In Defense of Google Glass

This post was originally featured in Forbes.

John C. Dvorak from PC Magazine UK recently wrote a piece outlining all of the reasons that Google Glass will fail.

He is largely wrong.

Dvorak’s primary thesis is that Google is taking a cavalier attitude towards privacy and that the public won’t stand for it. He predicts that as a result of slow sales (which he doesn’t quantify), Google will shut down Glass in the next year.

There are a few problems with Dvorak’s hypothesis:

Glass is not a walking invasion of privacy

Most peoples’ negative reactions to Glass from a privacy perspective are rooted in the camera. Theoretically, this camera could be recording at all times. Although technically true, that fear is not a logical interpretation of reality. Just because one is wearing Glass doesn’t mean that one is recording. But more importantly, new technologies don’t create new behaviors out of thin air.

In other words, if everyone was so adamant about recording their peers, what’s stopping them from doing that today with their phones? If people aren’t doing that today with smartphones, why will they all of a sudden do that with Glass? Glass’s camera is more convenient than that of a smartphone, but that doesn’t mean people will use it in the most nefarious, privacy-invading way possible. Social norms and self-image will prevent the vast majority of people from recording when inappropriate.

“But what about the creeps in the world?” you may ask.

Just because most people won’t use Glass for nefarious purposes, that doesn’t mean that some people won’t, right? And those bad apples will rot the entire tree, right?

Once again, simple logic comes to the rescue: people who want to record others in public typically don’t want others to know that they’re being recorded. Glass is a particularly awful tool at being discreet. It rests clearly on one’s face in plain sight and forces the recorder to look at the intended target. Google Glass is more likely the least deceptive technology than the most deceptive. Smartphones, given their ubiquity, are far more apt for deception.

Smart glasses in 2014 are where desktop computing was in 1978

Google initially designed and marketed Glass for consumers. Eighteen months later though, it’s clear that like desktops and cell phones before it, Glass will be adopted by enterprises first.

The first real application for desktop computers was spreadsheets (in the form of VisiCalc). In 1978, despite all of its limitations, the Apple II desktop computer was capable enough to render a 2-dimensional spreadsheet of numbers linked by basic addition and multiplication. Business analysts in finance and the corporate world immediately rejoiced because they no longer had to calculate each cell by hand. Spreadsheets made business analysts and executives 10x more productive.

In the early ’90s, Motorola released the first commercial cellphones. Despite their poor performance, poor network coverage, high price, and excessive bulk, business executives bought them in droves. Why? Because there was undeniable value in making phone calls while mobile. They would have gladly paid $1,000 / month for a phone in order to make billion dollar business decisions on the move.

The teams that built Glass intended it for wide-scale consumer adoption, but like Steve Jobs in 1978, were too early. However, early “killer apps” are emerging for Glass for use in the enterprise.

Of course, I have every reason to believe in a wave of enterprise Glass adoption. My company, Pristine, is on a mission to dramatically improve field service, training, and education through Glass. We’ve built a scalable, secure, robust, remote-collaboration suite for Glass to help local technicians fix problems that they otherwise never could have. Rather than struggle with a phone call to remotely diagnose mechanical problems, our customers empower their engineers to share what they’re seeing securely to remotely collaborate and fix mission-critical equipment, leading to massive ROI in healthcare, manufacturing, aerospace, oil & gas, and more.

What Dvorak gets right

While the killer apps for Glass in the enterprise are clear to many, Dvorak is closer to the mark in terms of consumer adoption. Currently, “consumer” ownership of Google Glass is limited to very early adopters who are trying the technology for its own sake, in absence of a truly game-changing application.

For consumers, the emergence of a killer app will be predicated on a few things:

  1. Glass won’t achieve mainstream adoption until you can no longer tell the difference between Google Glasses and regular glasses.
  2. Glass needs a killer app. It’s clear that given current hardware constraints, there isn’t a killer app for consumers. Perhaps augmented reality technologies will deliver the killer app for consumers.
  3. The price needs to fall dramatically. Luckily, Moore’s law dictates that the price will drop.

So where does this leave Glass?

Is Google going to kill Glass like other high-profile projects (e.g. Wave, Reeder, Buzz)? Doubtful. Larry Page just handed over most of his daily responsibilities to Sundar Pichai so Page can spend more time accelerating commercialization of Google’s most promising nascent technologies such as Glass and self-driving cars.

Instead, I offer this: Glass is going to change the world. But like other world-changing technologies before it (desktop computers and smartphones), Glass will solve expensive problems in the enterprise before achieving broader consumer adoption. Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at to talk more.