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Google Glass Advisers: No, Really, Consumers Will Want Smart Glasses

"We were only going to sell thousands of them. That was the point."

Nitrozac & Snaggy

Even as new project lead Tony Fadell quietly preps another consumer-minded model, the next update to Google’s wearable computer project Glass is enterprise-focused. But two of the project’s original team members made it clear they still see a bright future for consumer smart glasses.

Thad Starner, a professor at Georgia Tech and a technical lead on Glass, and Greg Priest-Dorman, a systems administrator at Google X, were being interviewed at the Computer History Museum in Google’s hometown of Mountain View, Calif. They traced the flop of Glass 1.0 to media-led misunderstanding and the simple fact that new modes of technology take time to mature.

Both arrived wearing Google Glass as well as hand-mounted keyboards that let them wirelessly jot down notes without paper. But this was no stunt; both men said they have been wearing some form of computer on their bodies every day for more than 20 years.

“When you wear something like this, it breaks the ice,” Starner said. “It’s like having a dog, or a cat, or a top hat.”

 From left: Museum curator Marc Weber, Starner, Priest-Dorman and Siewiorek
From left: Museum curator Marc Weber, Starner, Priest-Dorman and Siewiorek
Eric Johnson

Starner and Priest-Dorman were joined by Carnegie Mellon professor Dan Siewiorek, who hadn’t worked on Glass but offered a different perspective from decades of studying and developing industrial and military products.

The panelists were frank about some of the challenges still facing augmented reality devices like Google Glass, such as public perception of the gadget and how to balance all-day utility with high-performance features that drain the battery. But Starner criticized what he saw as an “echo chamber in the press” that had misunderstood and overpromised what Google was trying to achieve with the first edition of Glass.

“We were only going to sell thousands of them. That was the point of the experimental Explorer Edition,” he said. “And the uptake was tremendous. But the press ran away with this, thinking this was a super consumer device.”

(I’ll be sure to pass that on to the rest of the press at our biweekly collusion summit.)

Priest-Dorman said that when — not if — more consumers have had the chance to try smart glasses, they will likely find them valuable.

“We all bought a smartphone for one purpose, and now it does a lot of other things,” he said. “A blender is still a blender, and maybe you learn to make some new things, but the blend button just blends. … A general-purpose device evolves over time.”

So, what will consumers want to do with Google Glass? Starner explained how he first started wearing computers in the ’90s for the purpose of “augmented memory,” recording notes from college classes and in-person conversations in a convenient, searchable index on his face. Other early apps included instant messaging, navigation and checking stock prices — all things, he noted, that people have shown with mobile phones that they want to do on the go.

Priest-Dorman, meanwhile, also praised the ability of wearable computers to keep their owners organized, and challenged the assumption that smartphones are more convenient or less intrusive.

“Wearables, if you’re doing it right, let you use the electronics less,” he said. “I really don’t like that kids today witness their parents at [school] performances only through the back of their parents’ phones.”

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