Google Glass Vs Recon Jet – The Difference is Context

Those of you who read this blog know I reflexively roll my eyes and exhale heavily any time the topic of Google Glass comes up.

And yet here I am today pointing to a similar product that I think, in principle, stands a chance. At the very least, if too niche to change the world, it makes functional and practical sense to me. Which is a lot more than I can say for Glass.

In fact when I saw Recon Jet (and Recon HUD) for the first time I didn’t cringe in sympathetic embarrassment for the person wearing it, as I do when I see some bozo wearing Google Glass. It’s not because I am particularly drawn to the design, or any particular feature. Rather, it’s because the person who wears Recon Jet, as designed and marketed, arguably has a rational reason to wear it. The same reason he might also wear a helmet and shoes with clips.

reconhud

Recon Jet

As an athlete, he’s fully engaged – physically and mentally. There is nothing casual about pushing your body to its limit. If you’re serious, it’s fully consuming. Needless to say, if both hands aren’t busy, you’re not trying hard enough. A person so engaged might therefor benefit from some way of accessing data as he optimizes his ride and behavior.

Contrast that with Google Glass’ proposed casual meandering down the street holding a Latte. The other hand probably carrying an Abercrombie and Fitch bag which holds a baggy shirt labeled “Muscle Fit”.

That’s the difference. Google Glass lives in the world of casualness. Recon Jet lives in the world of purposefulness.

I know, I know, those of you who want a pair of Google Glasses, don’t get this, you draw a timeline from your phone to Google Glass as though Glass were some logical extension. But that line you’re drawing (which may be valid someday – once the device operates effortlessly and doesn’t dominant your appearance) is narrower and frailer than the immediate, overt line connecting Google Glass to your face – and therefore to Maui Jim.

Basically – you don’t need to wear your phone over your eye when you’re casually window shopping. It’s gratuitous. The decision to wear Google Glass is therefor rather a choice of preference, of style.

And that’s what makes Google Glass so overtly lame. Because it is, like it or not, also such a strong fashion statement.

glass

“She almost looked at me. That’s right, I know where the nearest Starbucks is, baby.”

Recon Jet easily hurdles Google Glass’ utter fumbling of fashion sense by making it not about that any more than the helmet or pedals are. The self-conscious dopiness that comes pre-packaged with Glass, is not evident here because, as athletic and emergency equipment, Recon Jet has a defined purpose that fits a solid, if temporary, real-world need, and is therefore subject to different design references and expectations.

And I groan inwardly to accept this, but maybe that’s how such a device might cross over into the mainstream – someday.

In the same way that the athletic authenticism of high performance running shoes eventually informed the daily choice of out-of-shape people everywhere; a sort of ubiquity that bred acceptance of the design approach, so too might the iPatch form factor work it’s way past geekdom.

Needless to say, in the meantime, if you wear your Recon Jet while shopping for your Chihuahua’s new food bowl, expect to get laughed at behind your back just as much as you do wearing Glass.

Recon Jet may seem like Google Glass in many ways – but there is one major, all-critical difference – Recon Instruments knows why such a form factor might actually be necessary. And in this case, the context is everything.

Google Glass? I’d Rather Get Laid

I was catching up with my super smart friend, Pär, who reminded me of a study that showed how iPhone users get laid more often than Android users. I currently use an iPhone and you know, on some level I think I can anecdotally corroborate that.

Ok well maybe you didn’t buy that study.

But what if the reverse were true, that say – being outed for owning a specific device actually resulted in getting laid measurably less? Lets say that was demonstrable. This hypothetical device will cause a woman or man, who might otherwise have found you attractive, to actively avoid you.

I mean, guys, seriously, would you use that device in public?  Be honest. Use this device and chances are, you will get laid less. Do you reach for it on your way out for drinks with friends? After all that time in the gym? Really.

“Well that depends.  What does this device do?” you ask.

You think that matters? Well, what would it have to do? That’s a better question. To make up for the likelihood that all the beautiful people across the club will see you with your Googly-eyed face brace, roll their eyes and laugh to their friends. It would obviously have to make up for a period of forced unogamy. That’s a tall order. For me that would have to be one hell of a device. It would have to feed my children – assuming I can start using the device only after I’ve had kids.

In reality this device will not feed your family, make you richer, or smarter, make you high, more attractive, or more fit, in fact this device won’t give you much more value than your smartphone already gives you today.  You’ll have one hand free more often. That, and you won’t get laid.  Ok, well, you can see where this leads.

Yes, of course I am referring to Google Glass.

The company that just announced a ban on any porn appearing on their little, winky, face screens.

Nice one guys. First you go all PR on steroids, Jedi mind-tricking a bunch of grown up dungeon-master, techie trend-nerds with a device that cements nights alone with a pint of Hagen Daz, and then add insult to injury by disabling the little visual stimuli they might need to tap their own hardware. Really nice.

Do no evil indeed.

Yeah yeah, Apple restricts porn too, but as we know, with an iPhone, you get laid more often.  So that all works itself out.

The problem is, you don’t use Glass, you wear it.  So like it or not, unlike its hand-held counterparts, it therefor, inexorably, falls (at least half-way) under the domain of fashion.  And fashion is about increasing your attractiveness and status.

Naturally Google has realized this and is rather desperately searching for a credible fashionable foothold – because if it’s not fashionable, honest to god fashionable, it’s doomed.

Indeed then, as unlikely as it sounds, I have to think that increasing your chances of getting laid is a Key Performance Indicator for Google Glass.

Perhaps the ultimate KPI. At least for the fashion-hopeful half of the product.

Perhaps you take issue with this idea that Glass is a full half fashion.

“It’s hardware. Utility!  Function!  Not Fashion!” you scream, and since I am writing this, your voice sounds all out of control and annoying.

No, a therapeutic, halo head stabilizer with screws is utilitarian and functional.  Google Glass is fashion of questionable value.

Not that anyone will buy glass to get laid (obviously) but if, as it intuitively seems to me based on the fact that 2.5 out of 700 people wearing Google Glasses don’t look like complete tools, Glass will obviously reduce your chances of getting laid.  If so, how likely is it that it will succeed?

Not very.

Those of you who argue that it won’t matter must be either comfortable in a very secure relationship or are, for whatever reason, already resigned to dipping into the Jergens.

Google Glass?  Meh, I’d rather get laid, thanks though.

 

GoogleGlass

Native Advertising: Ad Agencies Dip Their Little Toes In The Deep End

Native Advertising as popularly defined (pick one) is nowhere near “the big idea”, and further underscores a dark truth concerning the fate of every ad agency in the business.

As is often the case in the one-upsman world of advertising Native’s definition is still in the land-grab phase. But in short:

In other words, theoretically without employing traditional interruptive tactics, advertisers would deliver brand messages in the form of – gasp – honest to goodness desirable content, products or services that users might be willing to seek out and pay money for, except that it’s probably free.

In yet other words the same old ham-fisted, ad industry bozos are trying (still) to clod their way through yet another little bit of age-old interactive media obviousness as though it’s some big new idea.

In truth, the underlying observations that have inspired today’s “Native Advertising” breathlessness have been openly in place for over 15 years.

And while there is clearly valid intent embedded in the notion of a kind of “native” solution, this current set of native advertising definitions are all somewhat on the incomplete side.

Why should this trickling acceptance of reality have taken a young voter’s entire life span?

I strongly believe it’s because, by their very design, ad agencies are built, trained and honed to do one thing well: interrupt the consumer experience with a message of value that is itself just valuable enough to keep viewers from looking away.

The entire 100+ Billion dollar industry. Staffed, funded, and optimized. That’s what they do.

