I'm going to be up front: I want Glass. I'm thoroughly intrigued with the idea, I love the possibility of having an always-available camera that sees whatever I see, and completely hands-free Google sounds like a perfectly natural progression of the things like Google Now and voice actions. In the world where personal digital assistants seem commonplace, why should we not expect those things to be always accessible and visible?
Well, apparently there are a lot of reasons. And don't get me wrong. There are many legitimate causes to be skeptical. As is typical of the tech community, however, some things people have focused on are completely silly. Others, not so much. So, which are which?
Here are some very silly reasons to be skeptical of Google Glass:
No One Will Wear Something That Goofy-Looking
Yes they will. Just for starters, let's get that out of the way. "Silly" is not only subjective, but when it comes to tech, it usually refers to anything that people haven't gotten used to yet. Wristwatches were "silly." Walking around, staring at your phone is silly. Hell, people still make jokes about how dumb someone looks with their head buried in Twitter when they walk into a pole. We all agree it looks silly, even as we continue to do it. Oh, and you know what else looked silly when people first started using them? Glasses.
Here's the trick, though. It's not that people will wear them because they're silly. People will wear them if they provide a benefit that is greater than the silliness they feel using it. This is the primary reason that most people find Bluetooth headsets to be douchey, while a select few still use them. Most of us don't have a problem holding our phone to the side of our heads when talking on the phone. We don't actually talk that much anyway. Some people, whether it's because they're always on the phone, need their hands a lot, or are just monumentally lazy, do have a problem with it. That group of people is a small enough minority (and usually characterized by a wealthy or self-important demeanor) that we can marginalize them.
In the modern world, though, we don't need to hear our phones that much, aside from music. Oh, and fancy that, no one thinks that headphone look silly. Despite the fact that shoving earbuds deep inside your nasty, wax-filled canals is not only a little ridiculous, but disgusting at the same time. Yet, we're perfectly okay with it because the function is greater than the form. That's what matters.
Oh, and this all completely ignores the possibility of integrating Glass into nice-looking frames. According to recent reports, the functional parts can be removed and other frames added in. The early prototype models will look weird, but that can easily change. Assuming people don't just catch on to the look (frankly, I think they look awesome, but I am inordinately biased).
Okay, what else you got?
Everyone Will Hate The Possibility Of Being Monitored All The Time
While possibly true, that refers to why people will be uncomfortable around Glass users. Not why people will be users themselves. Being on camera tends to make people feel vulnerable. Wielding a camera makes them feel empowered. Still, it's a fair point that it will have an impact on society. That's always something we have to consider as technology evolves, especially at such a rapid rate.
However, let's examine for just a second how much people have really objected to being observed more. 30-40 years ago, it wasn't even possible to talk to someone on the other side of the country without a landline. Much less take a photo of something and show it to tens of thousands of people in the blink of an eye. It wasn't even smartphones that led this revolution. Dumb phones, point and shoot cameras, laptops, microphones, CCTV...it's been going on for decades. This may be a surprise for you, but if someone wants to track everything you're doing and use it against you, they can already do that.
I used to work for a private investigations company. My job was to edit surveillance videos for insurance claims. If a company thought one of its customers was making a fraudulent claim, they hired us and our investigators followed them around. I would review the footage, compile it into a usable form, edit it down to the essential footage and send that to the client (we saved the full video in case it went to court, but it rarely did).
The technology that these investigators used was decidedly low-tech. I worked there from 2008 to 2011. In the entire time, we still used MiniDV tapes. Occasionally a crafty investigator would use his trusty pen cam (these can be bought for as little as $40). Most of the time, all we needed to nail someone was to catch them lifting heavy stuff in their front yards (you'd be surprised just how far those optical zooms work) or carrying heavy things from the store to their car in the parking lot.
I could write a whole post on this (and really, I should), but here's the short version: if you want to be completely safe from people photographing or videotaping you, avoid parked cars (investigators love waiting there, and sometimes shoot in their rear view mirrors, because you wouldn't suspect a car facing away), always assume that any place within a line of sight can and does see you, and don't assume the guy directly behind you in traffic is the guy following you. It's actually the guy five cars back. He knows you're not looking there.
