Robert Scoble on Google Glass: ‘The Apple II of Wearable Computers’

By July 19, 2013No Comments

Ever since the Big G of Mountain View dropped the first hints of producing a wearable computing device, the tech industry has been set ablaze with excitement, rumors, and speculation. This initial hint, which would eventually become known as Project Glass, or more commonly, Google Glass, isn’t the first wearable computing/display technology on the market, but it is the first to be pushed out into the public by a major technology entity.

And once he received his Explorer Edition of Google Glass on April 17, 2013, Rackspace startup liaison officer, and internet celeb, Robert Scoble has been inseparable from his Glass, save for the numerous times he’s shared the experience with others at events around the globe.  He was the 107th person to receive his pair (of the 8,000 that were sold for the initial run), and since this time, much has been written about Glass – how it looks, what it feels like, and what you can do with it, for starters

But what does Glass mean for the future of us all?  Is this the very beginning of the next wave of computing?  And if so… as entrepreneurs, what can we be doing now to prepare for it?

Mass Market

“This is the Apple II of wearable computers,” Scoble says.  “When the Apple II came out, all the geeks bought it, but it wasn’t a mass market product.”

Robert touches on a very relevant point with this statement, insomuch as the technology is already a bit ahead of the society.  When the iPhone exploded onto the scene, we already had some familiarity with phones that did much more than just make calls. No one, though, could have predicted the appconomy that was about to boom thanks to the runaway success of the iPhone. With Glass, we could be on the edge of the very same precipice, provided that society is primed and ready for it. But are they?  Or, is Google the primer?

According to Scoble, one of the key factors that will determine if and when wearable computing, Glass specifically, will reach the socially acceptable tipping point is the price.  “I don’t think Google will like this, but this is going to be $200 in two to three years.  There’s no technology in here other than the prism and the projector. It’s two-thirds of a cell phone,” Scoble says. “There’s nothing in here that costs any money. This means that they’ll be able to produce these in a mass quantity, pretty quickly.”

Scoble speculates that the initial offering price will be, “around $500. Maybe it will be $700, but when I talk to everyday people, at $500, they get interested; $700…hmm, that’s for rich people. At $500, it stays interesting.”

“But to make this a really mass market product, it needs to be $200.  I mean the Facebook phone (HTC One) is $100. In two to four years, we’ll see these numbers.”

While this amount of time might seem a while off for us now, it does provide entrepreneurs with time and space to not only start testing what works and what doesn’t, but begin envisioning the much bigger picture of what society will want to do with Glass once the adoption factor reaches mass market levels.

So many possibilities, so what to build?

Augmented Reality

One of the things that Google has done so well with their marketing of Glass is that they’ve been very tight-lipped about what the product will actually do.  Or will not do.  I think it’s fair to say that we all have visions of a perfect, “terminator”-like augmented reality experience where any- and everything we see through our wearable display technology is digitized.  With Google Glass, not so much.

“One of the major drawbacks of Glass is the battery life. This is why Google didn’t do augmented reality. It requires a bigger processor, and therefore a bigger battery. It just isn’t going to be prevalent with this device,” says Scoble.

“In fact, the more I use it, the less I use it.”

So if, AR, the obvious choice, is out and, aside from the obvious Glass Apps (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), what can we be looking for in Glass?

“Well, the first thing that developers need to do is get their hands on Glass.  They really need to know the limitations of this device. Before I got my pair, I thought that they would do a lot more. Augmentations, perhaps facial recognition.  Nope.”

Filter the noise

“There will be more of a demand for noise filtering, particularly because of the battery constraints of Glass,” Scoble says.

“Glass is demonstrating a world where we need much better filtering. There’s a team of six people in Geneva that developed Smart Labels for Gmail. This is the type of filtering that’s needed. The Gmail that comes to my glass is actually really good, but only because I’ve filtered the heck out of it.”

When pressed a bit more about specific filtering, Robert told me that he’s very impressed by the way Foursquare does it, and could imagine a similar system would be highly advantageous for Glass.  He’s particularly interested in granular filtering. Specifically, the controls that he can access, “I can see all notifications, only notifications when I’m close, say, in the same city. Or I can turn them completely off.  And then of course, if I want to go into stalking mode, I can see all notifications from a specific user.”

And what we’re talking about here is more humanization?  “Right. Another great one is Flipboard magazines.  These are human filtered content streams, that now allows Flipboard to study how humans actually filter content, and they can build algorithms to provide automatic filters.”

Scoble also preaches to future Glass entrepreneurs to think about the context of the wearer.  “I want you to show me what is important to live my life. And that has to do with context.  If I’m in Berlin, I want to see more news from Berlin. When I’m in Amsterdam, turn down Berlin, and turn up Amsterdam. It’s all about context. The things that are closer to you are more important to you.”

Proximity Warning

As recently reported, Google has banned facial recognition apps, but Scoble sees a hack coming.  “The API doesn’t give developers direct access to the camera.  Access if given only after an image is captured, then sent to the cloud.  The process would take around three to 10 seconds I guess. I don’t think Google is going to enable it.”

“What I do see happening is a hack that’s similar to highlight on my phone.  If we’re within 100 yards of each other, I think that will be the hack; not necessarily a face detection, but an app that will know when so-and-so is close to me.”

Given my own personal testing of Glass’s GPS and directional system, I believe that Scoble is on to something here.  The directions the system provided me were highly accurate, indicating that the device knows exactly where you are.  Providing a “Hey my friend that has the same app is within xyz feet/meters of me,” shouldn’t be a problem.  This obviously has a downside when attending a conference or large event, where multiple contacts could be in the same location, but … developers, are you listening?

Take Control

Another facet of Glass that Scoble wants to see more of is control of the actual device itself.

“The folks at Oakley have said that the next generation of these displays are going to have a beam splitter for the camera, so the camera can watch your eye as well as look forward.  Google API’s for winking have already been put in place as well as doing things with your eye to control the glass – so this is probably already planned for the next version.”

Thus, in addition to providing information services for the wearer, we now have another opportunity opening up in the area of device control.  The keyboard and mouse have been the standby for over 30 years.  With Glass, this interface is instantly removed.  How will tomorrow’s entrepreneurs meet and exceed the demand to ditch these controllers once and for all?

The Glassconomy

While the current version of Google Glass might be the 30-year-junior of the Apple II, it’s clear that the excitement and curiosity surrounding the device and its potential is massive.  It’s also important to note that Google isn’t the only player on the block; Apple, Canon, Epson, Microsoft, Epiphany, Laster, Optinvent, Recon Instruments, and Vuzix are all vying for your attention (and dollars). Don’t overlook the power and market potential of these devices. Google is going for the consumers, but with some of the technology that these other manufactures are packing in – there’s plenty of room for growth and exploration.

We all want to be the ones behind that “killer app,” but the harsh reality is that there’s no guaranteed formula for a multi-million dollar runaway hit. Rovio spent eight years working on other games before releasing the best selling app of all time, Angry Birds. Robert Scoble has been around the block a few times, and has seen his fair share of what works, what sells, and what doesn’t.  If you’re ready to have a go at jumping on the glassconomy, Scoble’s advice and insight should not be overlooked.

Robert Scoble Image courtesy of Flickr User Heisenberg Media; Google Glass Image courtesy of Flickr User giuseppe.costantino