Monday morning, as I read the reactions and reviews to the 85th Academy Awards from the night before, I came across an interesting intersection of Hollywood dazzle and Silicon Valley power: Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google
(NASDAQ:GOOG), and his wife Anne Wojcicki, were apparently at the Vanity Fair Oscars Party, schmoozing amongst that most exclusive and dazzling list of party guests, and promoting Google's new Glass device. Both Brin and his wife wore a pair of the smart wearable computers (they resemble a pair of eyeglasses), and Hollywood power players were invited to test out prototypes. Ms. Wojcicki said to the New York Times
, “We’ve come a number of times, and no one ever wants to talk to us. Now we’re very popular.”
In a separate story, Brin told CNN: “Glass will also have an automatic picture-taking mode, snapping pics at preset intervals (such as every five seconds).” He has also demonstrated the feature in an email to select followers of the project's Google+ page.
Not every Google Glass will automatically record an image at preset intervals -- a spokesperson from Google has said the auto-photo function will not ship with the first Glass model -- but I'm certain that Brin recorded some fascinating footage Sunday night. Imagine if we could step into the lives of the George Clooneys and Jennifer Lawrences of the world. Imagine if we could, virtually at least, be at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party? With Google Glass, someday that may be a possibility. And that raises serious privacy concerns.
(Also read Strange Business: Why Is This Popular iPhone App -- Designed to Help You Relax -- Worth $415,000?)
Glass as Personal Assistant
As Scott Huffman, Google’s Vice President of Engineering for Search, said last week when he debuted a video
demonstrating Glass, “One thing that we’re really excited about and working hard on is transforming the way that people interact with Google…From the stilted one-keyword-at-a-time conversation, to more of a natural conversation…like a human assistant.”
Google obviously envisions a game-changing device. With a voice command akin to Apple’s
(NASDAQ:AAPL) Siri, Google Glass will allow hands-free, hassle-free searching. Surfing the Web for an answer to a question, for a review, for directions, will no longer be an activity in itself: It will become part of whatever else you are doing at the time.
But here’s the thing: The business model for Glass will rely on advertising, just as the rest of Google's useful, engaging products do.
(Also read As Samsung Edges Out Apple, Who Will Win the Battle for Third Place in the Mobile Market?
Advertising Closer Than Ever Before
Currently, Google can use your location, search history, and friends, among other measurable variables, to create targeted advertisements. Google Glass, with its built-in camera and microphone, might be able to record everything you do during a day. Every specific business you patronize, every friend you meet, every road you drive -- it will all be available to Google. In this way, Glass has the potential to be one small step for consumers and one giant leap for Google and the way it makes money.
Of course, this depends upon the widespread success of Glass, on it becoming a must-have commodity, first for tech enthusiasts and then for everyone else who can afford the technology. As of now, first models will become available later this summer for the price of $1,500 for those early adapters who pre-ordered last year. Google is also running a contest
wherein entrants must write a compelling 50-word essay or tweet about the Glass (#ifIhadGlass) to win an initial version of the device.
Facebook and Glass
One of the technology's biggest proponents these days is Mark Zuckerberg, who says he has a team of three engineers, led by a former Googler, waiting diligently for their Google Glass headsets so they can start building Glass apps. The Facebook
(NASDAQ:FB) founder has not released any solid plans for the device, but was quoted by Forbes
magazine as saying to Brin, “Is there anything specific you want us to be trying? If so, I want to be doing that.”
Facebook could be a major player in helping Glass reach its widest audience, as well as a major developer for Glass social networking features. Imagine running into an old friend on the street and seeing that person's Facebook profile -- through the magic of facial recognition software -- automatically pop up on your Glass’ screen. This may seem far-fetched, but any kind of cooperation between Google and Facebook would probably have such interesting (and creepy) results.
Zuckerberg did have one problem: He asked Brin, “How do you look out from this without looking awkward? You know, how are you supposed to use this without breaking eye contact?”
Google also has a collaborative relationship with fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, who put Glass prototypes on runway models during this month's New York Fashion Week. Given this and other likely collaborations, sleeker, less awkward designs are sure to make their way to market -- if the device catches on.
But Will Anyone Buy it?
A fundamental question remains to be answered: Will the benefits of Google Glass outweigh the potential loss of privacy that the device makes possible? Sure, the Oscar winners, nominees, and schmoozers had fun with it at the Vanity Fair party, but will this device, perhaps the next major step in further connecting our technological world, catch on with the public?
Last July, University of Toronto professor Steve Mann, who had built his own wearable eye glass computer, EyeTap Digital Eye Glass, was assaulted in a Paris McDonald's
. Allegedly, the assailants damaged Mann's device while trying to remove it from his head. Mann's computer was designed to assist with his vision, but it's unclear what his attackers imagined when they saw it. Mann's digital eye did record several photos of the aggressors, however. Perhaps this story offers a vision of the future: wearable computers record everything, anything, and anyone their users encounter, prompting fear and fury.
Despite the privacy questions, the Glass will come to market, the technology will continue to improve, and this hip new way to interact with the world may very well be as revolutionary as smartphones. With the way technology evolves and proliferates,
when it comes to whether or not to accept Google Glass, do we even have a choice?
(Also read: Are Google and Apple Preparing for the Death of Smartphones?)
Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville