Google Glasses’ First Five Winners Barely Scratch the Surface of Ubiquitous Computing

Google Glass is a head-mounted display that supports augmented reality output; sends and receives calls, txt messages and e-mails; gives directions; serves as a headphone and is capable of recording and playing back video.

The first six consumers who will receive a Glass were announced yesterday morning, followed by 8,000 others. They won the opportunity to buy a Glass (for $1,500) by saying what they would do with it on Twitter (tag #ifihadglass). Of those first six, only one is proposing to use Glass in a meaningful way for which it uniquely-suited versus existing, much cheaper tech. Max Wood is proposing to use Glass to stream building layouts, objectives, and orders to fire fighters, and capture their streams for incident commanders. That would make use of the head-mounted display (HMD) overlays, audio output, wireless communication, and video-capture features – hopefully saving lives through it. Four of the others are proposing to use Glass exclusively as a poor man’s (read: rich man’s for $1,500) POV camcorder or VR-display. The last is proposing to use it as a voice-transcribing platform.

Lucky human camcorder #1: Wants to give a first-person view of life as a line cook in a busy professional kitchen as an employee of Tom Douglas restaurants in Seattle. I hope he knows the GoPro HERO3 is higher-resolution and more rugged with a faster frame rate. Did I mention it’s available with overnight shipping for $200?

Lucky human camcorder #2: Wants to record his life as a zoo-keeper. OK, I’d watch this… but he may wish he’d opted for a more rugged GoPro the first time it rains or water gets splashed on him by a happy penguin.

Lucky VR-displayer #1: A wonderful project that wants to give her grandma a chance to experience her home country of Japan. It’s a wonderful gesture to her grandmother that I applaud, but it barely scratches the surface of what Glass was intended to be – it is not a virtual reality headset. I’m also unclear if she’s proposing to have two video-conferencing Glasses, or simply record, watch it back to America, and then play-back. If two, let’s hope she has another $1,500 to burn.

Lucky VR-displayer #2: Also wants to show infirm people far-away places by sharing sites of memorials with veterans at VA Hospitals. Again a noble cause, but not best-suited to Google Glass.

Lucky voice transcriber: A physician who wants to be able to record patient notes from clinical trials by voice – a well-worn path by the likes of Nuance, now captured by a head-mounted versus a lapel-mounted microphone.

Google Glass was intended to be our first step toward ubiquitous computing – a device that would deliver ease and enhanced capabilities to our daily lives without the burden of carrying a computer  in our pockets. Only one winner proposes to integrate Glass into the way he lives (professionally), while the others treat it is as a use-case specific tool (speech transcription) or momentary gimmick (video recording and playback) that will go back onto a shelf after twenty minutes intermittent use. They barely scratch at the surface of what Glass should be. As I’ve suggested before in other contexts, it may be because Glass will ultimately end up being boring. It will be a cell phone and a camera much like any other, only more convenient and ubiquitous (with accompanying privacy implications). Such use cases don’t make for exciting marketing material, but ultimately they will have a much more profound impact on our culture’s use of technology than a gee-whiz camcorder feature.

Google Glass may be an important step toward a vastly different future of ubiquitous computing, but it has launched not with a bang, but a whimper.

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