Google Glass vs. the Vision of Steve Jobs

| Hidden Dimensions

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” — Steve Jobs

There’s been a lot of excitement about the Google Glass Project in the past 24 hours. Here are some thoughts.

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There’s a lot of what I call technology wall sticking going around. Someone gets an idea and, sure enough, the technology to build a prototype (or create a concept with CGI) is available. With YouTube and social media, it’s easy to whip up a fervor and throw it against the wall to see what sticks. Even so, I’ll admit that I too am enthusiastic about the Google’s Project Glass. However, it’s for different reasons than most.

Google Glass

Image Credit: Google Glass Project

For those two or three of you who haven’t heard about this project, here’s the project page and a demonstration video of the concept.

The Technology

We certainly have the technology to bring the Google Glass project to production. Fast, wireless video communication, Google maps, the Internet, electronics miniaturization and advanced optics all provide the needed infrastructure and converge at the just the right time. The bigger question, however, is who does the technology serve? Does it fulfill a fundamental human need by many? Or is it a toy for geeks? The answer to that question will determine whether the product becomes mainstream, a commercial success and a permanent part of our culture like the TV and the Internet, or whether it’s just another technological boondoggle.

The concept video by Google is, in many ways, like Apple’s Knowledge Navigator video from 1987. That video inspired a whole generation. Surprisingly, not all of its technical components have yet been realized, a quarter century later. Apple, in fact, in the early 90’s frittered away several years trying to develop each technical component in the hopes of bringing the concept to fruition as a realizable commercial product. Alas, the company got into trouble and Steve Jobs had bigger fish to fry in the late 1990s. So that effort was dropped.

I mention this because of the similar visions but also because a compelling vision can be a double edged sword. It can both inspire and obsess (and distract) a company.

Cultural Issues

We have come to learn that modern technology is so interleaved into our society that is brings with it both the good and the bad. It can force some people to make a life style decision, but it can generally enslave other people who aren’t so introspective about their lives. For example, how would someone from Abraham Lincoln’s era respond to a time traveler who describes how we watch 50 hours of TV a week?

Along with the negative aspects of any new technology come the cultural norms. For millions of years, humans beings have been social, generally interacting with each other in person, only lately via remote video. That’s a powerful cultural meme.

The initial attraction of the Google Glass is very much inward. I call it Technological Autism. For example, who would want a barber, a bus driver, a restaurant server, a doctor, a nurse or an attorney wearing this device in our presence? Chatting with a friend? Technology that distracts others and affronts us, that drives them deeper within their self-absorbed selves, will have a hard time succeeding. When we want something but don’t want others to have it because it harms us, that’s a definite warning sign.

Have you ever run across a boss or colleague who never listens? Someone who is so distracted, inwardly focused, that that can’t stop to listen? It drives us crazy. As a result, the technological vision could become relegated to very specific kinds of people: pilots, astronauts, video gamers, data center or control room managers and so on.

This feeling that we are uncomfortable, indeed annoyed by the self-absorption of others, is already present in our concern for drivers who text or people on the street, oblivious, perhaps even getting run over by motorists. Or running over us. That feeling has been articulated in this humorous video. We don’t want people around us who are dangerous.

All of that is over above the sheer ugliness of HUD glasses of the past. Making the headset fashionable and less obtrusive solves only part of the whole problem. Does Google know that?

Evol of HUD glasses

Technical evolution is an enabler, but not the whole solution

The Vision of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was a man who always believed in how technology could bring people together and celebrate life. Products like iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and FaceTime were designed to connect people and celebrate life, friends and family. Everything Apple is built on is based on that concept of elegant, first class, highly functional, simple and reliable technology that serves us.

The Google Glass project, at first glance, doesn’t seem to have that magic touch, that intense feeling that this is the future of humankind. It makes one wonder how deep Google’s vision goes. Last month, I wrote about about what might come after the iPad and briefly mentioned Google and HUD glasses as a possible technological next step. But I didn’t go into detail.

Now when I think about it, I think about whether this is the next phase of our devlopment as humans, something so alien to Apple that the company will miss the revolution. That happened to Microsoft twice. So absorbed and obsessed was Microsoft in the 1990s that it fell way behind Netscape and the Internet at first. Today, they’ve missed the tablet revolution. Or so it seems.

faceTimeApple’s distinct vision: connecting family. (Credit: Apple)

In Apple’s case, for now, I don’t think the company needs to rush right out and jump on this bandwagon because its management is so well grounded in its values. Google may thrash about, seeking to get onto the Next Big Thing before Apple does, but that’s a strategy based on panic, not on paying attention to what people fundamentally need.

I could be wrong. Sometimes technology and sociology build an unstoppable roller coaster ride. But I think I’m safe, and Apple is safe, for now.