And that singular capability is entirely misaligned with the very fundamental principles of interactive media. The future of media.

Think about that – Ad agencies are the wrong tool for the future.

It’s just a whole lot easier to sneak an ad in front of a captive audience, an ad that is just good enough while it sufficiently delivers its brand message that people don’t get up and leave, than it is to create something so valuable and magnetic that a regular person will seek out, be willing to pay for, and enjoy it.

Not surprisingly, this truth doesn’t get talked about much in ad circles.

I know, I’ve heard it, “good advertising IS valuable”, “Lots of people watch the Super Bowl for the amazing spots”, “People in the UK go to the theater early to watch the commercials”, and “My wife buys fashion magazines for the ads.”

Memes that keep an industry of frustrated creatives from feeling the need to get into real content industries.

In reality, lots of people watch the Super Bowl (real content), so advertisers spend way more money on those ads which invariably suck less – but those same viewers would be just fine watching the game without interruption. People in the UK are just as annoyed as people in the US when they pay for a movie (real content), show up on time and are stuck watching 20 minutes of commercials. And your wife would be quite pleased if the magazine provided more fashion review and commentary (again, real content) in place of those ads.

At this point in the conversation my advertising friends point at Old Spice Man.

Jesus. Yes, there is a type of freakery along every skew of humanity, ads that become eagerly shared being one of the very rarest. Every 6-7 years there is one Old Spice Man. That is not a repeatable, sustainable solution. A meaningless blip on a radar that is otherwise teaming with actual useful data that is being openly ignored.

Don’t you wonder why there are so few wildly successful ads in the interactive space? Don’t you ever wonder why? I mean these aren’t just random people making YouTube cat videos. These are paid professionals who are theoretically masters of their art form. Why then is advertising in interactive not more obviously successful and coveted?

Periodically advertisers try to acknowledge this disconnect and do tip toe into the deep end with what seem like penetrating PowerPoint decks, that try to sound all hard, hip and anarchic, generally stating that today’s busy, connected consumers are just disinterested in brands and ad messages altogether. And I guess this must feel like a cathartic, even maverick, stab at the truth. But these are ultimately impotent decks, never going all the way. Always falling short of any real disruption. Never willing to upturn their own boat to reveal the utter brokenness of their paycheck. These exercises (and all ad agencies toy with presentations like these) end the same way, with some softball, vaguely nuanced adjustment to the old ad models.

Because those few that do look critically, all the way under the rug with open eyes, see a slightly horrific slippery slope that ends with upheaval. The implication that the industry is no longer built on solid ground. That the very ad agency infrastructure is literally not aligned on the foundation of the future.

That creative directors, art directors, copywriters and producers – are the wrong people. The wrong people to invent the solutions – helping companies evangelize their offerings into interactive media and extend awareness through the social spaces of the future. (planners do have a role however, more on that later)

From where I sit, all this agency hyperventilating of the virtues and potential of “Native Advertising” is just little more than the dozy ass-scratch of a sated, comfortable industry that hasn’t yet felt the crunch of the iceberg needed to rouse from its operational hammock-basking.

Why bother? When we can rely on the apparent solid ground of past innovations?

Yes – there are a lot of hard working creative people in advertising – but they are generally working below this line. They are working within the Matrix, below pointed, self-critical analysis and reinvention of the industry’s very models and structure. It’s reason for being.

The industry chose the blue pill.

A Reboot is Needed
In software, developers of big systems spend a relative long time nursing legacy code over time, modifying and amending to adapt it to a changing world. But there comes a point where it becomes unwieldy and inefficient, where the originating code base is no longer relevant, where its developers have to step back and ask “if we were building an ideal system from scratch today, would this be it?” When the answer stops being “possibly”, then the legacy design usually gets retired.

The same must be asked of legacy business processes.

Clients and agencies need to ask the same question of the existing agency business and infrastructure. Big gains will come from reinventing it, rebuilding it directly on the back of solid interactive principles.

This requires a reboot.

Following such a reboot a lot of good ad people will necessarily have to redirect their careers. And other new skill sets will suddenly be in high demand.

“Whoa, whoa whoa,” you say, “Good lord man, you’re wrong in this, surely. If all this were really true it would have been revealed before now. It would have been obvious. Clients wouldn’t keep paying for interruptive ads. It never could have gone on this long.

“In fact by sheer virtue that clients keep paying to have the same agency conduits create and deploy traditional, interruptive models in interactive media – that must prove that it’s still valid, right?”

No I don’t believe that. The present economics, while very real today, create the convincing illusion that the industry must be right-configured. That it must be aligned with interactive media and therefore, the future of media. But this belief is little more than another kind of bubble. A bubble that was indeed solid at one time. Back when the Men were Mad. Except that today, the center has leaked out.

“But anyway,” you assert, “you’re missing the main point – lots of the ads do work for the most part, we get conversions! Definitive proof that everything is solid.”

For now perhaps, and to a point. So what will pop the bubble? Mere discovery of the “new best” – a true native model. That’s how tenuous this is.

At Lego they have a corporate mantra “only the best is good enough”. We all aspire to that in many things. The implication of that line though is that there must something else, something other than the “best” that is considered by most others to be “good enough”.

And today clients are willing to pay for our current best, which is good enough it seems to do the trick, while convincing us we’re on the right track. But I strongly assert, it’s not the best. There is a best that has been sitting in the wings (for 15 years!). Clients and consumers don’t seem to know this best is an option, I assume because they haven’t seen it yet.

Steve Jobs famously commented on innovating new solutions that “…people often don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” And so it goes here too.

Understanding “Native” – a New Best
To find a new best, we need to align ourselves firmly on the backbone of interactive media. So we need to know what interactive media really is.

That awful definition of Native Advertising at the top of this page (courtesy of wikipedia – the expression of our collective psychosis) illustrates a pathetic lack of understanding.

“…a web advertising method…”

Web advertising? Really?

Is that the “medium” you ad guys are working in? The World Wide Web? Ok, so what do you call it when the user is offline, not in a browser, using an app? Or some new unknowable device? Does the ad method just stop working there? C’mon, you’re thinking too small.

To find what’s right, you have to ask yourself “what functionally defines this medium landscape?” What one feature is consistent across all states of the medium, the web on PC, the web on mobile, apps, socializing on various platforms, both connected and offline etc.? And what attribute differentiates the medium from all other mediums.

The main point of difference and the consistent theme across all states is that the user is in control.

User control is the primary function afforded by the computer. That is what the medium is. It is the medium of users. Usership is what we mean by “interactive”.

Connectivity is merely the distribution of that control.

And we can’t gloss over this: it’s the user that is in control.

Not the content creators, certainly not the advertiser. No. Rather, content creators are just servants.

And that’s why advertisers, beholden for all time to interruption, flounder.

So fundamental is that largely unspoken truth, that the user should be in control, that every single time a user is annoyed with an interactive experience, it can be directly attributed to a breakdown in compliance with this one paradigm. Every – time. Every time a content creator attempts to assert his intent, his goals upon the user – the user recoils with recognition that something feels very wrong.

For well over a decade and to anyone who would listen, I have called this paradigm The Grand Interactive Order. It’s the first axiom of interactive. Really, it’s old – but worth a read, I think.

The second axiom I call the Interactive Trade Agreement.
This describes how sufficient value is necessary for any interaction in the medium to transpire. Sound familiar?

Its another very old idea that nevertheless seemed lost on most advertisers for years – except that they now talk about Native Advertising which is directly rooted in compliance with this axiom.

