by Magnus Shaw.
Before the introduction of the iPhone and its Android counterparts, mobile phone manufacturers were locked in a frantic competition to produce ever smaller handsets. As soon as a device smaller than a fag packet was launched, another the size of a matchbox arrived. In the midst of this march to the miniature, I was shown a plan for the "phone of future." Because handsets couldn't be made much smaller without becoming impractical, some bright spark had decided the "phone glove" was the way forward. As the name suggests, this would have been a fine mesh gauntlet with buttons installed in the palm and the microphone and speaker in the fingertips.
You won't be surprised to learn the "phone glove" never went into production. Although the technology would have been intriguing, it was obviously a ludicrous idea. As the user would be required to wear the glove at all times the foolishness of the product's design was obvious. Not least of all, what if you wanted to wear actual gloves?
And now, here we go again.
Next year, Google will launch "Google Glasses" (currently known as "Project Glass"). That's right, "Google Goggles!" Apparently, this web-enabled face furniture will have many features, but those revealed so far include a stream of photos constantly feeding your social media pages with a real time record of your activities (and presumably the inside of a drawer when you're not wearing them) and a Google search operated by targeted blinks of the eye.
On paper, this all sounds incredibly futuristic and progressive, but if Google Glasses take off I'll eat my app, because they completely ignore two golden rules of technological advancement. Firstly, does it make existing technology easier to access and use? Quite clearly, it doesn't. Scrabbling about for spectacles and mounting them on your nose, before embarking on a series of blinks cannot be as simple as tapping the screen of a traditional unit, can it? Secondly, is it less intrusive than existing devices? No. Smart phones are handily pocket sized, discreet and easily stored. Put the same functionality in a pair of glasses and the kit becomes cumbersome and inflexible. Incredibly, there's no evidence Google has considered how all this will work if one needs prescription glasses to see properly. And will those who don't need glasses really be persuaded to wear them simply to look at the internet?
Much of the pre-launch marketing talks about Google Glasses' ability to push information in front of our eyes, as if this is revolutionary. Once you've read this column, do a Google search. It doesn't matter what the search is for, but notice how Google pushes a ream of information in front of your eyes. Also notice that you're not wearing digital spectacles.
As users of technology we want equipment and services to evolve rapidly and thrillingly, but we don't enjoy being dumped from our comfort zone to gratify some smarty- pants designer. People always have gripes about their laptops, iPhones, tablets, satnavs and MP3 players, but I've never heard anyone complain that they're in a box. We're quite happy with our devices being box-based . Make the box thinner? Great! Make the box lighter? Hooray! Get rid of the box and replace it with a pair of glasses? Er ... no thanks.
Making your customer look a bit daft is a risky strategy too. Consider the Bluetooth earpiece. The concept was right enough: use your mobile without removing it from your pocket. But people rapidly concluded the device, with its ostentatious hook and blinking LED, gave the impression the wearer was either a twonk or a Cyberman. Funnily enough, you don't often see them these days.
Just look at the photo on this page. Google Glasses do make one appear rather silly.
I suspect Google Glasses are actually an exercise in showing off. They've been created because they can be created. They're shouting to the industry - "Look! Google is about more than searching, we do fancy hardware too!" This is their prerogative and I'm sure the computerised eyewear will attract plenty of attention at trade fairs and on technology sites over the next twelve months. But, even though Apple has patented a similar technology, I find it hard to believe we'll be sporting search-specs from next summer.
Elton John excepted.
Magnus Shaw is a writer, blogger and consultant.
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