Frosted Glass

Glass

Last week’s formal re-introduction of Glass has shown what Google has been working on since first unveiling glass nearly a year ago: a small amount of progress in the wrong direction.

The fundamental issue with Glass is the age old question of “why?”. What exactly is Glass supplanting that its older siblings simply can’t do better? If you arrive at the term transparent then I think we’re thinking of the interaction design in the wrong way.

Glass, from its inception believes that removing the physical gestural interface of smartphones and tablets with which we are now comfortable and switching it to voice only controls is making a bold assumption: That the human species actually prefers non-formal non-emotional communication or “input” in the form of voice. This is a huge oversight.

In fact, I think the opposite is true. People don’t want to go through the social rigours of performing voice gestures in public not only because it’s more taxing, but it’s also more disruptive to other people. We’re simply not yet wired to deal with a room full of people talking to themselves and amongst each other simultaneously, let alone try and isolate audible voices from background noise and other competing voices. The only exemption to this is the telephone, but even that has been replaced by the much less obnoxious text message.

However, the product largely decides our behaviour. We put up with how the product wants us to react to it in order to obtain the innate value that the product delivers us. But in the case of Glass, the value at the moment seems to be simple novelty, not yet able to supplant the basic functions of more powerful smartphones and not yet transparent enough to be totally unobtrusive and offer true value to the customer.

In a subtle way, Glass compares to smartphones in the same way that the Netbook compared to the Notebook computer, the Netbook wasn’t better at anything, it was just smaller and slower at everything. The Ultrabook, on the other hand, is the full realization of the failed Netbook concept. Slim, powerful, sleek and far better in specific meaningful areas compared to notebooks.

Products must be far better at some key things in order to undercut their older siblings. Glass has potential but Google sometimes finds itself living in a bubble when it comes to what is socially appropriate, a true child of the insular pseudo-cultured Silicon Valley.

I’m still optimistic about the underlying concept and hope that it gets refined to a point of obvious desire, but make no mistake, the fact that Glass must be tethered to a phone to do anything meaningful shows that it’s umbilical cord has yet to be cut from the mothership. With Google’s track record of being masters of baking half the cake, cutting off the good half and calling it Beta we run the risk of Glass becoming another second-rate douche-tooth accessory for your phone. Much the same way that woefully underdeveloped bluetooth headset technologies staggered into the market and gave rise to your typical spreadsheet jockey douchetalk that was the result of calling one’s corporate bro-fisters on one’s contact list to give the appearance of “status”, we now face a reality in which the same thing could happen all over again. But this time it’s progress on deck.