. What’s wrong, buddy, can’t walk like the rest of us?
It’s Gordon’s Phone (Right Now)
Robert Scoble, who’s been living with Google Glass for about two weeks now and sharing (maybe oversharing) what it’s like having them, wrote a response to Butcher with a list of reasons why Google Glass isn’t the next Segway, ranging from how the cost is likely to drop to what I found more compelling, that ordinary folks seem to want them:
Segway was hyped up by rich people only. This week I let school teachers and taxi drivers turn mine on. With Google Glass it’s the average person that’s hyping them up to me. My taxi driver said “this is crazy, I want one.” Segway NEVER had that reaction.
That leads to my next picture that illustrates what I think Google Glass is right now:
That’s Gordon Gekko, from Wall Street, talking on his Motorola DynaTAC, the first commercially-available cell phone (which just turned 40, by the way).
Gekko was a jerk, whose jerkiness was only enhanced by his phone, an expensive status symbol of its time. Even as more people got cell phones, the novelty of them — the rarity of them — could make the “haves” seem like they were somehow showing off an unneeded luxury to the majority of the “have nots.”
That’s certainly how I remember it, as cell phones emerged as consumer devices. I can recall conversations where people said they didn’t need them, indeed didn’t want them because they just thought it was crazy that you’d be connected 24/7. I don’t even think we used the term 24/7 when cell phones first started showing up.
It’s The Start Of Everyone’s Phone To Come?
But unlike the Segway, mobile phones did get less expensive. They changed in design. They grew from a single feature device — only able to make phone calls — to the smartphones of today where the actual “phone” part might be seldom used.
Virtually no one views cell phones today as some unneeded luxury, nor that someone is some type of a jerk or show-off for having one. They are common-place devices that all types of people have.
Scoble already believes Glass will change the world and indeed has changed him so much that he’ll ”never take it off the rest of my life.”
This, of course, is the same person who wrote that a Microsoft research project he saw in 2008 would change the world so much that it made him cry. Suffice to say, the WorldWide Telescope he later wrote about failed to do so. So why believe him on Glass?
“Wearables” Make Sense
I suppose it’s because Glass does make much more sense, in that the idea of “wearable” smart devices are simply an extension of the “always with us” behavior we already demonstrate with our phones.
Remember at concerts, when everyone would hold up lighters? That’s because everyone smoked and always had lighters with them. At concerts these days, everyone has phones — and that’s what you hold up, either to wave or to record. And it’s not just concerts. Look around. Look at yourself. We take our phones everywhere.
Over the weekend, I had to run an errand and left the house without my phone, one of the first times I’ve done that in ages. For a very brief second, I even felt a bit of panic. Briefly! But I wasn’t going to be gone long; life would go on just fine, just as it did for those decades of my life when communication away from home was measured by the number of dimes in my pocket.
But I forgot my phone because it wasn’t always with me, or more to the point, wasn’t always on me. Who wants to be fumbling around remembering to grab your phone, put it in your pocket, making sure you don’t leave it behind in some cab or in a restaurant. Wearing your smart device makes sense; you are even more likely to always have it, to keep track of it.
From Communicator To Combadge
Google Glass, as we see it now, is no more how we’ll be using wearables in the future that Gekko’s phone resembles any of today’s modern smartphones. Maybe wearables in the form of glasses won’t catch on. Maybe it will be watches. Maybe it will be smart wristbands. Pick your science fiction novel, and you’ll read tales of implants that work with the “equipment” we already have with our eyes, ears and brain. It’s not as science fiction as you might think.
Maybe it really will be that the model of an external communication device that we carry will continue, just as the Segway didn’t revolutionize walking.
But to use another TV reference, I suspect just as Captain Kirk’s handheld communicator gave way to Captain Picard’s wearable combadge, Google Glass is indeed an important step in the evolution of portable computing and how we find information, plus almost certainly how advertisers will reach out to people.
If you want them, stay tuned. The rundown so far:
- Some Google employees and select individuals outside of Google have had them for months
- About 2,000 “Google I/O Explorers” started getting them in the middle of last month, some of whom we’ve listed here
- A larger group of 8,000 “#IfIHadGlass Explorers” were named in March and should get them next, but Google hasn’t said when
- After saying they’d be on sale to the public by the end of this year, Google now says this won’t happen until 2014