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A year on and Google Glass is still a bad idea

Column 12 months later I’m still not convinced
Fri Apr 05 2013, 16:09
Lee Bell column portrait

IT IS A YEAR TO THE DAY since Google unveiled its augmented reality eyewear, Google Glass. The firm touted the space-age spectacles as a "project", a somewhat far-fetched concept conceived to bring science fiction into the real world.

For those unfamiliar with the venture, Google Glass is a smartphone-like experience projected into your field of vision through awkward looking spectacles. The technology was dreamt up by a small team of Google engineers in the dark, dark corners of the Google X research lab, in an attempt to enhance visual reality with data on the fly. The basic idea is that you can bring texts, email, images and video in front of your eyes via voice commands, hands free.

Fast forward 12 months and it's obvious that Google is now taking Glass much more seriously. Just yesterday, for instance, the firm posted a video of its presentation from the South by Southwest Interactive conference last month, giving us an insight into the Mirror API interface that third party developers are already using to get their apps onto Google Glass.

This, plus the fact that Google employees have been showing off the eyewear technology on the firm's struggling social network Google+, demonstrates the firm's increased focus on the product.

As a result, Google Glass has gotten a lot of hype, and it's been widely reported that the eyewear technology will become available some time this year. It has also been suggested that the spectacles will retail for around $1,500 if and when they finally hit the market.

If it does catch on, Google Glass has the potential to create a revolution. But as far as I'm concerned, it won't. I have plenty of reasons to think so, but it's mainly because I think the whole thing is a bad idea.

The main motivation behind my aversion to Google Glass is that anyone who wears it will look like a fool. Although it is much more subtle than other augmented reality type glasses from the past, it is still distinctive looking enough for people to think, "what the hell's that on your face?"

Google's Project Glass

Apart from the pointing and laughing you'll endure from those that notice you're wearing them, there's the point that the UK is a very self-conscious nation. For example, it's taken me long enough to get used to talking on the phone in the street using an earphone embedded microphone, which admittedly, I still dislike doing because I worry that people will think I'm talking to myself. I know many who feel the same. That doesn't bode well for a voice-activated set of glasses, does it?

Put simply, anyone who puts on a pair of Google Glasses immediately looks ridiculous, and I think the majority of consumers who have $1,500 spare to spend on a gadget will agree, and thus will not be comfortable sporting the futuristic looking eyewear in public.

That brings me on to my next point, cost. Even those who don't care about looking idiotic wearing Google Glass in public have another factor to contend with - the price of the blasted thing. Though the final mark-up is yet to be unveiled by Google, anything around the rumoured $1,500 price, or about £1,000, is far too much in my view, especially for a device that does everything Google's Nexus 4 smartphone does.

Liberating the phone to the face, I think, is not worth the four-figure price tag, especially considering that you're likely to attract more attention from potential muggers when you have such a luxury device hanging off your ears.

girl lookign silly wearing Google Glass

Those that do manage to save their pennies for a pair of futuristic spectacles will also have 3G or 4G data costs to consider. Google Glass needs to be hooked up to the internet constantly in order to function the way Google has promoted it. With the ability to record everything you see and experience, and instantly upload it to the internet to share with friends, Glass is going to need a 4G connection. And such contracts don't come cheap at the moment, especially in the UK.

In addition, alarm bells should have started ringing when I wrote, "the ability to record everything you see and instantly upload it to the internet", bringing me onto my third reason why Google Glass is a bad idea.

Aesthetics aside, a device that allows the wearer to record photos, videos and sound as they experience their lives, in public, and instantly post these clips online is only going to inspire mistrust. Would you feel comfortable having a conversation with a person wearing Google Glass, essentially someone with a camcorder strapped to their head?

Moreover, Google Glass has already been banned in bars in the US due to this issue, and there's talk that drivers will also be forbidden to use the device. These problems are sure to put off the few of us that consider the idea of Google Glass as "cool".

My final reason to think Google Glass is a bad idea is centred around what the product will do to those people that do buy it when it arrives on the market.

It is undoubtedly going to cause distraction, granting permanent access to the internet above a person's line of vision at all times. "Are they listening to me, or are they watching a Youtube video?" would be a question that would perpetually bother me while speaking with someone wearing Google Glass. My worst nightmare, though, is that it could give rise to an army of know-it-alls who obsessively use instant access to Google's internet search engine. Or worse still, give people an excuse to rely on Google instead of the gift their mother gave them, a brain.

In my opinion, there's little reason to believe that Google Glass is anything more than another Google gimmick. If it ever does reach the market, which looks possible considering Google's recent promotions, then I will argue that the augmented reality spectacles should have remained a prototype. µ


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