Google Glass Isn’t A Segway, It’s Gordon Gekko’s Cell Phone


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:

Image from the Segway section of the Arrested Development Wiki, an awesome collection of Gob on Segway shots.

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:

Gordon Gecko's phone

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.

Getting Glass

By the way, if you want to learn more about Google Glass, Engadget has an excellent review of them up now and Google Glass itself has released a new video on how to use them:

YouTube Preview Image

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

Best way to stay in the loop? Follow Google Glass on its Google+ page and also sign-up for information from the Glass web site here.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features & Analysis | Google: Glass | Search Marketing | Top News


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Jeremy Toeman

    so WHY do wearables “make sense”? that point has not been made, so far, by anyone. what’s been made is “we could do wearables”, so far, every vision of which, is MORE cumbersome than carrying a phone. for any of this to *ever* work…

    1) can’t be a fashion faux pas – this is the instant killer for Google Glasses – teenagers will not crave them, will mock instead.

    2) can’t be hard to use – wink to take a picture? to take an AD reference, Come on!

    3) must be, in every way, BETTER than what we currently have. this is not BETTER, this is just different.

    and re Gekko – cell phones make sense because they FREE you from a landline. this is both aspirational AND practical. glasses do not FREE you from a thing. they make you equally burdened.

  • Matt McGee

    I don’t know if you actually have Glass, Jeremy, but I can tell you that today I’ve been making phone calls and sending text messages via Glass without having to use my hands. So to say that it doesn’t free you from anything is incorrect. I did both of those things without stopping the activity I was involved in at the time.

    Also, how many teens have you spoken with about Glass?

    And you don’t have to wink to take a photo. In fact, I don’t think that’s possible without the app that allows it. You take photos by either pressing the photo button or saying “OK Glass, a take a picture.”

  • Jeremy Toeman

    re texting/calling while doing other activities – not sure what this means… taking a phone call while doing something else pretty much means you didn’t really have a conversation… i don’t mean to insult, but we all know you can’t *really* talk to someone while doing another thing…

    re teens – glasses. aren’t. cool.

    re wink -saying “OK Glass, a take a picture.” — i think i’d rather wink.

  • Matt McGee

    So are you saying you somehow tapped in to my phone call and have determined it wasn’t a real conversation?

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    Where do I get that app? It would be interesting to tap into a number of peoples phone calls lol

    Glasses aint cool? Really Jeremy? No offence, but glasses like this would come across as being rather cool to most of the younger people in the world! Especially those into extreme sports, skating, bmxing, skiing, snowboarding etc etc

    As for not freeing you from anything, well if I could use these glasses like my mobile (calls, text, photos, videos etc) and still use both my hands when on my bike I would love em! (just to note, I’m 27 so not a teen but would still count myself as a part of the younger generation who crave new gadgets like this for many reasons like those I mentioned above :)

  • Matt McGee

    And FWIW, my 11-year-old daughter went to school yesterday and told her friends, “You know those glasses that you can wear and do stuff online? My dad has that.” And they all replied, she says, with “Wow! I want that!”

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    And I bet she keep pestering you for a go when she gets home from school lol

    How long you had the glasses for? Have you or will you be doing some fancy review’s’ with them to show of what you can do and how you have used them?

    Its not something I’m likely to buy due to the price, but I would love to see how you and others are using them!

    Someone we have done a website for recently managed to get a pair for his around the world holiday, can’t mention names, but I hope he uses them well and shares it publicly on youtube :)

  • Jeremy Toeman

    no, i’m saying if you are actually DOING another thing WHILE on the phone, one of them isn’t being paid attention to. but clearly this is a fruitless discussion, so please, enjoy your glasses, i’m very happy for anyone who finds a product that they personally like. but so we are clear – you brush off my arguments as if they are trivial because they are just my opinion, yet don’t have any solid ground for your own other than they are just your opinion…

  • Jeremy Toeman

    so… people who do extreme sports want glasses? funny, when i see those sports on the ol’ tv, i don’t see a ton of people wearing em already… i can’t imagine a screen overlaying your primary vision could possibly be challenging while doing something that requires all of your attention…

    have you heard of a bluetooth headset? it’s about 1/15th the price, and you can buy one just about anywhere…

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    Yes you have your opinion and I have mine, neither is more right or wrong then the other!

    About the buying a bluetooth headset, you do know they are just for phone calls right? And can’t do anything like you can with the glasses?! So that’s not really a valid point IMHO – yes the price is much lower but so is what you use them for!

    I use to skate and bmx so as someone that use to be into extreme sports I can tell you – if I had the money to spend on these I would have loved to have used them a few years back when doing those sports :)

    Now I’m not sure if you would call this relevant of “solid ground” but have you seen these I don’t know if they are popular but I am doing snowboarding soon and will certainly be looking into the options for getting some of these when I do my snowboarding holiday, so IMO these glasses and others will be valuable to those who are interested in them.

    But that don’t mean you or other will see why they want them not need them, its the same with most technology, you may ask why I have to spend so much money on building a custom gaming PC and may think I’m silly for doing so, but its something I enjoy building, upgrading and using all the time just as I would if I got my hands on a pair of these glasses because its something I am interested in :)

    A bit of a long reply I know, but just trying to explain my opinion a little better as seem a little upset as to why I am for the glasses – but hay we are all entitled to our opinions and if you doing like a product or service etc you can simply chose not to buy or use it :)

  • Mobile

    Google Glass start developing towards his final stage:
    It is the pre final device, it may convert in some ideal things like as 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.

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