The age of reliance on a captive audience is falling behind us. We can no longer merely communicate the value of clients and products; today our messages must themselves be valuable. Be good enough that they will be sought out. Today ads must have independent value – in addition to a marketing message. Because for the first time consumers have to choose our “ads” over other content.

This quote above was not part of a 2013 Native Advertising deck. Though it might as well have been. It was actually a thread from Red Sky Interactive’s pitch deck made to a dozen fortune 500 firms between 1996 and 1999. It was philosophically part of Red Sky’s DNA.

In the 90s these ideas largely fell on deaf ears. It sounded good, but it scared too many people. People who were still trying wrap their heads around click-throughs and that viral thing.

Indeed, Native Advertising is just the ad industry re-discovering these basic ideas, once again, 15 years later.

Perhaps you can see why I feel no pity as I contemplate the big ad agencies falling by the wayside. They have had so much time and resource to adapt – had they only bothered to develop a strong understanding of the medium.

Maybe they can still pull out of their disconnected nose-dive.

In the spirit of willingness to beat my head against a wall until they do, I will offer something more than criticism.

Native Marketing

First – we need to drop this Native “Advertising” thing. As I have argued – advertising is about interruption by design – and that’s patently inauthentic.

However, advertising’s larger parent, “Marketing” does make sense. Ultimately what we want to do is find an iconic term that will help us stay on target, and marketing in my mind is much more integrated into the process of conducting business than advertising is. Native “Business” might be an even truer expression, but for now let’s sit in the middle with “Marketing”.

Next, the people. The people working in advertising today are, by in large, just not trained in the disciplines that true native marketing demands.

Planners cross over, however. Planners must still do market research in the future, study behavior and psychographics and develop a strategic insight – an insight that informs the new creative teams.

To wit, gone are teams made up of Creative Directors and Art Directors and Copywriters. That’s about communication of value. They’ll still exist somewhere but they’ll play a small service role.

True native solutions require the skills and sensibilities of the people who are experienced in creating businesses, content and products which – without the benefit of pre-aggregated viewers/users – people will pay for. These are silicon valley entrepreneurs, filmmakers, product designers, etc. These are the creative teams of the agency of the future, and they take the lead in development.

These teams must understand the client’s business. Not just at it’s surface – but thoroughly – every detail of sourcing, production, manufacturing processes and fulfillment. It’s the only way a truly native solution can be conceived. Because remember – this is not about creating a communication of value, the new goal is to create value.

We are further not just creating value at random, We are creating value to help grow a client’s business so the value we create must interlock into the client’s business. To be authentic. To honor the axioms.

So our agency of the future would know enough about the company that realistic implications and cost of operation and fulfillment of any proposal will have been considered.

As such, the agency will supply a business plan – as part of their proposal.

Example – Cool Shoes
Let me put myself out there for criticism.

Below is an example of what I think qualifies as a truly native marketing solution.

Each part of the system I’m going to describe has been done. But never together as a singular execution, and never under the context of marketing a larger brand.

Let’s pick a creative brand of footwear, like a Havaianas, a Nike, or a Converse. Cool brands and admittedly, those are always a little easier.

Part 1 – Product Integration

Today direct to garment printing is a generally straightforward affair. This is where a regular person can create artwork, and as an economical one-off job it can be printed professionally onto the fabric of the shoe, or flip flop rubber, or bag or shirt.

So a tool needs to be created for the products in question to allow users to upload art (and possibly even generate art), apply it to a template, and customize any other colors and features.

The company I co-founded created the first working version of Nike ID way back when, and Nike hasn’t changed it much since. You still basically just pick colors and monogram words.

But this is the full expression of that original inspiration. This takes it about as far as it can go – short of structural design. And beyond color choices, allows for true creative ownership. And that’s important.

This is about personalization, ownership and self expression. Factors that are critical when hoping to inspire engagement and later motivate sharing.

Naturally the user can then purchase their creation.

As I say, this is being done in places. And it’s only part of the solution.

Part 2 – Contracting The Consumer
The next part gets interesting, this is where creators of personal designs can choose to put their design into our client’s online store for others to browse and buy. All the social factors start to kick in here (such as following, commenting, rating etc). This is the platform on which a user can build an identity that raises his status.

But we go further, we allow the user to set a price, above ours, that his shoe design will cost. Normally we sell the product for $30 say, the user chooses $35. That margin on every sale goes straight back to the user.

Note – we are not paying the user to engage with our brand. What were doing is being honest and fair about the value that customer is providing our company.

What we’ve done here is create a platform where consumers are creators of our very products, and even paid employees of our company, albeit working on commission.

Again, all been done, but we are moving away from what has been done under the banner of a big brand, and moving into a business model.

Part 3 – Empowering Our Customer Contractors
Now that our customer has created a great design, and priced it in our store, we need to drop the third leg of the stool – we need to give him tools to further raise his status. To market his designs.

We create a tool that allows the customer to assemble posters, stickers, and movies, ads and spots. How the customer chooses to think of this is his call. But we provide a system that allows him to incorporate his design into artful executions – video of the design being printed on canvas, excellent typography, the ability to upload images and video of his own, access to a huge library of excellent music. In short we develop a small studio in a box. All the tools the customers needs to sell his own product to his own network. We must facilitate that.

Secondarily, like in the App Store, we can offer customers the ability to afford better placement in our storefront. They might even be allowed to trade sales dollars for that placement if they wish.

There are dozens of other ideas that can roll into such a system, but the above illustrates perhaps some basic parts.

I hope you can see that such a thing is a long way from an “ad campaign” even a so-called “native” one. Functioning together all three parts create a functional native ecosystem that centers around our client’s business model with a symbiotic business model of its own. A system that will result in consumers meaningfully expressing themselves and investing in the brand, buying the products, and evangelizing on our client’s behalf, by definition. Word will spread without a media buy because the system quite literally incentivises socializing, distribution of the message, and sales.

Going Native
This is just a starting point. And building in a payment scheme is not a defining feature of Native Marketing in my opinion. Rather there is a wide world of opportunity for smarter people than me if only agencies can wake up real fast to the true nature of the medium. That they will eventually be forced from accepting the advertising paradigm at face value, and the practice of interrupting consumers with creative yakking about the value or brands.

They must rebuild their position on the solid principles of interactive media – even though that means a significant shift in the skillsets required.

The promise of the medium is that anyone can become big, anyone can be in business, make money, solve problems, achieve fame, express themselves, become better, smarter and happier and it is your job as a Native Marketer to facilitate all of that for users on behalf of your clients’ and their business models.

In the Grand Interactive Order you are lowly servants of our King, the User. You must provide him with value. Or you will be cast out.

That’s as “native” as it gets.

And that, Mad Man, is the new deep end.

Messages From The Future: There’s No Freaking iRing

Ok, look, I get it. Most of you don’t believe I’m from the future. It’s absurd, right? I know, believe me, I do. Fine. But you shouldn’t have to believe that to see how galactically stupid that iRing rumor is and conversely how sensible and likely this detailed description of Apple’s iTV is.

Today I checked to see how many of the media outlets picked up my accurate divulgence of the actual future of Apple’s actual, honest to god iTV, and what stories do you all run?

No, not the guy from the future who actually owned numerous iterations of future Apple’s iTV and described it in detail, no, you run with the complete Bozo’s made up goofball story about a ring and some crappy second screen, neither of which ever happens.

Really?!

No there was no ring. White, his imaginative source, and every media outlet that ran that rumor is just doing that hyperventilatey thing. A ring. I’m so sure. But it’s amusing how you can hear the mental wheels slowly turning on this one.