On the other hand, like Apple’s Knowledge Navigator, the Google Glass project could be a harbinger. A nibbling around the edges of where we want to be. The ultimate instantiation of the technology may be a few iterations away. Ultimately, if it makes us more human, more connected and compassionate, then it will succeed. That’s the part that excites me. For example, I’d like it if my doctor, operating on me, had instant access to medical data and my x-rays.  I’d like it if people who help me out have better access to maps and information that can help me enjoy a vacation. If an airline pilot can find the information he needs, visually, faster to make a critical decision in a stall, so much the better. People around us should act smarter, not dumber.

However, if the vision remains steadfastly inwards, self-serving, then this concept will just remain a toy for geeks.

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Comments

KitsuneStudios

There’s a lot of work in augmented reality which is possible on today’s technology which the Google Glass demo doesn’t show. The technology is there today to have made that printed poster come to life like a video screen, using QR codes and a simple printed tracking square. It would also remain fixed to the wall as well, rather than floating free in front of your face.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

If the doctor were connected to a patient database and getting important information into view as he’s trying to fix me, it’s a plus.

I don’t buy the whole thing about how Apple will wait this out and show us the right way to use the technology that Google flailed about getting into the market. We will all figure out how to use the technology, filtering the suggestions vendors give us to actually meet our useful needs.

Peter

The iPhone doesn’t fall into the category of technology that unites people. I see many people ( myself included ) with their heads down staring blankly into smartphone screens during what may have otherwise been a social occasion in the past. Mr. Jobs vision was closer to “cool, beautifully designed technology that people want to buy”.

Will

Technology that distracts others and affronts us, that drives them deeper within their self-absorbed selves, will have a hard time succeeding.

and then

Ultimately, if it makes us more human, more connected and compassionate, then it will succeed. That?s the part that excites me.

Me too.

However, if the vision remains steadfastly inwards, self-serving, then this concept will just remain a toy for geeks.

Ditto.

Strangely, the most interesting people I meet are social beings who show little interested in tech toys or refuse to let their toys rule their lives.

It?s like a profound Chinese fortune cookie said: He who sleeps with nails is bound to get pricked.

I made that up. Sorry. But that is about as profound as I can get on this subject.

I’m a chatty guy and strike up conversation with strangers at any opportunity. I am always amazed that acquaintances, even strangers, seem to pour their stories out to me. I usually sense when to be just a listener. It seems to help.

I’d feel isolated and lonely with all the answers that don’t come out of my own head or from social interaction, being always displayed before me. What would be my final thoughts as I bid adieu to this good earth? I think Glass would be lost for words and ideas, and that scenario seems terrifying.

A very insightful article.

DragonFireCK

If the doctor were connected to a patient database and getting important information into view as he?s trying to fix me, it?s a plus.

This was exactly my thought as well. In fact, at the doctor’s I go to, all the nurses and doctors already have tablets and laptops rather than paper forms. The HUD is merely a potentially better way to accessing the same information.

The same goes for a bus driver (or any driver) - if they are using it in the same way people use a GPS system or map today, it may actually make life faster, easier, and safer by providing a better interface to the data.

In both cases, sure, if they are chatting with friends, it is a bad idea, however I doubt that would be the most common use case in many situations. I do not doubt that some people may abuse the technology, just like they can and do with any other technology.

Josh

I understand this is a mac site, but when Google comes out with a great concept and video that gets a lot of people excited, you spend half your article talking about - Steve Jobs? A dead guy?

Maybe your article should spend less time talking about people in history, and about how these devices could be helpful now and in the future. I know it wasn’t made by Apple, but comon.

DragonFireCK

If the doctor were connected to a patient database and getting important information into view as he?s trying to fix me, it?s a plus.

This was exactly my thought as well. In fact, at the doctor’s I go to, all the nurses and doctors already have tablets and laptops rather than paper forms. The HUD is merely a potentially better way to accessing the same information.

The same goes for a bus driver (or any driver) - if they are using it in the same way people use a GPS system or map today, it may actually make life faster, easier, and safer by providing a better interface to the data.

In both cases, sure, if they are chatting with friends, it is a bad idea, however I doubt that would be the most common use case in many situations. I do not doubt that some people may abuse the technology, just like they can and do with any other technology.

Not an Apple Fan

This is narcissism. This is why I hate Apple. At least appreciate, what someone has brought into. You came up with iPhone or iPod or iPad, you never invented anything - you just put together. Narcissist!

Mr. EMan

I understand this is a mac site, but when Google comes out with a great concept and video that gets a lot of people excited, you spend half your article talking about - Steve Jobs? A dead guy?

Wasn’t that the title of the article? I guess we could stop talking about dead guys. What have they done for us lately?

