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Bill Bennett

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Google Glass isn’t the answer to anything

Many readers love the idea of Google Glass.

There’s no chance of the nerdy-looking face-mounted computer taking off in its current form. Nor will Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch  win mainstream acceptance in the immediate future.

Wearable computers may have a future. Yet the first wave of devices is as remote from that future as the 1950s computers are from today’s smartphones.

John Gruber’s Daring Fireball nails it:

…the problem isn’t the idea, it’s the actual execution. There are no points for being first to market with a bad product. It’s a cool lab demo that they’re presenting as a finished product.

Yes, that’s exactly the point. Glass is like the Wright Brother’s first aeroplane, a neat demonstration of possibilities, but not ready for the market.

Get one by all means. Wear it and lose your friends if you must. Just recognise now that it’s a crude prototype.

Google Glass not original

Let’s start by getting one misconception out-of-the-way. Google Glass is not a new idea.

Wearable computers have been around for as long as I’ve written about technology. I started on Practical Computing in 1981. During my first months on that magazine I interviewed someone – sorry I forget their name – who told me we would all soon be wearing computers as we went about our daily lives.

It didn’t happen.

Packing a computing into a tiny package has always been on the cards. More so since voice recognition got to the point where a keyboard is no longer essential for input. After all that’s what happened with smartphones before their makers decided bigger screens were better than squinting at matchbox sized images.

Head-mounted displays aren’t new either. Clumsy heavy ones had a moment in the mid-1990s when the technology world was hyperventilating over virtual reality.

Hundreds of companies have patents on that idea.

Hype

Google has done a good job of hyping Glass. There have been plenty of headlines. Many people reading this will want to buy the product when it goes on sale here.

Mixed reports are coming from testers in the US. And let’s face it, the enthusiasts hand-picked by Google to try the technology are hardly unbiased.

Wearing Glass in public will immediately identify the user as a hopeless nerd. It is the 2013 equivalent of clipping a cellphone pouch to your belt. In an earlier era the same type of person carried coloured pens in a pocket protector.

Sure, many nerds will happily wear that badge with pride. For everyone else it will be a stigma. You might as well tattoo 666 on your forehead.

It gets worse. Because Glass records video, it will annoy other people. That’s putting it mildly. You might be lucky to wear them in public and not get punched. Although anyone punching from the front might be readily identified when the video is played back.

So will Glass succeed? Not in today’s format. Early reports say the product is buggy, there are no obvious killer applications and the first models were for US$1500 – that’s a lot for a toy, no matter how futuristic.

Perhaps half the world will be walking around wearing Glass and looking like complete prats a few years from now. It’s unlikely.

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