Imagine a pair of small eyes blinking with each weak spark of a synapse:

Blink.
“Apple watch?”
Blink.
“That would be so cool. I want an Apple watch.”
Blink.
“Gee, maybe Apple will make other fashion accessories too… With technology built in.”
Blink.
“Like… A necklace… Or…
Blink.
“… a ring!”
Blink.
“Yeah! I mean, I don’t know why they would make a rin… ”
Blink.
Gasps as a weensy lightning bolt strikes. Blink blink.

” …gestures!”

And this, people, was the entire scientific basis for yesterday’s completely bogus Apple TV rumor about a ring.

And this thing about a second screen that will -omg- let you take the show with you as you walk around the house!

Fine, don’t believe I’m from the future and actually saw how it all worked. But come on, since when has Apple ever created a crappy, hobbled device? This makes no sense no matter your historic reference.
Apple would never – ever – want a semi-functional pseudo iPad replacement in the world (even if its called a “remote”). One that does a little of what iPad can do, but that you can’t do most other iPad stuff on. That’s stupid. Apple’s actual iTV worked because it fit into their ecosystem. It encouraged sales of iPads and Minis and iPhone Pluses. Apple is not afraid to bite that bullet, the one where the amazing new device (iTV) works perfectly fine with a simple, screen-less remote, but so much better if you own an iDevice. Because, news flash, jillions of people own iPads and they generally buy the first iTVs anyway. The only people who complained about needing an iDevice were Android users.
It’s so simple, this. And I mean, maybe being from the future gives me some added confidence to say “c’mon, surely you have to see this!” But c’mon, surely you have to see this!

So for crying out loud, read my last post. It was long, I know, and trust me, it could have been a lot longer, there were screens and states I couldn’t possibly describe coherently in the flow, but I assumed you would want to know with reasonable accuracy what an iTV really turns out to be.

And I know because I’m from the future.

Messages from the Future: How Apple Finally Cracked TV

I seriously debated revealing the future of TV. I worry that I’ll change things too much. I’ve already noticed that little things are different than I remember. Alicia Keys as global creative director of Blackberry?! Seriously, that was totally my fault, that so wasn’t supposed to happen. But as I say, it’s just been little things so far.

Oh what the hell. No one reads this blog right?

So this all came up because I was trying to watch TV last night on a clunky old HDTV, and all I could find were old infomercials.

Which reminds me, we still have Snuggies in the future.

You know what those are right?  Those full-body fleecy blankets with sleeves – comfy as hell?  Those.  Have they taken off here yet? Well, they will. I recall Alicia Keys was photographed texting on her iPhone wearing one and – boom – everyone wanted a Snuggie. I mean I guess it makes sense, if you don’t have money, sex or power, I have to think a Snuggie and some cookie dough ice cream is maybe the next best thing.

So being back here again I am reminded of all the hoopla about 3D TV and 4K being the next big things.

Well, despite all its hype, 3D TV never – ever – advanced past being slightly dumb and underwhelming; the people who bought new TVs specifically for 3D, sort of the same. In fact, before Facebook croaked, Graph Search famously showed that 3D TV was purchased almost exclusively by men who drank Pabst Blue Ribbon. I don’t remember anyone sufficiently explaining that correlation, but Pabst Brewing was so excited about it that all their ads went 3D.

I guess the whole 3D glasses thing was just too cumbersome and annoying for most regular people who weren’t drunk on cheap beer. By double 20 there were even lots of native, glasses-free 3D systems, but then if you tilted your head the whole illusion broke, so a generation of overweight Pabst drinkers went and bought those airplane neck pillows which also had the effect of making them look alert after they’d passed out watching Snuggie ads. Of course Snuggie then started building the neck pillows right into the collars and adding can-holders to the sleeves… it was a vicious circle.

Anyway, nor was 4K “the next big thing”.  I get it though, hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy to look back at the pre-paradigm-shifted TV industry and see why a generation of manufacturers might have focused almost exclusively on image resolution.  It’s mainly what their business had been competing on forever.  Form factor and resolution.  That was the extent of TV manufacturing innovation.   But so myopic was that focus that they completely missed the area of improvement most needed.  And ultimately most desired by consumers.  Even if consumers hadn’t yet realized it themselves, having yet to see it.

For those of us with taste buds, there were 3 general, somewhat overlapping differences between TV in the future and TV that you watch Snuggie ads on today: the OS, the remote control, and the way you used these to access, and interact with, the content.  You’ll note that resolution and form factor were not what changed the TV industry.

For those of us with taste buds, there were 3 general, somewhat overlapping differences between TV in the future and TV that you watch Snuggie ads on today: the OS, the remote control, and the way you used these to access, and interact with, the content.

Incidentally, on this topic of remote controls – in your time there are lots of people proposing that gesturing in mid air is the future of navigating computers and TV. Nyea – no it’s so totally not.  That never caught on. I do recall by about 2014-16 there were a couple peripherals and TVs that were meant to enable this – Samsung, and Sony especially were trying to unseat Apple and went down this path briefly. But in the end I guess we were lazy. I don’t say that to be insulting – it’s just frankly easier to wiggle one finger on a small handheld remote than it is to lift your arm in the air and wave it around in an articulate manner. People always want to argue this – “but joel waving your arms around and making things happen is magic”.  No, no it’s not, trust me, it was tiring and annoying. And anyway I’m just telling you want actually happened.  I even remember reading about some study where someone explained how gesturing in the air, even at the elbow (as opposed to the shoulder), was actually quite a lot harder, by a significant factor, than tapping a handheld device, since for one, it requires your gesturing limb to be generally unsupported and, since momentum builds through a gesture, it must be equally countered by your muscles to slow that momentum and stop. Combined, these factors had the effect of making gestures in air much more work than holding a small device on your lap. So that whole idea died. You know, just FYI. Anyway…

The OS
I guess I could have cut to the chase and said “iOS”, but that’s a cheap shot, isn’t it.

That said, surely you’re not surprised (even if you’re annoyed as I was) that in the future Apple finally launched a home media solution that was so vastly superior to anything developed during the 70-year-old paradigm of traditional TV that it changed everyone’s perception overnight, and that the usual suspects immediately tried copying it?

I know, total shocker, right? Who would have thought.

Sure enough, Apple had indeed “cracked it” as Steve Jobs had famously asserted before passing. That quote marking a parting gift to his Apple survivors, one last reality distortion field from the great beyond.

Even with it’s initial slow start (due to limited network launch partners mostly) anyone who wasn’t overtly biased against Apple could clearly see how much better it was. There was a lot of joyful applause that day at the Apple event as the vision for TV’s future was presented. Mostly because you sort of felt this strange weight lifted. A weight you didn’t realize was even there until it was gone; the inveterate accumulation of every confoundedly obtuse tool you’d tolerated throughout your life, quashed. There was a collective release in the auditorium, everyone had the same reaction – “About freaking time!”

And then there was the other corner. The cynical, sad little corner of beady-eyed squinters poking at their Androids. I think the first reaction from the Apple-can’t-possibly-keep-doing-this-can-they(?!?!) contingent was blustery disbelief and a scrambling to discredit the reveal to save face, most of them having dug a rather big pit prior to launch. The naysayers (friends of the old guard) had brayed relentlessly leading up to the day, “the cable providers are too powerful”, “the networks will never agree”, “the advertisers will abandon it”, “TV manufacturers are already there”, “Google is on their heels” – such that regular people even started to believe… that maybe a real Apple TV would be a dud. But in the end they were all left a pretty toothless bunch since ultimately, it was profoundly great. And in the end it didn’t matter because TV had finally changed.