Lee Dronick

The iPhone doesn?t fall into the category of technology that unites people. I see many people ( myself included ) with their heads down staring blankly into smartphone screens during what may have otherwise been a social occasion in the past. Mr. Jobs vision was closer to ?cool, beautifully designed technology that people want to buy?.

I have found the opposite. My iPhone, iPad, and Macs have expanded my social circle and improved connectivity. However, they also let me isolate when I choose to; Not every person around me when I am out and about is someone with whom I wish to socialize. I don’t stare blankly at the screen, I look intently, there is a difference.

jacob

Are you freakin serious? This is pointless, why must EVERYTHING be compared to apple? How does this fall short of connecting people in a magic apple-like way?

I am willing to bet my legs that if this were an apple product you would heil it as the greatest thing in the history of the universe and assure us that it was the direction of the future. Without any difference besides the apple logo, you would love it.

With every technologic innovation, there will be initial short-comings, but this is at least something to marvel at, even if its never practical for daily use.

John Martellaro

Brad: I never thought of it terms of Apple embracing the technology to right Google’s wrongs. But now that you mentioned it…

Seriously, the technology is too immature to think of such things.

Will

With all the People with Apple issues logging in to post I realised that I never visit MicroSoft, Google, Android etc forums*. I’m not even sure they exist and don’t really care. I do visit a few good general tech forums that address Apple interests along with what else in tech in the world that may be of relevance (usually of some Apple relevance).

I suspect the reason I stick with forums that are more Apple directed is that Apple fulfils my needs in my travels in tech.

I also suspect the ones that complain on Apple forums have needs that are not being addressed or satisfied so they turn here and Apple there, wherever they can relieve the itches they fail to get scratched elsewhere.

I guess the Apple interested are just fortunate to have the plethora of Apple sites such that most of our needs can be met without wandering round at lesser places.

*Oops. Forgot to mention Dell.

webjprgm

Without any difference besides the apple logo, you would love it.

Only if one is not thinking straight.  The difference between a Google and an Apple logo is product quality and company vision.  I know Google will make their Google Glasses be like Android, collecting data for their ad machine.  Apple will, on the other hand, make a cool, sleek, high quality product that’s hard to do anything Apple didn’t imagine but great for the things they did.

Most of us on this site like Apple’s company vision better than Google’s.  So we either want this to fail, or we want Apple to come in and make it “the right way”.

Actually I’d rather make it my way, but I don’t have the resources to do that. So I’m stuck with buying one from some big mega corp.  Don’t tell me building your own PC and putting Linux on it is making a PC “my way”, because it’s not.  I’d have to design the CPU and write my own OS from scrap to do everything my way (yes, I do think about this) and then I’d have no programs to run on it because no one else is doing it my way.  So I have to use someone else’s way.  I just happen to like Apple’s the best out of the choices I have.

jacob

If you search for google glass, this is one of the top results, nobody cares about apple enough to seek forums or sites about them, except for a few of the people here I suppose.

@will I did not make an account, seems you don’t even understand your own hangout. Lol.

There are hundreds of sites and forums for these things, I’m sure you are not really that blind to have never seen one, or at least know of them.

It does amuse me how stuck up many apple fans are, you being a perfect example. Some are perfectly reasonable as well. Just because someone stumbles upon something or expresses disagreement does not mean they envy you, or that their preffered way is treating them poorly. Pathetic.

henareho

Hi John,

While I agree with some of your comments, however your article takes the view of the Google Glass project, and projects this single innovative product as Google’s vision versus Job’s vision which I think is incorrect.

You need to look at Google Glass for what it is -  an innovative product with some specific use. I don’t think that Google is betting the farm on this technology.

I believe that technology that enhances our ability to connect an interact socially without intruding into our lives (i.e. technology that is transparent) is technology that will be pervasive in our future.

Apple has a history of selling products that are “cool” and easy to use but are basically cobbled together pieces of stable technology which are hardly innovative or leading edge. The iPad and iPhone are examples of this.

The iPad is a well selling product which revived the tablet invented some 20 years ago, and is popular because of its portability. However it is an information consumption device similar to a TV or a DVD player.

The internet of things, surface computing and voice and motion activated computing (like Siri, Kinect and the Google Glass) I believe are the way of the future.

It’s a matter of science fiction now becoming science fact.

wab95

Apple has a history of selling products that are ?cool? and easy to use but are basically cobbled together pieces of stable technology which are hardly innovative or leading edge. The iPad and iPhone are examples of this.


Henareho:

You make some good points above, although I think this one is ungenerous to the point of erroneous. It is common place and an easy argument that all advances are simply ‘cobbling together’ pre-existing technologies and accomplishments, and that there is nothing new under the sun. Indeed, most advances are modest steps. However, even here, it takes a degree of vision to see the step, work out how to do it, and then summon the courage and the resources to make it so.