While few people really think that some evil government agency is going to use Glass to record them, insurance investigations may just be the second most likely reason that most people will get photographed without their knowledge and they aren't coming for you with a camera attached to the side of their face. That just leaves the biggest concern: creepsters. On that front, well, have you seen how Glass works? "Ok glass, take a picture." That's a lot more noticeable than the quiet (or sometimes non-existent) camera shutter sound that cell phones make. I know you'd like to believe that you'd be more aware of someone taking your picture if they have to hold up a phone rather than tap the side of their fancy AR gadget, but humans are decidedly, stupidly unperceptive creatures. You are not any better off now than you would be with Glass on the streets.
No One's Going To Spend $1,500 On That Thing
That I'll give you. Assuming that's the price, though. Here's the thing: we have no idea what these will cost. All we've seen so far are Explorer editions. Prototypes made in limited quantities for people who meet certain, very special requirements. The first batch was people who attended I/O (which was a $900 ticket already). Now it's whoever wins a special contest that is obviously pandering to people who will make good marketing material and want to pay for the privilege.
Anyone who thinks that Google is currently "marketing" Glass in anything even resembling its plans for commercial release is intentionally ignorant.
Now. How much will they cost? The only thing we know for certain is that it will be less than $1,500. How much less, though? None of us really assume that it will be significantly cheaper but...why not? It doesn't seem to be made of much more than goes into any given smartphone. Granted that display technology seems to be entirely new, but is it $1,000 worth of parts?
Let's keep in mind for just a second that every single unit released so far has been part of a limited, prototype, unfinished run. The first ones are always the most expensive. We had a similar dust up at Android Police recently when people freaked out because Ouya was offering an $800 dev kit when the consumer console was only going to cost $100. Well, that's how much pre-production units cost.
Of course, we might be able to guess at how much the hardware will cost based on what's in it. It has WiFi and Bluetooth. A touchpad. That fancy glass display. Some form of processor that's able to handle the voice processing software, though that really narrows it down to any modern smartphone SoC. The parts cost for most major smartphones is below $200, but that's including high-resolution displays. And 3G/4G radios, which we've recently confirmed Glass won't have on its own (it will tether to your phone, which I'll get to in a bit). We don't know if the glass component will be more or less expensive, but it's unlikely that the CPU to run this thing will cost $17 (cost of the iPhone 5's processor), the battery will cost $5 (same), but that tiny little glass display will cost $1,000.
Someone smarter than me, with more experience in the field of electronic components could probably come up with a more educated guess at the final cost of Glass. It would still be just a guess. But here's a thought: What if it costs $500?
I bet a lot of you are suddenly a lot more interested.
It's not entirely unreasonable, either. Vuzix is currently attempting to build its own Glass competitor and that company also plans to make its wearable heads-up display for a sub-$500 price point. Chromebook Pixel aside, Google isn't exactly known for creating the same hardware as everyone else for twice the price (and really, even that hardware is reasonably priced for what it is...it's the software that doesn't measure up). In fact, between the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 7, the company seems to be best known for releasing astounding hardware at difficult-to-grasp low prices. We can't know what Glass will cost when it finally comes out, but we have plenty of reason to suspect Google will want to price it competitively.
I don't want to even guess, much less bet, that Glass will cost in the area of $500 when it comes out. Mainly because I don't think I'm that lucky. But I do remember the last time I thought to myself "There's no way they'll be able to cram that much awesome hardware into one device and still make it reach a $500 price point."
The next day, the iPad came out.
Okay, so this is getting boring. What are some good reasons to doubt the success of Glass?
Wait, I Have To Tether This Thing To My Phone? That Sucks!
I've heard exactly zero people mention this, but that's my biggest worry. I have a special name for devices that have to tether to my phone: bricks. It's not even about paying the extra monthly plan (or acquiring tethering via less-than-approved means). Tethering murders my battery. I use a Galaxy Nexus right now. I'm lucky to leave the house for a full day and still have a smartphone when I return. If I want to use Google Glass as an always-on, all-the-time access point to everything on the entire internet, I'll be able to get that for about an hour before I'm completely boned. This, to me, is the single largest hurdle to getting Glass to achieve any level of success. I am averse to getting any new data plan on any of my devices, despite knowing how great the freedom is, because I hatethe idea of paying a second time for data. But, I'm sorry. Either battery life on phones needs to step way up (and hey, maybe the new Motorola phones will do that), or there needs to be a version of Glass with a 4G radio in it. I have very little use for something that needs a tethering option, and I am fairly convinced that this is a concern I share with average customers. Far more than "glasses look silly, and also I haven't updated my opinions of people who wear glasses in two decades."
