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.
Google took some creative liberties with that video, but overall I'd say it's a good representation of what's possible.
The voice recognition was optimistic but acceptable. Remember that dictation and voice commands aren't the same thing - the program is expecting a small set of commands and will try to match what you say to one of them.
The map of the bookstore however, was too far-fetched. indoor maps are coming about, but indoor positioning? That's going to take a bit more work.
The way they presented the walking instructions was good, it fit with the 2-3 meter precision provided by current GPS systems. So was the camera, and the vision sharing. These are all things that can be done on a current smartphone. Battery requirements are an issue but not a big one; the coming generation of 28/32nm SoC's will only help.
I believe we aren't that far from realizing the vision Google has demonstrated. The challenge will be taking it beyond that, into the realm of in-scene augmentation with stereoscopic displays and real time image processing.
1. I'm reminded of Navin Johnson's "invention" that keeps glasses from sliding down the nose, and all the refund checks he wrote for cross-eyed customers. 2. Please do bring on this new tech to test on bleeding-edge-firsties, but with warnings not to use them while driving, etc. How much can we reasonably expect homo sapiens sapiens to multi-task? 3. Is Glass hubris or misdirection to competitors?
Like you, Rick, I'm OK with technology companies describing an innovative futuristic concept, but I would agree that we are a long way from this concept being a reality (augmented or otherwise). Plus, I still have gotten used to people walking around with their Bluetooth headset in their ear in case they get a call. It's going to take me decades to adjust to everyone walking around looking like Geordi La Forge (who, by the way, was blind, so if he wanted to see he didn't have much choice).
A decade ago stuffing the processing power of an iPad or today's iPhone in as small a PCB area as they do would probably have seem just as impossible. Battery power per ounce is advancing slower than is processing power, but as the chips shrink, the power requirement do as well. I can easily see Google glass coming to fruition in a decade.
The photo of the prototype worn by the model reminded me of Commander LaForge on Star Trek: Next Generation, which made me think how cool it would be if the camera could capture and render wavelengths not visible to the human eye, as was the case with the device he wore on the show.
Then I watched the video, and that Star Trek cultural iconic memory was replaced with one from The Terminator. A little white box zooming in around the face of a person in the field of view, a brief pause for facial recognition and then a message at the bottom of the screen indicating "target acquired".
To Rick's point, it's true the hardware and battery storage is not there yet, or even on the visible horizon, to make a device with the form factor and capabilities shown by Google. But it is not SO far out there that we should mock it.
Google and/or others will bring a product like this to market long before personal jet packs have an impact on urban planning. And when these smart glasses do hit the market, there is little doubt they will be a huge success...for better or worse.
Those videos are cool, but it kinda get me worry. Will people confuse the "user experience" with reality? I can imagine we will bump into each other a lot more often on the street because we are all constantly distracted.
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