Your statement regarding the iPhone and iPad being ‘cobbled together pieces of stable technology’ would be accurate if the A4 and A5X processors were already in the wild in their current configurations, and not proprietary, if the iOS too was in the wild - at least in some form - and had not been invented by Apple, Apple’s plethora of patents that went into the iPhone and iPad belonged to someone else and had not been invented by Apple’s engineers, and if the form factor for a touch interface smartphone and tablet, now synonymous with the iPhone and iPad had been released prior to Apple’s offerings, but none of this occurred.

There is an illustrative, if apocryphal, story of the genius required for first discovery attributed to Christopher Columbus, in which, while surrounded by sniping colleagues each informing him how unremarkable his discovery of the New World was, and how this could have been done by anyone, and the accomplishments of others was even more remarkable etc, etc, Columbus claimed that he could make an egg stand on its end, and challenged his colleagues to do likewise - without him showing the way. Several took up the challenge, and all failed. None could make the egg stand on end. He then took an egg, slammed the wide end onto the table - thus making it flat - and voila - the egg stood on its end. He then, to the stunned silence of his critics, observed that solutions always appear easy and obvious once one has been shown how to do it. That Apple in general, and Steve Jobs in particular, have so consistently and repeatedly had so many ‘firsts’ in technology, and have set a pattern not only in specific technology sectors, but in business model and strategy across multiple industries, that others have followed (just look at Samsung’s lineup of smartphones and tablets, not to mention Google’s Android touch interface, or Amazon’s recent adoption of the whole widget business model for its Kindle Fire, or Google and now Microsoft’s online app stores - one could go on) underscores why Steve Jobs has been predicted by Isaacson and others stand alongside the likes of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and other genius inventors of note in time, whether or not universally appreciated by the generation in whose midst he made his mark. Indeed, very few geniuses are appreciated as such during their lives or by their contemporaries.

This does not diminish the noteworthy and creative accomplishments of others, including Google, Microsoft, HP, Dell, Samsung and Sony in their own rights - not one iota - any more than the crowning of Muhammad Ali as the greatest athlete of the 20th Century diminished the accomplishments of Joe Louis or ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier.

It is a valid undertaking, in that light, to contrast, as John has done here, and whether or not one agrees with his analysis and conclusions, the visions and approaches of acknowledged innovative genius with the current crop of technology’s leaders. Think of it as mental yoga, and like all exercises, the benefits and what you make of it, are entirely your own.

John Martellaro

wab95: I love the story about Columbus and the egg, even if apocryphal.  It goes to the preconceptions we all have and how genius is the process of seeing through them. Sure, we’re all smug and think we coulda seen SJ’s products coming.

If SJ was anything, he wasn’t lazy and he wasn’t polite. Sometimes you have to break an egg and make a mess.

And that’s why I write—to get all you gentlemen and ladies thinking.  Not to make anyone agree with me.

Lee Dronick

Columbus used his navigation and seamanship skills, but thought outside of the flat Earth box to search for a route to Indonesia. This is no different than putting together technology to develop Google Glasses or iPhones; We all follow in the footsteps of giants.

D Mills

Glass maybe a broad step towards the future, and it may yet be another geek toy.  This is not the first time a company has wanted to create a visual hands free device. 

Like many comments before mine, most new products are just compiled of previous technology in a different way.  Isn’t that how everything in history was created?  Humans are not so innovative that we can just one day wake up and figure out how to make a car or a hologram.  Steam, internal combustion, electrical generators, they were always built with a small twist on something else already being used. 

Thant being said, I personally like the Glass, but don’t think it’s anywhere near finished.  Remember the 1980s cellphones?  they were so horrible, yet they eventually gained enough momentum to become smaller, more powerful, and more useful.  I could see exactly that happening to Glass but it is definitely going to be a long haul.  That’s why they called it a ‘prototype.’  even the SR-71 and space shuttle were just that when they started.

ibuck

Paraphrasing Will…

The most interesting people I meet are social beings who…refuse to let their toys rule their lives.

Whether you hate Apple and their customers, or appreciate their products (mildly or wildly), people normally desire, and even long for, others to “be present” with them. Often toys of any type hinder us from being present, as some have noted above, and often make us wonder: “I have all this stuff, so why am I not more content?”

At least when someone is looking at their handheld device you have an inkling that they are not fully present. With such glasses, as with wireless phone headsets, it’s harder to tell. And that doesn’t bode well for people who want real human contact / interaction.

Paul

The facts are no smartphone brings us together
I’m sick of trying to talk to someone who has their head stuck in their lap while they text or Facebook someone else , have you tried to talk to your kids these days for more then an hour
Without their eyes wondering elsewhere.
Tech lovers will buy this item as long as it works and its affordable, plus when your 30 years old and still living at home atleast it will stop your ageing parents won’t embarrass your when they tell everyone how they found you looking at porn online in your room.

LOL

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