Okay, so we’re some number of months away from the Google’s introduction of Glass to the world, and much has already been written, but I wanted to add my thoughts to the conversation. Why? Because so much of what I’ve read so far either leans toward skepticism or, while positive, takes a fairly narrow view of what I think will be a real game-changer. Let me outline why I believe that Google Glass will prove to be the most important product since the iPhone…
A New Primary UI
The iPhone put an always-connected computer in our pockets, giving us a new way to access and interact with the digital world. But as much as I love smartphones, there is something sad about our addictive fixation with their tiny, smudgy, bacteria-covered screens. Glass promises to be a great liberator, offering a new primary UI to so many things:
- Your smartphone: While some see Glass as competition with smartphones, I am confident that being able to access my iPhone without taking it out of my pocket will make me use it and love it even more. Instead of fumbling for the device in my pocket, unlocking it, and swiping, clicking, or typing to get to what I need, I’ll have the power of the iPhone always available to me, right before my eyes, and controllable by voice command. I also suspect that Glass will make me even more curious about how switching to an Android smartphone might enrich my life. Google has a huge ecosystem-type opportunity to make the combo of Glass + Android smartphone as awesome as the interplay between my iPhone and my Apple TV.
- Google: The coolest moment for me in the recently released promo video for Glass (embedded above) was how they used the company name not just as a verb, but as a command. Yes, you will soon be able to “Google” anything, anytime, anywhere, simply by saying, “Google” and what you’re looking for. Imagine what impact that will have at scale for Google’s core business. Glass will solidify Google’s dominance of search as the web enters its third chapter with a UI that is omnipresent and natural.
- Your cloud: Glass will also serve as a UI to your own Google-hosted cloud services, not only giving you super-convenient access to your stuff, but more importantly giving you a dramatic shift in the most important constraints around sharing: convenience and privacy. Expect Google to make it easy, fun, and rewarding to stream ever more of your life to their cloud (whether or not you choose to share it to others).
- Your “people layer”: Of course, the ambitions of Glass intersect with the strategic imperatives of Google+, and give Google a not-to-miss second chance to define how we share our life moments with the people we care about. Hangouts are clearly a big part of the plan, though the forward-facing POV camera seems better suited for new kinds of virtual presence sharing scenarios. It will also be very interesting to see how Glass acts as an interface to social platforms not owned by Google. Pay close attention to what comes of Mark Zuckerberg’s fascination with this game-changing UI to social. Might Google and Facebook finally find a common ground?
Together, I expect this new, way-more-accessible UI to drive an order-of-magnitude increase in my picture taking, video shooting, searching, map usage, and so on. Google will end up knowing way more about me — and, in return, deliver to me ever-more personalized and proactive services. And I am totally cool with that.
A New Compute Platform
A new primary UI to your digital/online world is, of course, a pretty rare and extraordinary thing, but Glass is some much more than just an elegant UI layer. It is nothing less than a new generation of compute platform as transformative as the four generations that came before it: mainframe, mini, personal computer, and smartphone. Glass ushers in the era of wearable computing.
If Glass emerged from any of the other tech titans, there would be a question about whether or how much it would be “open.” But this is Google, so we can expect open-ness to be a central and defining feature of the platform. Expect a robust app economy to emerge — one that takes full advantage a new three-tier model: Glass + smartphone + cloud.
Actually, it’s even richer and more complicated than that. For Glass is but one type of wearable computer. Apple’s rumored to be working on an iWatch, and there are already several fitness tracking devices on the market. Over time, expect Glass apps to interconnect with an ever more diverse network of sensors on (or in) our bodies.
A New Google
Just as the iPhone re-invented Apple, the introduction of Glass is re-defining moment for Google. What has been almost exclusively a software company will now become a consumer electronics company. I wish them much success in this big transition.
I got to test drive Glass this evening, out and about in downtown Palo Alto, and I stand by the title and substance of this blogpost more firmly than before. Three takeaways from the experience:
1) Huge convenience factor. While waiting to be seated at a crowded restaurant, I needed to know if there was a risk I’d be late to pick up my daughter. Instead of pulling out my iPhone, I just tilted my head up slightly and saw the time. Awesome! More importantly, my beloved iPhone, so central to my life, requires me to pull out my reading glasses. Glass? Not at all. I found the display remarkably crisp and easy to read without my reading glasses. And that was true, whether looking at a photo I had taken, a map, or the menu items. (Also, the speech interface works amazingly well in a noisy environment.)
2) Super comfortable. A lot of folks are worried that a computer on your face would be heavy and awkward. In my testing, Glass was as comfortable as my reading glasses or a pair of sunglasses. Very well designed, even though first generation. Imagine what Moore’s Law will do for this new product category.
3) “Glasshole” or rockstar? Many try to put Glass down for being awkward from the perspective of fashion and social comfort. I’ve thought for months that wouldn’t be a problem, and that, instead, the high-end price tag and great design would give the product a “luxury halo”. After experiencing the reaction in a pub and a restaurant, I’d have to say the skeptics will be eating crow. Wearing Glass in 2013 is awesome. Strangers come up and engage with you. People notice you enter the room. Friends ask lots of questions. It’s a bit like being a rockstar (at least in Palo Alto).