When I first heard about Google Glass, I thought it was a bit too ambitious. It reminded me of the original Microsoft Surface, a $10,000 touchscreen table that was obscenely cool but wholly impractical. The difference is that Google is actually delivering on Glass as a consumer device, and the glimpse that we’ve seen is so transformative that I think it’s worth the benefit of the doubt. What surprises me is the number of people dismissing it so early as ugly and un-productizable.
In the early 1980’s, when most people dismissed the personal computer as a mere curiosity, Steve Jobs attempted to rationalize its existence with a fascinating metaphor:
I think one of the things that really separates us from the higher primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The Condor used the least amount of energy to move a kilometer. And humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud of a showing for the crown of creation.
That didn’t look so good. But then, somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And a man on a bicycle completely blew the Condor away, completely off the top of the chart. And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me, is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.
When I see the Google Glass UI sitting in the upper right hand corner of my vision, I think of it as potentially being one of the greatest tools man has ever come up with. It’s the true bicycle for our minds. It’ll make everyone smarter, faster, and better connected. It takes away the clunky interface of the computer, and it brings the world’s information directly to your mind.
The difference between Wikipedia twenty seconds away in your pocket and the answer to your question instantly and unobtrusively in your vision is enormous.
When you’re first shown the future, it’s hard to see it. If you don’t immediately use some imagination to evolve what you’re being shown into what it can or will become, you might dismiss it as something frivolous or a mere curiosity. You might even call it a toy. Microsoft built an absurd $10,000 table. Apple built a $499 tablet for everyone. Glass will play out the same way, I think, but it might be Google that makes the product for everyone.