Google glasses – how groovy life could be. But when will they really work? (+video)

The Google glasses video created an online sensation, but the product won't exist anytime soon. There is risk in inflating consumers' expectations.

By , Staff writer

Google glasses on a test run.

Google has sparked an online tizzy with its Project Glass video, a breezy, aspirational clip depicting life after we all sport the search giant’s snazzy new designer spectacles that put the digital world at our, er, nose-tips, from the moment we rise.

This snappy online montage shows just how groovy it might be to wake up and have the world flow your way through voice and even (gasp!) eye commands.

Straight from the reels of any good sci-fi flick in the past half-century or so, the hi-tech-bespectacled hipster in the video gets weather data just by looking out the window and subway updates by simply walking outside. He snaps pix and shares them with his circle of friends, and locates and talks to his buddies.

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But this is not a promotional ad for a real product that consumers may snap up at any time in the near future. This is a gambit from the team at Google X, the search giant’s experimental lab, reaching out to users for comments and feedback.

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“We’re sharing this information now because we want to start a conversation and learn from your valuable input,” the online posting said Wednesday.

And so the video has already spawned spoofs and biting commentary about the wisdom of such a product, suggesting, at a minimum, a new relationship between tech entrepreneurs and a public that has grown weary of new products falling below expectations (iPhone’s SIRI, anyone?)

One satirical take-off would be at home on Saturday Night Live, with a hapless dude flailing through his day trying to ward off a stream of unnecessary and unwanted information hitting him literally between the eyes, endangering not only his personal safety but possibly his mental health.

Bloggers such as Blair MacIntyre, director of the Augmented Reality Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, ask the obvious questions, such as “is it a good idea for Google to hype expectations about a product that it cannot possibly deliver?”

The future product’s technology builds on many existing smart functions, such as location-based technology and targeted advertising. But, points out Mr. MacIntyre, many of those technologies have also fallen short of expectations.

“I was an early adopter with those apps,” he says, but notes that after fumbling through notification after notification of only mildly useful information flowing incessantly into his smart phone, “I stopped looking at each one as it came in.”

The proposed new gadget has some applauding what they call the next, big era of consumer hands-free living.

“Google is trying to illustrate the compelling possibilities of a technology like this,” says Rick Chin, director of innovation for 3DS SolidWorks, a product design software company, via e-mail. “It gives them and the rest of us a direction to try and work towards,” he notes.

However, he is quick to point out the technology gap facing Google in its ability to deliver on expectations.

“It is very true that today's mainstream technologies don't support the kind of performance that they showed in their video. For the product to perform as fast and robustly as they illustrated, would require major improvements in head tracking, camera performance, and a heads-up-display (HUD) that is lighter, has higher resolution and brightness than anything affordable at a consumer level … today,” he notes.

It's an ambitious project, agrees Jon Burgstone, founder of the Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology at the University of California at Berkeley.

“If it works,” he says via e-mail, “it could be an important step-forward for peoples' relationship with information, and possibly how we interact with each other.”

Google has some hurdles, however, he points out.

“This is a complex project, with impact on Google, everyday users, and how people interact with society,” he says. Google needs to find and meet an important set of customer needs, he notes. And, none of that will matter if the product falls short of expectations, he says, adding, “the product needs to work.”

Google must answer all sorts of questions: Does the interface work smoothly? How good is service coverage? Do the glasses emit radiation that presents a health risk? Do users find they’re more efficient or do they get distracted?

If it is successful, however, he adds, it could be a true game changer for consumer technology.

IN PICTURES: Photos of the day

 

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