There have been few reveals in the history of Apple that were as satisfying. The iPhone was one – that moment when Steve repeated “an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator!… are you getting it?”, and you saw the magic of multitouch on a consumer device for the first time. The classic bit where he pulled the first Nano out of his Levis fifth pocket. And the first MacBook Air – in an envelope.

And finally seeing this – well, it was the way you always wished TV would work. In a flash you realized you had just been beaten down over a lifetime to believe that the obviousness of your own intuition shouldn’t be possible. Like how we passively accepted TV commercial interruptions in the middle of a show, those FBI warnings that inexplicably disabled the skip button, or the criminally, fabricated cost of texting on a carrier network.

Really in some ways “it” wasn’t even some surprising or ingenious leap. I mean in hindsight I’m not sure what anyone thought a bigger idea might be when they’d hyperventilated their wacky Apple TV rumors. The solution was so sensible and obvious it left me wondering what the hell the other manufacturers were doing all those years before Apple came along.

That said, you may be surprised to learn…  that Apple’s invention wasn’t a TV.

In fact what I realized about Apple that day was that the reason they always appeared to shake up new industries, and TV was no exception, was because they offered consumers a perfect new solution – without regard for the legacy businesses and predications. I think Apple looked at these legacy businesses as unwieldy things, grid-locked by their own interdependencies and politics.  When these companies tried to innovate it was always within the existing architecture, so as not to unduly upset delicate relationships, the status quo.  Essentially, no one at the table actually had the power to change the game… except the consumer.

But where consumers had the power, they lacked organization, they lacked the tools, they lacked a meaningful choice.  And that was Apple’s genius.  Apple just empowered them.  Routinely gave consumers a disruptive option.  “Here you go, now, let’s show this industry what you really want.”  And this was true when Apple “cracked” TV. That said, you may be surprised to learn…

…that Apple’s invention wasn’t a TV.

Nope. They made a point about that in fact. I mean everyone “knew” they were launching one that day. But in a classic, only-at-Apple moment of legacy industry shake-up, Tim Cook invited Phil Schiller on stage who built up to the moment where he dropped the bomb “…and today, Apple is ushering in the ‘post television era'”. The room erupted in bubbling laughter and applause. The point he was making was that the old business, and way of interacting with televised media, cable companies who arbitrarily controlled limited and locked bundles of networks, content interrupted by ads, the weeding through countless channels you didn’t want, overly complicated dumb remotes, and so much more, all of that was behind us.

And although I remember a fair number of pundits debating that claim, the new devices indeed weren’t technically televisions. Sure they announced some tear-jerkingly beautiful displays – but none had television tuners. The new devices were just computers.

Phil unveiled 2 product form factors that day: the first was called iTV Mini, an AppleTV box more or less as you know it today, but totally redesigned. It was super slim – like a flatish, squarish, aluminum plate or a blade; the thickest portion housing the ports. Eye level with it, you barely noticed it, but off-angle it was striking. Gorgeous. (By the third version they’d cut out the legacy ports making it even thinner.)

And the other product, the main event, was the new iTV, a screen in 3 sizes, with the box guts built in. The screens were gorgeous in person and had a giant, round-cornered iPad feel about them. Blade-like edges. Very flat. Aluminum back. Even had the requisite front-facing camera.

In all honesty – and I’m remembering out loud here, in some way, even though these were indeed lovely screens, I remember my inner fanboy wanting more. The screens were refined, and the fit and finish was better than any other display on the market, and I’m not sure what I’d hoped for exactly (maybe a smaller bezel?), but this looked sort of predictable. I mean, it looked like an Apple product for sure, all minimalist and clean, but I guess I’d hoped for some profoundly unexpected design-gasm. Well, as I say, I still bought one and came to respect and appreciate it’s design after all. Naturally I bought the biggest one – it was prohibitively expensive. (Incidentally, buying this device was what inspired me to make money selling 3D models on plasticly.com, which I actually don’t think you have yet. Plasticly is the biggest 3D printing retail community on the net. That probably needs to be a whole post some day.) And anyway, years later, that fanboy wish was answered. Around 2018-19 they released the first display ever to utterly lack any bezel at all, where the picture came literally right up to the edge of the display. When it was “on” it was like the lit image was almost floating or projected in thin air. Totally minimal, all picture. No one had a screen like that, lit so close to the edge. It was OLED at some insane resolution (they didn’t call it 8K then but I recall it was in that neighborhood). Stunning. I remember they made one of those Apple videos where Jony Ive and crew spent a fair bit of it talking about how the technology and engineering required to achieve that edge was, like, “totally amazing”. Some new glass bonding process. And of course they’d bought out most of the global capacity.

Even so, as I’ve explained, at first launch the industrial design and resolution wasn’t even the story – those weren’t the big idea. The beauty was in the way it all worked. That’s when you realized things were changing. That’s when consumers got excited.

iRemote
Today with your completely stupid, paleolithic remote control (now, grudgingly, “ours” – thank you very much, time travel), you type a cryptic number, 042 for Adult Swim, say, or flip through a ludicrously long linear sequence of channels, one of which is the “program guide” channel where you find these ugly little blurbs that were graphically designed by some mediocre “Web 2.0” Photoshop reject, describing what’s on. Or you hit “Menu” and the show gets squished in half as you try to tab through the same cryptic mess that way. Sorry cable operators and set top manufacturers, but every bit of that is completely, utterly lame.

iRemote was an iOS app. Naturally, it was included by default in iOS 8 and ran on any iPad / Mini, iPhone / Plus, or iPod Touch. To the chagrin of some, iTV didn’t ship with any of those devices however, it rather shipped with a small typical Apple remote control that allowed users to navigate the on-screen version of the iRemote app (if much less effectively). Even so, anecdotally, no one really used the on-screen version or that little remote. At first critics blasted Apple complaining that it meant customers had to buy an iDevice in addition to iTV. But then the only people who shared that complaint were Android users. And some time later, in a complete surprise and controversial announcement, Apple released an Android version of iRemote, which as I recall turned out not to be such a crazy idea in the end since it opened iTV to a whole new segment and minimized the impact of Samsung and the other iTV competitors who were trying to stand on that platform competitively.

Anyway, with iRemote running on one of your iDevices, you didn’t have to change to a different channel or obscure the on-screen content to see your program guide since all that information was displayed on your iPad’s screen. And you didn’t have to power through the endless list of channels to find the few you like. Rather you assembled your personal, custom collection of favorite networks and shows on a single screen, laid out like large app icons (really they were more like thumbnails, but it’s easier to talk about if you think of them as app icons).

Collecting your favorite shows and networks was sort of like browsing the iTunes Store, only you could move things around. You could select both discrete shows or networks to appear in “My Guide” sort of like putting apps into folders, and once it was loaded with your stuff, you generally used the “My Guide” screen(s) the most for choosing shows to watch.

For me that was an “aha” moment.

Apple’s “My Guide” personalized program guide was to changing the channel what visual voicemail was to an answering machine.

Apple’s “My Guide” personalized program guide was to changing the channel what visual voicemail was to an answering machine. You kind of went “Oh my God. No duh.” Think about it – only the networks and shows you like, with none of the annoying flip-past channels your cable provider hoisted on you through their coarse bundling.

On the My Guide screen you had 3 main semi-segregated sections – the first, on top, was what’s “On Now” – a line up of the show icons – currently on – either because you chose the show, or more often, the network.

Below that, you had your full list of favorite Network icons – aligned under their corresponding On Now shows. So when you swiped through the show icons the network icons moved too (and vis versa).

Finally, at the bottom (scrolling down vertically), you had your full list of favorite show icons (whether they were on now or not).

