Business Technology

Friday 22 August 2014

Beware of the Glassholes: Five reasons why we love to hate Google Glass

Adrian Weckler

Published 24/04/2014 | 02:30

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Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, wears Google glasses while speaking at a conference in San Francisco

Last year, Google Glass was the next big thing. Today, it's increasingly an object of ridicule and fear. Has the world's second largest tech company messed up what should be a cool new way of communicating?

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A week after Google released a number of the headsets to the public (for €1,100 per device), here are five reasons why the world appears to have turned on Google Glass.

1 It's a symbol of elitism

They have a word for it: Glassholes. It's a pejorative term used by people who feel increasingly isolated from what they see as an emerging elite with little accountability or connection to the overall community. The result includes physical attacks on people wearing Google Glass, as several journalists have recently found. The situation is most amplified in the world's tech capital, San Francisco. There, buses by Google (and other tech firms) are being attacked and held up by protestors who claim that tech firms are sucking the city dry.

The protestors' main point is that tech firms pay almost no tax, price everyone else out of city living and don't invest the money they make back into the wider world. They have a point: Apple, Google, Microsoft and Cisco have $331bn (€240bn) in hoarded cash reserves that they refuse to spend on anything or allow any tax on.

On the other hand, these firms provide valuable, high-paying jobs. In Ireland, our position is still much more positively weighted toward low (or no) tax-paying tech firms, because of the jobs they bring.

2 Sensitivity about privacy is at an all-time high

When Google first mooted Glass, we were in a pre-Snowden world. Today, many ordinary people just don't like the idea of a video-recording device becoming part of our everyday environment. It's not just that they suspect governmental big brother or corporations doing anything they can to sell our personal data. It's a fundamental unease with being casually recorded.

In the US, there are now lots of bars and cafés that ban Google Glass. Some of this is probably paranoia and, in time, may abate. I remember when 3G cameraphones were first released in Ireland; the then communications minister Noel Dempsey announced that the government would mandate a public register where anyone who bought one of the devices would be tagged (just in case they turned out to be a paedophile). Once the initial bout of minor public hysteria abated, the idea was quietly shelved.

3 Many evangelists are middle-aged or dorky or both

While Google's policy of releasing Google Glass to hand-picked 'Explorers' (many were engineers and developers) seemed sensible, an unfortunate side-effect is that many such people come across as the antithesis to what is considered trendy.

Instead of music-obsessives or actors or other 'cool' people wearing them, it's thirty and forty-something white blokes with branded software T-shirts or Smurfit Business School MBA haircuts. There's even a website called 'White Men Wearing Google Glass' (www.whitemenwearinggoogleglass.tumblr.com). Do a Google Image search for 'people wearing Google Glass' and you'll see what I'm talking about.

4 The release schedule is way too drawn out

In tech, you have a short window to capture the imagination. But Google has been dragging out the launch of Google Glass for two years. And it still has not committed to a release date.

Initially, this was credited as a smart marketing tactic: create buzz and hype around a new product that's impossible to get. But people are now getting cheesed off with Google's extreme hesitancy.

Meanwhile, the world is moving on, with companies like Samsung and Oculus Rift starting to seize the initiative on mass market wearables.

5 It doesn't have a specific raison d'être yet

Releasing a product without a specific purpose isn't unusual in tech – end users often innovate to find one. But other than a quicker way to take photos and get messages, it's hard to see any specific advantages that Google Glass brings to the ordinary person. Health information, maybe: but isn't that what all of these smart watches are for? And if you are lukewarm on voice-commanding your device in a public place (as most are), you'll struggle to get maximum use out of it. To be fair, it's easy to imagine some 'vertical' industry uses for Google Glass. The security industry, for one. But so far, no one is using it for much of anything.

What Google Glass does: takes calls, receives texts, displays directions, takes photos and videos, works with a small number of apps

What it doesn’t do: take calls without a wirelessly connected phone nearby

How it works: a small unit attached to the pair of glasses has a processor, computer memory, a camera and wireless connectors. It can be voice-controlled, while one side of the glasses has a touch-sensitive surface for manual control.

What it costs: $1,500 in last week’s sale or up to €3,000 on eBay

Where it’s available: Currently only to handpicked developers and others invited by Google to trial the units. No imminent public release date has been announced.

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