As consumer hardware goes, few items have had such an instantly polarizing effect as Google’s Project Glass, the concept smart glasses (or, to be more precise, augmented reality head-mounted display) that have become an omnipresent accessory for Sergey Brin. Granted, to call them glasses is a reductive understatement, though the company’s description isn’t much help either: “[a] technology that frees you to explore and share your world while keeping you in the moment.” Clear as mud? To the uninitiated, think of them as a small computer with a mini screen on a springy headband that sits above your eye.
Watch this Google concept video for a better idea (or to be utterly terrified):
While they were deemed stylish enough by legendary designer Diane Von Fürstenburg to put them on the catwalk, there’s still a very big split between those who instantly shout in horror and crow about security risks and those who instead envision a new dawn in computing. Perhaps they both have a point: For some they will be the ultimate intrusion yet for others they could revolutionize business or the way we interact with the world. The truth is, we just don’t know yet. One thing is for sure, however: Some have more to gain than others
Generally, I am pro Glass: After all, technology is rarely evil (technology doesn’t harm people – people harm people!) But plainly speaking, this is the first piece of tech I have seen in a long time that has the potential to truly change everything. Forget tablets, forget smartphones, the technology behind Glass is not an extension of you, it literally becomes part of you. (Crucially, unlike other tech to-date, it also leaves your hands free – a facet you can see the porn barons already dreaming about.) What is most curious, though, is that I’ve yet to see the media jump on Glass and champion it during this embryonic period. Why are we not hearing about landmark partnerships being done between Google and media powerhouses? (Or is it that Google is not playing ball with them?) Why, as with tablets, mobile and so many developments before, is the media industry so timid that they wait to be involved before leading the discussion?
Let’s take a look at a few reasons why Google Glass is poised to change everything:
Zero setup = perfection
The idea from the start is that you pop them on and truly just carry on being you – they’ll take care of the rest. This is the ultimate device that can not only benefit from contextual information but also demonstrated behavior, such as time of reading, likes, dislikes and so on. The system will quickly pick up on those variables (among many others) and soon enough take care of it automatically: no need anymore for RSS feeds, no circling, no preferences. Just read as you normally would, and it will get smarter and more precise and better at predicting your needs and wants. This fixes my main issues with the way we get news today, which still requires too much input from the user; instead Glass just gets out of the way.
Or, in other words, testing lots of variables to see which produce the best results then upweighting that combination. Adaptive marketing will be a heavily used term next year and in subsequent years as we react to the myriad devices giving agencies, planners and publishers oodles of delicious data to crunch. News should be making huge efforts to tailor their product to the individual based on their social and interest graphs (groups, likes, shares, purchases). Imagine a layout that could be tested and then updated because a different layout led to greater consumption. Currently this could really exist only on smartphones via apps, but has not been hugely raved about because of tracking issues.
Think beyond the device
Imagine an army of reporters all using these devices. It makes true real-time, breaking news very possible – in fact, it will redefine the very notion of what news is: no longer organized but reactive. Are the days of phone footage, or images being sent via email as news breaks numbered? Imagine how ordinary people could become live reporters simply because they happen to be right by the action. When an incident occurs, a quick mobile ping and you’ll know who is around to turn their head and broadcast live images and video. I’d certainly watch more of that than fuzzy, ultra-zoomed snapshots grabbed off Twitter.
While Google has been less than clear when talking about built-in advertising opportunities, it’s obvious that with the advances in augmented technologies like BlippAR, Aurasma and Obvious Engine image recognition is still sexy and – when used correctly – the results are good. The eye-tracking capabilities Google Glass poses should make not only media agencies and advertisers salivate but editorial departments as well. Shouldn’t better measurement, placement, contextualization, optimization of editorial (not to mention ads) be what we’re all fighting for? Now we might have something that can do it! What’s the holdup?
This is just a taste of what’s going to possible from what my tiny noodle can dream up. The implications of these technologies are pretty staggering when you think about the big bad data wolf that’s smiling sweetly at us in the distance. Whether we like or know it, we’re going to be wearing more and more technology. When you consider the quickly expanding wearable tech trend – not just sensors in bracelets and shoes but actual things – the future looks clear. We’ve already got Nike wristbands, headphones in hats,T-shirts that tweet, bras that help with fitness(?!), sleeptrackers, watches with emergency communication systems and about 50 prototype products from Nokia. Suddenly Project Glass doesn’t look like a crazy leap so much as a solid step in the right direction.
As with most new technologies, there are still old problems to address: namely privacy, connectivity and, of course, battery life. The last two are relatively easy to solve but the first is a deep concern for most people. Even at a surface level there are major issues here that could affect adoption (while Google has stated it has no plans to integrate facial recognition elements, it’s clearly inevitable). But personally I suspect these will be overcome with the gadget-lust/cool factor and general usability the device will inevitably enable.
Then you have the other P-word, piracy. If you think cellphones were an issue for copyright and IP theft, imagine how quickly these bad boys could destroy an industry. Taking that idea further, how would you protect your important documents in a business? What about customer service? Or will they just force us all to be in better control of these things? Ultimately, though, the deciding factor for most issues will be a lot like the success of the Nike Band: the Glass-style technology that eventually takes off will be the one that doesn’t need to be taken off by users.
Right now, this isn’t likely Project Glass for the majority of folks out there, but it does leave me hopeful that future incarnations are close by (without surgery). Whatever way this technology goes, and I believe it will go far if the marketing continues to be as slick as it has been, it’s clear the nerds – and more importantly the cultural influencers – love Project Glass.
So, media folk, I say this: Start making connections and beefing up your technology departments. Google I/O (Google’s Developer Conference) attendees were able to sign up for a beta, and they’ll start getting their units very soon. This technology or a version of it is coming, the only question is how soon.
Paul Armstrong is Head of Social forMindshare; follow him atwww.paularmstrong.net or on Twitter@TheMediaIsDying.