Finally, Glass’ translation capabilities are impressive. Ask Google to translate any phrase into another language, and you’ll hear the spoken translation along with an English phonetic spelling on screen. Unfortunately, the time required to speak my desired phrase into Glass makes this feature impractical in many real-world settings; on a two-week trip to Japan, I didn’t use translation once. But it makes for an impressive demo.
I like touch screens because instead of acting through a representation of myself—like a mouse cursor—I can actually press, swipe, and pinch on the objects I want to manipulate. That’s much closer to how the physical world works.
Glass is a strange hybrid approach. The user taps and swipes on the side of the device to navigate and make selections on the screen, but there are very few visible cues for which gesture to use. I often see first-time users get stuck when trying to go up the hierarchy one level—say, from search results back to the home screen. (The correct gesture, not so intuitively, is to swipe down.)
Compared to a touchscreen, it takes longer to mentally construct a model of Glass’ menu hierarchy and map it to the gestures needed to navigate it. First-time users can’t build this mental model fast enough; that’s why they get confused. Some of this confusion could be solved by software, but part of it seems inherent to the device’s form factor. (I’m told that Apple has glasses-based prototypes of its own, but ultimately opted for a different form factor—the watch.)
The interface that will really make Glass work is mind control, formally known as a brain-computer interface. There are a number of promising technologies in this space, but none yet that would enable Glass. Once Glass has a good thought-controlled interface, I can imagine it being very successful.
The problem with Glass
Glass is built to do many of the things my phone can do, but it does them half as well. It can search Google, but it’s cumbersome for reading web pages. It can send messages, but relies on imperfect voice transcription. It can post to Facebook, but there’s no way to read my friends’ updates. The problem with Glass is that it doesn’t do much of anything that takes advantage of its unique form factor.
Actually, all Glass needs to be is a platform for augmented reality. When I see text in a foreign language, translate it. When I look at a house for sale, tell me the asking price. When I look at a product, scan the barcode and tell me if it’s cheaper online. When I’m standing in a public place, let me travel backwards through time using Street View. When I look at a person, show me his or her professional history. Creepy? Absolutely. But really useful products have a way of succeeding despite their creepiness.
The long road
If Google released Glass today, it would fail. The current product is an order of magnitude short in capability, battery life and ease of use; even a 2014 release date seems too early to me. Google has called Glass a ten-year commitment. They’re going to need every minute.
So is Glass the future? Yes and no. Glass is the future like Windows XP Tablet Edition was the future. In both cases, it’s about a company trying to will a market into existence, but missing the humanity to make the product a success. Somebody, someday, will get this product right. It may be Google, or it may not. The future is up for grabs.