SAN JOSE, Calif. – The “user experience” has become the tech mantra in recent years. The announcement this week of Google’s Project Glass is an example of how this philosophy can be pushed too far.
It's de rigueur these days for any self-respecting standards group to start by defining user scenarios--what it wants to enable. That's fine, practical. But it's becoming far to chic for self-styled marketing mavens to say, "It's not the hardware, it's the user experience." Sure, but let's not forget its the hardware that creates a user experience--or fails to.
Like thousands of others I enjoyed the fun video and classy pictures of prototypes and concepts Google posted this week. And I totally agree with the trio behind the project that “technology should work for you.”
In that respect, the concept of augmented reality glasses makes sense. How fun and useful to have an intelligent agent watch your life unfold and provide context sensitive alerts and links that save time, money and energy and keep you connected through your day.
The friend you are trying to meet is outside the bookstore. Subway service is suspended, but here’s a map for a walking route. Utterly cool, but totally impractical.
I don’t know about your experience of reality, but when I try to get a phone number using voice recognition on 411 the hit rate is mediocre at best. Even Intel Corp.’s automated attendant did not recognize (after three attempts) the name of one of its veteran PR people when I tried to call him this week. I wouldn’t trust a detour suggested by a current voice recognition system any more than I would ask directions from a toddler.
But this issue only scratches the surface of the technical problems Google’s Project Glass suggests. Having an always-on device that lasts all day, scans your field of vision, listens for your voice and maintains a broadband Internet link would require a device the size of a small brick. The battery requirement alone would outpace the needs of the new iPad which is burning the laps of devotees as I write.
Then there are the issues around retina tracking. Let's not even go there.
The happy models in Google’s pictures suggest this could all be done with a little attachment that fits on the side of your glasses. No doubt they neglected to picture the solar panel hat and jacket you need to wear and the energy-harvesting tennis shoes made from graphene supercomputers.
I’m all for looking into the distant future to see where we want to be and map out a road to get there. But such an exercise involves more than flashy videos and pictures. It requires an open, intelligent discussion about real technology barriers and ways to address them.
I would love to hear from some of the smart people at Google about what the industry needs to do to move in the direction of that vision. But frankly, I don’t have time for it.
I am too busy these days producing a really cool video about my jet pack that will revolutionize urban planning. It makes a great latte, too.