(No seriously, I read a piece today that characterized regular glasses as "the defacto symbol of unattractiveness." What is this I don't even.)
I'd Always Forget To Use It
Here's the problem with Google Now, voice actions, and hell, Google in general: people forget that the entire damn internet is at their disposal. 24/7, there is no need for you to ever not know something. I have had to institute a policy among my friends: if you own a smartphone, and you ask an easily-answered question around me without reaching for your phone, or make a claim that can be quickly verified with uncertainty in your voice, I will cause a ruckus. Possibly smack the back of your head if you're within striking distance.
"I think there are 32 ounces in a quart," is no longer an acceptable thing to say if you have a smartphone. It is "There are 32 ounces in a quart." Why? Because you can press two buttons, ask the sentence out loud, and have your answer almost immediately. Despite this obvious superpower, I regularly see people just not know things! Crazy, right? You can know anything off the top of your head, but people so easily forget that they have access to the friggin' Library of Alexandria. It's not that being curious or wanting to access information fast is not human nature. It is. But so is being forgetful.
If there's a reason that Glass will be "before its time," it's not going to be because it looks goofy or people are afraid of cameras. It's because we just got used to talking to our phones. Kinda. It's because, for as much as we love to tag and share and social and shoot, we still haven't quite grasped this fundamental principle: information is everywhere and it is constantly available. Maybe my anecdotal evidence is not representative of the majority. This is entirely possible since I don't always get out a lot. But I'd bet far more heavily that Glass might face more trouble convincing people they need to spend money on a new device (when most folks haven't even fully unlocked what their phone can do) than it will convincing them to wear a silly thing on their head that actually kinda looks awesome.
Which, really, leads us to the biggest reason of all:
I Don't Go Skydiving And I'm Happy With My Phone
There's very little that threatens the success of Glass more than the idea that people are simply content with their smartphones. As I said before, I'm not optimistic about the idea of the device reaching a $500 price point, but here's the thing: it needs to. It absolutely needs to at least come a lot closer to $500 than $1,500 if it wants to overcome this hurdle. $500 is in "I don't necessarily need this, but it might make my life easier" territory. That's exactly the note it needs to hit in order to convince ordinary people who don't spend their time playing with snakes or jumping out of airplanes or having birthday parties near high-bandwidth WiFi that they should spend hard-earned cash on it.
It's important Google hits that point because the alternative is "I just spent $200 on this phone. Why do I need Glass?" Which, to be fair, is a surprisingly low barrier. For as nice as tablets are, no one really needs them. Smartphones and laptops do all the same things. Tablets are just nicer. While the iPad leads that pack, even Android tablets and Kindle Fires are doing remarkably well given how little they bring to the table over smartphones. Virtually every cost-benefit analysis of a tablet over a smartphone ultimately boils down to "it's nicer." If Glass can be "nicer" than your smartphone for taking quick pictures, replying to text messages, getting directions, looking up information, or taking part in a Hangout, then it might be worth it.
That's still an uphill battle, though. And it will be almost perfectly tied to price. Let's not pretend that Glass is going to be something for everyone. I live in Georgia. Bless this state, but I know some backwoods people that will be terrified of this. I also know a lot of people who will be entirely incapable of justifying the purchase even if they are entirely enamored with the idea. Heck, I might even be one of those people, depending on the price. And forget about developing markets. Google Glass is not intended for a majority of people on the planet. It is intended for two groups of people: technophiles with more money than sense (which is a guaranteed market no matter what) and, more importantly, people who like gadgets that make their lives a little easier. The latter is the group that Google needs to court and the only way it can is on price. Even at $500, it might be a hard sell, but I think it can be overcome, if it works as advertised. But if it's priced too high to be affordable for regular people, it will flop.
There's a lot threatening Google Glass. There are a lot of reasons to doubt and a lot of reasons to wait and see. If you could buy stock in just one product of a company, I would not be advising anyone to buy right now. However, there is potential here. What Google is offering is the ability to do what we've all secretly wanted: have permanent, always-on access to a world of information that's personally tailored to our specific needs, yet still have the ability to take it off at the end of the day. The rest is so much frills and worries. It's dorky? No one cares. It will scare people with its camera? No it won't. But it still might not succeed.
I'd really like it to, though.