Google Glass Is Not About Hardware – The Solution Rests on Software Alone

There is a reason the word “face” is found in “interface”. Your face (and its senses) is the primary conduit through which you receive information. And when we talk I tend not to look at your elbows, but at your face, since most of the information I receive comes from it. In addition to verbal responses, your face communicates non-verbally – where your elbows for example, tend not to.

And this is why Google Glass, as conceived today in hardware, is doomed.

In sitting persistently between the world and your face, Google Glass screams self-centeredness, persistently communicates contradicted attention, and confirms a flip in the social subtext from “occasionally about me” – to “always about me”.

With a design that belies an effort to both persistently engage but not interfere at the same time, Glass appears plainly two-faced and is predictably regarded with social suspicion.

Proponents of Google Glass will argue that Glass – by virtue of it being persistently available – will reduce the annoyance others experience when you look away to your phone, or maybe, someday, your iWatch. That pausing a conversation to look into space, up and right, at an email is somehow less intrusive.

But that’s ridiculous.

You call on these other devices only as needed, and yes, it’s always slightly annoying to have mutual communication interrupted by a glance at your phone. But I can assure you, it doesn’t solve the problem when you mount your phone over your right eye. At least you can put those other devices away and once again plainly give yourself back to our communication.

Despite the many flavors of self-centeredness ushered in by digital technology, few consumers, no matter their age, will be willing to outwardly don such an obvious “fuck you, I’m actually all about me” to the world.

For this reason, Google Glass will never work – it will never be adopted en mass – until it fully fades from view. Until you, the wearer, no longer broadcast utter self-centeredness to all passersby.

Even a telltale bump and lens on your tortoise-shelled Warby Parkers will not save you the heavy-lidded eye rolls (that’s Mime language for “Jesus, one of these guys”) and sudden camera-shy self-consciousness that the Google Glass wearers I know are encountering today.

Until such time that Google Glass recedes into invisibility, until there is no outward evidence that you are a Google Glass wearer, only then does the technology stand a chance of penetrating the greater world.

And only then will the real product design problem start.

For when aesthetics of the physical device is no longer a consideration, the entirety of the experience becomes a software problem.

For when aesthetics of the physical device is no longer a consideration, the entirety of the experience becomes a software problem.

And on this point it seems to me that Google Glass software with its slightly kludgy behavior, mediocre design, and limited overall experience is a very, very long way from the target.

I remember when Steve Jobs demoed the iPhone. Do you remember the shocking fluidity of the interface? What it did seemed like magic. It was delightful and seemed some factor more sophisticated than every other device you’d ever used. It solved problems gracefully and with striking originality. It was at once charming and incredibly hi-tech. The physical form-factor was great at the time which was necessary considering its handheld status, but the real story was how it behaved. The software experience.

Had he demoed iPhone, with software that was merely utilitarian and lacking in surprise and delight, had he dumped responsibility to invent a delightful user experience on the developer community, rather than leading with one, no one, aside from a few geeks, would have wanted it.

And that’s exactly where we are with Google Glass.

We have a long way to go. The hardware has to recede starkly to make up for its current social failure, and the software experience has to balloon into something profound.

In the meantime Google is now jumping through hoops with Warby Parker. But I don’t think it will matter. They’ll probably try to make Glass look like real glasses, (hopefully for them  fat, chunky geek glasses stay in style a little longer) and maybe that will go some distance in making the tech a little less blatant. But the second you catch wind of a battery pack and a camera – it will start all over.

Whatever the specific brand of industrial design applied to Google Glass, no matter how fashionable the obscured right eye, it will not play the slightest factor in the future of a successful solution.

Delightful software is the product, the sole playing field on which augmented reality will succeed or fail. Software so great that you’ll want it everywhere you go.

Because that’s all anyone will ever see.