The “Google Glass” heads-up-display glasses gadget has a lot of hype behind it right now. At TED last week, Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin said that holding a smartphone in your hand and having to look at it all the time is emasculating.
“You’re actually socially isolating yourself with your phone,” Brin told the audience. “I feel like it’s kind of emasculating…. You’re standing there just rubbing this featureless piece of glass. In contrast to a smartphone, Google Glass allows people to keep their head up as digital information is overlaid onto their world, no matter where their gaze is pointed.”
Yes, we had this problem before 10 years ago, and we also had a pretty good solution. Back in 2002, Smartphones were just starting out. They were large-screened large-devices that looked awkward when holding them up to your head just like they are today. Back then very small phones that practically disappeared within your hand were more socially acceptable. So, in order to help users keep their heads up and eyes on the task at hand, the technology world invented the Bluetooth headset which could overlay information into your world via audio while keeping your head, eyes, and hands free for other more important tasks. They don’t obscure your vision while out and about either!
Windows Mobile’s Voice Command software was the most robust for doing this. While walking around with a tiny Bluetooth headset in my ear, I could instantly hear incoming text messages read to me aloud. I could hear the name of the person that was calling me and press one button to answer. I could ask for the time or battery level or my upcoming schedule with my voice. I could play music and ask the phone to tell me what song was playing. If an appointment reminder alarm went off, it would tell me what the appointment was, when I had to be there and where I had to go. With a little hack, I could even make my GPS navigation program tell me where to go with voice instructions in my ear. That worked beautifully on the motorcycle.
Sure, the heads-up-display eyewear can potentially add a lot more functionality such as directional graphics, video calling, and text overlays but most of the important information can be better delivered via audio in the ear. Although it does have that spy camera attached at all times. But still, Google’s heads-up-display eyewear is really just an even more obtrusive extension of the Bluetooth headset… which is something very few people feel comfortable using in public these days anyway.
Will the fate and acceptance of Google Glass really be different than the Bluetooth headset? Do we want to be secretly accessing all sorts of information in our field of view instead of obviously turning our attention to a handheld device in social situations?