I should point out that to put a show on the big screen you could do it a couple ways but in either case you had to tap 2 times to switch shows. You tapped either a show icon or a network icon, and then you tapped an area at the top of that to put it on the big screen. I remember whiny critics of the system complaining about this, saying you should be able to tap once – but in use it really wasn’t that big a deal – these people forgot how many buttons they’d had to tap before.  I rather liked it because you came to rely on the idea that you could always see what a show was – see more about it – before you committed.

Tapping network icons worked a bit like folders. It opened the network and revealed show art for what was playing now on that network at the top (something is always playing now at the network level) and below that you had access to all that network’s other shows (similar to network screens in iTunes as I recall). Embedded in the On Now show artwork at top was a “Watch” button, and if you tapped it, boom – the show appeared on the big screen.

There was another sweet little feature – you could choose to join the live show in progress, or you could also choose to start it from the beginning instead. Without paying more. Logical.

That was the network icon, alternatively from My Guide, you could have tapped a show icon.

When you tapped one of the show icons (no matter if it was On Now or not) it opened the show’s screen.  Every show had one, but they rather worked like apps (or “App States” since it was all in the iRemote app). Among other things, it was how producers and networks could offer show-specific info, other episodes and interactive experiences.

Each show’s app state had at least 2 tabs. You’d land on a different tab depending on whether the show was “On Now” or not when you tapped it.

If it wasn’t On Now, you arrived at “Episodes & Seasons”.
There was custom art at the top of this screen, with the next upcoming showtime and the upcoming episode description embedded in it. From there you could tell your iTV to jump to that show once it started, or you could set an alert (which hit all your iDevices). Below that you could select other episodes and seasons from the show archive to watch on demand. You could also watch trailers and read reviews and all the stuff you do today in the iTunes Store. But in this case it happened on the tablet – and didn’t interrupt the big screen – unless you wanted it to.

But if the show was actually running live you arrived at another tab called “Showplay” (A name I hated at first, but got used to).
As on the Episodes & Seasons tab, at the top you had the main show artwork, but this time with the “Watch” button embedded in it. Naturally you tapped that and boom, it’s on the big screen.

Below that was another game-changer – you had access to all the interactive content that the show’s producers had developed. This is what Showplay was about.

Below that was another game-changer – you had access to all the interactive content that the show’s producers had developed. This is what Showplay was about. In the early days most of that was supplementary, sort of like extras on a DVD, but eventually that was where the action was.

Most big show producers eventually took advantage of Showplay, creating games, chat, voting, and other interactive experiences. After an initial period of intense resistance, even advertisers finally figured out how to employ these side-channel experiences, and started participating in new types of shows that actually hinged on this live, articulate interaction.

A New Kind of Show
It was the development of this new kind of content, interactive shows, enabled by Apple’s interactive ecosystem, that ultimately cemented Apple’s dominance in the living room for so many people. Like Angry Birds on the iPhone, these shows came to iconify the new model.

The originator of the most popular of these shows was General Amusements (some production company that got into this early). I have to admit to the guilty pleasure – their shows were insanely entertaining, and captured the system’s potential. Two shows in particular were the big ones that seemed the most popular, one was called “We The People”, co-hosted by John Stewart and Bill O’Reily, and another was called “Mob Pile” with Daniel Tosh (there were a bunch of others but these two were the big ones). Both shows were based on live voting and live feedback.

And it was a marketer’s dream come true. Basically the host brought ideas, people or things out and viewers just voted whether they agreed, disagreed or liked it or not. Or answered simple multiple choice questions about things. This was all done through Showplay. I’ve read that this had been tried before through inferior systems for years but never so successfully. Sound boring? It so wasn’t.

The shows were paced really well. Some were even frenetic with new things to vote on every 15 seconds or so. Others were more story driven and made you want to help, or express your anger, or whatever. But the bread and butter of these were about products. For example in one of the daytime shows, “I Want That!” with Howie Mandel (which was all product-based) a retailer – like J. Crew say, would show options for their upcoming season, beautiful models would walk out wearing the outfits while some designer was interviewed and then Howie screamed “J.Crews new Fall Line – you’ll only see one this season, and its your call – tell us what you want!” and all these numbers start rolling in and a few seconds later – there’s a thumbs up or thumbs down – that fast. And it wasn’t just binary – because when you played your expanded profile included info you opted to share, like age, gender, style, all sorts of preferences.

And the shows could break the data up in different ways live – they’d show maybe what men Vs women voted, or parents Vs kids, or various cities or states. People ended up aligning with all sorts of causes and groups and it told marketers a lot about the viewer’s psychographics. These shows had crews who searched for interesting stories in the data. Depending on the thing being voted the results were often funny or frustrating or heart-warming. And the live, in-studio crowd was always going “ooooh!” whenever tension was created by a vote. They even pitted the studio audience against the rest of the country to see how “normal” the audience was. And I’m telling you they voted everything. Product packaging options, color schemes for cars, flavors for packaged foods, music, casting actors for shows, movie reviews (the We The People movie ratings were the most reliable gauge of a good or bad movie out there), charities for funding, social topics. It went fast. You wanted to vote because you had a direct hand in the creation of these products and things that you would then be able to watch or buy or whatever. Advertisers paid a lot to buy vote segments for their products on the shows, which served to help remove interruptive advertising.

There were also longer form segments where they would bring out random Bozos, neo-nazis and other goofballs who would come on looking for affirmation and more often than not get totally humiliated. Couples who were fighting would each tell their side of the story and the mob would “pile” on the one they thought was wrong. The winner was always pretty affirmed from that.

We The People achieved notoriety and credibility when the 2020 presidential candidates held their debate on the show and it accurately predicted the vote virtually to the state. “GMO food! Lets see the numbers! Red States Vs Blue!  America, VOTE!”

This was a whole new class of entertainment and social interaction.  And most of them worked even if you weren’t watching live, you could still add your vote later (though the host couldn’t respond).  The shows spun off variants related to regions and topics. And most traditional shows started doing it too. Ellen, the Jimmy’s (Fallon & Kimmel) and the other talk shows were easy. Part gameshow, part social experiment and part focus group. In some way you just wanted to know how you measured up with the rest of the world.

Anyway – this was one of the ways marketers made the new “ad-less” model work for them.

Shopping
Then in the third major update of iRemote they added shopping. Everyone talked about “buying the sweater on Friends” in the 90s but even in this time, now, no one has a reasonable way to execute on that. Well, Apple did. So if you selected the new shopping tab in the show or network apps, there were little windows in your iRemote “side-channel” that would display products as they appeared casually in the show.  Not an ad – just a thumbnail.  And like a notification it would then disappear.  Although you could buy stuff right then, you were usually engrossed in your show, so all you had to do was tap the item which would drop it into a viewer, that you could inspect later. From the product view, you could usually replay the scene you saw the product in. This too threw off tons of data for marketers- even when selling their products this way didn’t always make much sense.

Siri
I saw a “prediction” in this time that Apple would use Siri in iTV – it also predicted the use of hand gestures in the air. Well I already told you that the gestures thing tanked, but Siri was indeed part of iTV.

That said, I really hated Siri at first. It worked for some people, but I just always felt like a dork calling out the actions. Sometimes I used it when I was alone, but it was way better to get previews of the content and info on iRemote. Because with Siri you didn’t get all the advance info and interaction the second screen afforded you without interrupting your show.

Even so I have to confess, by 2021-ish Siri actually started seriously kicking butt. I had this one day where I realized it finally understood my personal idiot language – like all of it.   It was when I said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Siri, what was that sci fi movie… with the… you know.. that kid… agh… I don’t remember his name, a bit player from the uh …  he was in the last season, maybe(?) of Mad Men where they did that store… with the big moose… thing? …”

She knew I’d meant Star Wars VIII and the child actor who played Han and Leia’s son. And also informed me that the “moose thing” I’d referred to was Macy’s Bullwinkle parade balloon.  That’s when I started using Siri, like all the time.

Games
Jesus, I haven’t even gotten into games. Ok, real fast  Yes you could connect your peripheral game boxes.  But in short order we generally stopped doing that.  Games and developer apps for iTV were sold in the app store but they had to follow unique formatting from the other iDevices, which everyone screamed about at first. Even so that format afforded added benefits. You could push or pull the content to and from the Big screen. That last point probably sounds humdrum but it was really cool especially when it came to games. I guess it was a little like the Airplay thing today, but by then the developers were really putting the effort into making games designed for the display and interaction layer split. The networking was very fast and easy. If your iPad detected a big screen it alerted you and you could throw the presentation layer (image/audio) up to iTV and the controls stayed on your iPad. If you walked out of the room, with a tap you could pop it right back. It was just effortless.

Wrap Up
With Apple’s iTV, users basically had the best remote control, customized program guide, show interaction platform, and side channel on the planet – all in one device. We had all the content of the iTunes store, all of which was available on all your devices (iCloud naturally) – plus a whole new category of social interactive experiences. And it all worked effortlessly and the devices were well-made (except for a brief but very annoying “lower left green corner problem” which became a huge media dog pile, but Apple replaced those iTVs for free).

The Networks were better able to promote their shows and aggregate audiences, and create an interactive domain for their properties that extended the consumer relationship beyond merely watching linear content once.

And marketers had new, unimaginably powerful tools to engage consumers meaningfully, and collect insane amounts of useful data for the first time in their history.

Do you see what I meant when I said it was so much better than legacy TV for almost everyone at the table?

The casualties of Apple’s living room dominance were generally worthy of their fate.

The cable companies indeed became dumb pipes. But they always were really. It’s relative. It never made much sense that the guys who lay wire should so strongly influence what I watch and how I watch it. The more they fought the Apple iTV migration, and the more they pressured the networks to stay away, the weaker their entertainment services seemed, and the less anyone believed they would ever catch up. They were fighting for stagnation, for legacy, for a self-centered corporate benefit that didn’t make the customers lives any better in the face of such rational improvements elsewhere.

Playstation, XBox, Nintendo… at that point their atrophying from the living room wasn’t a shock to anyone.

Yes – Samsung and Sony fought hard. And they did pretty good replicating similar models. But the action was on iTV.  Lots of people went for the alternatives.  There was a fairly strong Apple-fatigue manifesting by then, mostly kids, but it seemed that fatigue came and went every couple years or so but never really undermined Apple’s foothold.

Advertisers screamed bloody murder at first- fought right along side the cable companies for different reasons, pressuring the networks not to do deals with Apple. All they saw was a world where consumers would pay to disconnect from ads. Their viewers no longer held in optionless captivity – the horror.  But as usual, the advertisers just hadn’t spent enough time thinking about the new models to see the historic options they might have. Thankfully a few renegade advertisers did embrace the change and were some of the earliest to exploit the GA-style shows in service to their clients. But no, the ad business was admittedly no longer about the development of “creative messages”, those interruptive :30 second spots. They became more like business or entertainment consultants really. And although there was some blood-letting in the ad industry at first, they started hiring the right people and then profited hugely.

The Networks that joined early prospered. HBO, ABC, Disney, and the other launch networks, became more popular than ever thanks to their early involvement, good will and experimentation. There was a lot of network squirming and sniping at the very beginning, took forever for CBS to come aboard – though not many cared since “2 And A Half Men” had virtually run it’s course and it had become commonly known that the integrity of CBS hinged on its corporate relationships and not on some moral commitment to honesty, truth or viewers’ value. But even they eventually realized how much more they could do in the new paradigm. Years later as it seemed things had finally settled into balance, virtually every popular network was represented in the iTV ecosystem.

Indeed, Apple had cracked it. Not by playing the game. Not through improvements in resolution.  But they completely changed the way we approached in-home media, commerce and socializing. It took a while, and there were bumps, but they did it.

And as I say, I know, because I’m from the future.

Messages From the Future: The Fate of Google Glass

Man, time travel sucks. I mean think about it, you know all this stuff- and I mean you really know this stuff, but of course you can’t say, “You’re wrong. And I know, because I’m from the future.”

So you pretend like its just your opinion and then sit there grinding your teeth while everyone else bloviates their opinions without actually knowing anything. Of course my old friends hate me. I mean I was always a know-it-all, but I really do know it all this time, which must make me seem even worse.

Anyway I was catching up on current events and was surprised to realize that I had arrived here smack dab before Google started selling Glass.

Truth is, I’d actually forgotten about Google Glass until I read that they are about to launch it again. Which itself should tell you something about its impact on the future.

So here’s the deal on Google Glass. At least as far as I know – what with my being from the future and all.

It flopped.

Nobody bought it.

sergeyOh sure they sold SOME. Ultimately Google Glass got used mostly by very specialized workers who typically operated in solitary and didn’t have to interact with other humans. Of the general public, there were a few geeks, opportunistic future-seekers and silicon valley wannabes, who bought them to keep up with developments or hoping to look as “cool” as Sergey did when he was famously photographed sitting on the subway (some PR guy later admitted that the whole “I’m just a normal guy slumming on the subway looking like some hipster cyborg” thing was just an orchestrated Glass marketing ploy arranged by Googles PR firm) but they didn’t. That’s because none of those geeks were young, mincingly-manicured-to-appear-casually-hip, billionaires. No. They just looked overtly dorky and as I recall, slightly desperate for the smug rub off that comes with publicly flashing a “cool” new product. But that didn’t happen for them. Quite the opposite.

Glass just smacked of the old I’m-an-important-technical-guy-armor syndrome. The 90’s cellphone belt holster. The 00’s blinky blue bluetooth headset that guys left in their ears blinking away even while not in use. And then Google Glass.

The whole “I’m just a normal guy slumming on the subway looking like some hipster cyborg” thing was just an orchestrated Glass marketing ploy arranged by Google’s PR firm.

You know, sometimes you see a new innovation and it so upsets the world’s expectations, it’s such a brilliant non sequitur, that you can’t imagine the events that must have lead to such an invention. You wonder what the story was. The iPhone was one of those.

But Google Glass was so mis-timed and straightforward – the exact conversations that lead to it seemed transparent. In hindsight, they were just trying too hard, too early, to force something that they hoped would be a big idea – and eventually would be, if only a little over a decade later, by someone else.

Here’s the scene:

Sergey and his hand-picked team sit in a super secret, man cave romper room on the Google Plex campus. Then Sergey, doing his best to pick up the magician’s torch as an imagined version of Steve Jobs says:

“As we have long discussed, the day will come when no one will hold a device in their hand. The whole handheld paradigm will seem old and archaic. And I want Google to be the company that makes it happen – now. We need to change everything. I want to blow past every consumer device out there with the first persistent augmented reality solution. The iPhone will be a distant memory. Money is no object, how do we do it?”

