5 Big Challenges we face with Google Glass

The Silicon Valley Business Journal is reporting that Mercedes-Benz is integrating Google Glass into its cars. The primary aim, according to the report, is to create a navigation system that seamlessly moves with the wearer from inside to outside the car. Also in the news, in an effort to make computing even more convenient, Kansas City-based Engage Mobile Solutions this week, is helping to take the idea of a “hands-free device” to a whole new level. The Midwestern mobile strategy,mobile development and mobile marketing company is working with Google to make wearable computing a reality. Engage Mobile is one of the initial mobile development companies developing apps for Google Glass.

Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display that has been developed by Google in the Project Glass research and development project. Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format. This innovative new technology allows users to interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands to perform tasks like navigation, accessing the Internet, texting, taking pictures and shooting videos.

Google Glass, though for all its promise, has some scary implications. Below are some great pointers by Rob Sobers, VP of Strategy at Varonis, which gives his list of 5 potential challenges we face with Glass – and how to survive them!

1. User Experience:

It’s early days right now, so I don’t want to harp too much on UX challenges, but there are a few worth mentioning, not the least of which is how I can walk up to someone and start controlling their device by simply uttering: “OK Glass.” Yikes.

Some other notable growing pains:

  •  It’s really hard to see the screen in daylight
  •  Looking up and to the right (where the screen is located) can hurt your eyes after a while
  •  Don’t try to drive with Glass on. Trust me on this one.
  •  The voice commands are limited and you have to say things exactly how Glass expects them
  • The volume is quite low – rather than using an ear bud, Glass uses bone conduction
  • Short battery life

Survival tip: Hang tight. These are all things that Google has some or full control over and we can expect to improve consistently over time as the engineers learn and as the components become more advanced.

There’s nothing really damaging or fearful about the user experience of Glass; in fact, for an alpha release of a product category that didn’t exist 12 months ago, it’s extremely impressive.

2. Social Awkwardness:

Have you ever tried having a conversation with someone who is wearing Glass?  It’s really unpleasant.  Is the thing on?  Are they recording me?  Are they checking their email?  It’s just…obnoxious.


Hilarious, but not far from reality.

The ungainliness will likely subside as Glass gets smaller and more obscure—eventually fitting inconspicuously in the frames of your Ray-Ban’s—but that will just amplify the angst of not knowing whether you’re being recorded or completely ignored.  At least with iPhones, it’s completely obvious when someone isn’t paying attention.

Survival tip: Just as we’re learning that sometimes we need to turn our phones off when we want to be fully present, we’re going to need to take off or turn off Glass. “OK Glass, don’t interrupt me or even let me know you’re here unless it’s the zombie apocalypse.”

3. Privacy (or lack thereof):

Have you ever done or said something stupid at a party or other social setting?  No?  Well, everyone else in the world has. And, for most of us, those moments are gone forever. As they should be.  Maybe they’re committed to our own memory, but they’re not lurking on a hard drive waiting to go viral.

Inevitably the battery life of Glass will enable 24/7 recording with data streamed instantly into the cloud for storage and replication.  Combine this with the rapid advancements in facial recognition and privacy and anonymity are out the door.

So how do we hide from Glass?

Survival tip: Accept that you cannot hide. We can barely hide now from the gadgets we have, especially in public places. If you think about it, any time a number of people in a contained area get together, the chances that someone will record some part of the proceedings is pretty high. We are adapting.  Hopefully the positive outcomes (identifying terrorists or missing children) will outweigh the negative ones (privacy violations and extortion).

4. Obsession: Will we ever turn Google Glass off, or will we become one with our devices, science fiction-style?

At Varonis, we’re fascinated with digital collaboration, work habits, and human-computer interaction, because our software helps make those things safer by protecting sensitive information from those who shouldn’t have access to it. We’ve done a number of research reports on these topics and they all support the hypothesis that many of us are becoming obsessed:

  • 86% of people surveyed consider themselves device obsessed or “always on”
  • 44% use their devices during meals
  •  20% consider themselves borderline workaholics
  • 15% bring their work devices on vacation

Survival tip: Again, Turn it off! Glass is the ultimate multi-tasking device.  While we might feel like we’re being more productive by doing many things at once, there are rapidly diminishing returns.  Studies show that the human brain is terrible at multi-tasking.  So we will have to be disciplined about turning Google Glass off, not only for the sake of our own personal productivity, but for the sanity of the people we interact with.

5. Humanity:

We shouldn’t let technology be a substitute for acting human. Wearable technology like Glass, which is omnipresent and entangled with our consciousness, has a strong potential for distancing us from human interaction.

A quick personal story.

After college, I scraped together enough money to backpack Europe for a bit. It was my first time outside of the US.  My first time on a plane, even. Buckingham Palace, the Louvre, St. Peter’s cathedral, the Colosseum—I was gulping down experiences one by one, with my own eyes and ears.  I took my fair share of photos, but I recall seeing droves of tourists walking through St. Peter’s glued to the glowing screens of their video cameras. They were capturing everything, but experiencing nothing.

As much as I adore technology, I’m grateful that I didn’t have an iPhone on that trip. And imagining my trip, or my daughter’s graduation, through Google Glass honestly makes me a bit queasy.

Jason Calacanis has an extreme viewpoint: “The space between you and me is sacred. It’s the last sacred place we have left, and Google Glass destroys it. There’s no social norm that will solve it.”

I think that’s taking it too far. I think many of us are capable of balance.

Survival tip: Be balanced. There will be times where Google Glass will greatly enhance life.  But there will be plenty of times when you and your friends and family would be far better served if you’d just shut the darn thing off. Follow Google’s own motto here: Don’t Be Evil.  And don’t be rude.  Be present for your loved ones.

OK, Glass: save and close blog post.

image credit: Martin Missfeldt