And then within 10 minutes of brainstorming (if even), of which 8 mostly involved a geek-speak top-lining of the impracticality of implants, bioware and direct neural interfaces, someone on the team stands with a self-satisfied twinkle of entitlement in his eye stemming from his too good to be true ticket to Google’s billion-dollar playground wonder-world which he secretly fears is little more than the result of his having been in the right place at the right time and might rather be more imaginatively wielded by half a dozen brilliant teenagers scattered throughout that very neighborhood, let alone the globe, says:

“We can do this, think about it. We need to give the user access to visual content, right? And audio. And our solution must receive voice commands. So the platform that would carry all that must naturally exist close to each of the relevant senses – somewhere on the head. And that platform – already exists. (murmurs around the room) Ready? Wait for it… a HAT!”

A sniff is heard.

A guy wearing a t-shirt with numbers on it says: “…Augmented Reality …Hat?”

And then someone else, who is slightly closer to being worthy of his access to the Google moneybags-action playset, says, “No, not a hat… Glasses! Think about it – glasses have been in the public consciousness forever as a device for seeing clearly, right? Well, enter Google, with glasses… that let you see everything clearly, more… clearly.”

Everyone in the room nods and smiles. Even obvious ideas can carry a certain excitement when you happen to experience their moment of ideation. This effect of course must be especially pronounced when you’ve passed through a recruitment process that inordinately reveres academic measures of intelligence.

Either that, or it was just Sergey’s idea from the shower that morning.

In any event, the iPhone was such a truly disruptive idea that one cannot as easily pick apart the thought process that lead to it. Too many moving parts. Too much was innovative.

But Glass was a simple idea. Not simple in a good way, like it solved a problem in a zen, effortless way. No, simple like the initial idea was not much of a leap and yet they still didn’t consider everything they needed to.

What didn’t they consider?

Well having seen it all play out, I’d say: Real people – real life. I think what Google completely missed, developing Glass in their private, billion dollar bouncy-house laboratory, were some basic realities that would ultimately limit adoption of Glass’ persistent access to technology: factors related to humanity and culture, real-world relationships, social settings and pressures, and unspoken etiquette.

Oh and one other bit of obviousness. Sex. And I mean the real kind, with another person’s actual living body – two real people who spend a lot of money to look good.

But I guess I get why these, of all über geeks missed that.

While admittedly, sunglasses have found a long-time, hard-earned place in the world of fashion as a “cool” accessory when well appointed and on trend, in hindsight, Google glass should not have expected to leap across the fashion chasm so easily.  There are good reasons people spend umpteen fortunes on contact lenses and corrective eye surgeries. Corrective glasses, while being a practical pain in the ass also effectively serve to make the largest swath of the population less attractive.

Throughout history, glasses have been employed predominantly as the defacto symbol of unattractiveness, of loserdom. They are the iconic tipping point between cool and uncool. The thin line separating the Clark Kents from the Supermen. Countless young ugly ducklings of cinema needed only remove that awkward face gear to become the stunning beauty, the glassless romantic lead. How many make-over shows ADD a pair of glasses?

Throughout history, glasses have been employed predominantly as the defacto symbol of unattractiveness, of loserdom. They are the iconic tipping point between cool and uncool. The thin line separating the Clark Kents from the Supermen.

Sure, there are a few fetishists out there, but for every lover of glasses wearing geekery, there are a thousand more who prefer their prospective mates unadorned.

Leave it to a bunch of Halo-playing, Dorito-eating engineers to voluntarily ignore that basic cultural bias. And worse, to maybe think all they had to do was wear them themselves to make them cool somehow.

“But didn’t you SEE Sergey on the subway?” You ask. “He looked cool.”

Well, Sergey had indeed been styled by someone with taste and has been valiantly strutting his little heart out on the PR runway in an obviously desperate effort to infuse some residual “billionaires wear them” fashion credibility into his face contraption.

But look at that picture again, he also looked alone, and sad.

And to think Google Glass was a really good idea, you sort of had to be a loner. A slightly sad, insecure, misfit. Typically riding the train with no one to talk to. Incidentally, later- before Facebook died, Facebook Graph showed that Glass wearers didn’t have many friends. Not the kind they could hug or have a beer or shop with.

And to think Google Glass was a really good idea, you sort of had to be a loner. A slightly sad, insecure, misfit. Typically riding the train with no one to talk to.

Wearing Google Glass made users feel like they didn’t have to connect with the actual humans around them. “I’m elsewhere – even though I appear to be staring right at you.” Frankly the people who wore Google Glass were afraid of the people around them. And Glass gave them a strange transparent hiding place. A self-centered context for suffering through normal moments of uncomfortable close proximity. Does it matter that everyone around you is more uncomfortable for it?

At least with a hand-held phone there was no charade. The very presence of the device in hand, head down, was a clear flag alerting bystanders to the momentary disconnect. “At the moment, I’m not paying attention to you.”

But in it’s utterly elitist privacy, Google Glass offered none of that body language. Which revealed other problems.

At least with a hand-held phone there was no charade. The very presence of the device in hand, head down, was a clear flag alerting bystanders to the momentary disconnect. “At the moment, I’m not paying attention to you.”

But in it’s utterly elitist privacy, Google Glass offered none of that body language.

In the same way that the introduction of cellphone headsets made a previous generation of users on the street sound like that crazy guy who pees on himself as he rants to no one, Google Glass pushed its users past that, occupying all their attention, their body in space be damned – mentally disconnecting them from their physical reality. With Glass, not even their eyes were trustworthy.

Actually, it was commonly joked that Glass users often appeared down right “mentally challenged” as they stared through you trying to work out some glitch that no one else in the world could see. They’d stutter commands and and tap their heads and blink and look around lost and confused.

Suddenly we all realized what poor multi-taskers these people really were.

Any wearer who actually wanted to interact with the real world quickly found they had to keep taking off their Google Glasses and stowing them, or else everyone got mad.

It was simply deemed unacceptable to wear them persistently. And in fact users reported to having been socially pressured to use them quite a lot as they had previously used their phones. Pulling them out as needed. Which utterly defeated the purpose. On some level – that’s what broke Google Glass. It wasn’t what it was supposed to be. It wasn’t persistent. It was more cumbersome and socially uncomfortable than the previous paradigm.

People who left them on in social situations were openly called “glassholes”.

People who left them on in social situations were openly called “glassholes”.

They were smirked at, and laughed at walking down the street. I know because I did it too.

There were lots of news reports about people who got punched for wearing them in public. In fact, anecdotally, there were more news reports about people getting beat up for wearing Google Glass in public than I actually saw on the street wearing them. The court of public opinion immediately sided on the position that Google Glass was little more than some random stranger shoving a camera in your face. Other people stopped talking to wearers until they took them off. They didn’t even want it on top of their heads.

In hind sight it was pretty quickly clear Google Glass wasn’t going to be a revolution.

I read an interview somewhere (years from now) that someone on the Google team had admitted that they more than once asked themselves if they were on the right track – but that the sentiment on the team was that they were doing something new. Like Steve Jobs would have done. Steve Jobs couldn’t have known he was on the right track any more than they did – so they pushed forward.

Except that I think Steve Jobs sort of did know better. Or rather, he was better connected to the real world than the boys at Google’s Richie Rich Malibu Dream Labs were. Less dorky and introverted, basically.

The problem with innovation is that all the pieces need to be in place. Good ideas and good motivation can be mistimed. Usually is. That’s all Google Glass was. Like so many reasonable intentions it was just too early. Selling digital music didn’t work until everything was in place – iPods and iTunes were readily available and insanely easy to sync. HDTV didn’t hit until content and economics permitted. And the world didn’t want persistent augmented reality when Google created Glass.

All the above disclosed, Augmented Reality is still indeed your future. It’s just that when it finally comes, well, when it happened, it didn’t look like Google Glass.

Like, at all.

And I know, because I’m from the future.