How Would We Know If Google Glass Was Any Good?

Google Glass has itself a marketing problem: the glasses might be as cool as some Glassheads say, but the rest of us non-early adopters are stuck with boring first-person videos and banal pictures of the world's foremost face computer, without any of the cool face-computer functionality.

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Google Glass has itself a marketing problem: maybe the small number of people who have tried Glass are being blown away by wearing face computers, but all the rest of us can see are photos of Glassheads and boring point-of-view videos. Sergey Brin set out with a "moonshot idea" of making augmented reality real and, judging from both Google's own marketing and the products of actual users, all we got was a nerdy fashion accessory and wearable camera.

It wasn't supposed to be like that. When Google first hinted at what Glass would be, it gave us this awesome mocked-up look into the augmented reality future (pictured below at left) in which all of the web's information would leap into our day-to-day lives. CNET called it the "coolest hardware demo of the year" not because Glass puts a hands-free camera on your head but because of the "intriguing artificial-intelligence software." The video showed Glass knowing things about our surroundings in a very future-now kind of way. But compare those awe-inducing features to what Google touted about these wearable specs when they actually debuted: those life-changing features were relegated to a little heads-up time and temperature display in the upper right hand corner.

Mostly, the demo vid showed people taking videos and pictures, and that has turned out to be what Glassholes have so far spent their time doing.  Or at least that's the impression us non-Glass owners get. Just take a look at the Tumblr "collecting ridiculous pictures #throughglass" — it's basically the stuff of Instagram, except without any filters to make it prettier. (Some of the pictures and videos that didn't make it from the Twitter hashtag to the best/worst-of Tumblr are even worse.)

Of course, Google's augmented reality gadget does plenty of other things besides recording imagery. (Why else would The New York Times call it "the most anticipated piece of electronic wizardry since the iPad and iPhone" on its front page?) But it's a lot easier to complain about the things we see. (Why else would that front-page Times story be an over-the-top fear-mongering privacy parade?)

Seriously: How do you go about showing off the utility of Googling a restaurant? What does it look like to get directions beamed... straight into your eyes? Google's promotional videos promise a future in which we can record high-quality, first-person accounts of extreme sports and sentimental moments with our children. But the first couple thousand guys to use this have been, well, they've been using it wrong.

And from a Glassless person's perspective that doesn't look all too appealing. Take the burgeoning genre of Google Glass sports clips on YouTube. We have some dude playing basketball and narrating, another guy playing basketball and narrating, and a guy watching a hockey game from the box and narrating.

The technological advancement here isn't evident. The quality isn't even that great. Deadspin's Emma Carmichael aptly pointed out "sure looks a lot like a dude wearing a mounted camera like a GoPro while he shoots hoops." And indeed it does, as you can see from this very similar basketball video shot with GoPro:

The promise of Google Glass was never just to take hands-free pictures—although that probably comes in handy. The original prototype didn't even have a camera, according to Google co-founder, the very Glass-obsessed Sergey Brin. Rather, Brin wanted to create a "form factor" to deliver his vision of a future where computers know what humans want without a Google search query. In theory, Glass knows what you want and just does it. The technology doesn't exactly do that, yet. But it does know things about the buildings, people, and areas around you.

That, however, is very hard to see from here. Google's promotional video shows some of the other augmented reality stuff—like weather, translation, and Google search features. But, Robert Scoble's over-the-top review didn't mention much beyond the camera, which he loved so much he took it in the shower with him. This Phandroid review gives a nod to the directions feature twice. But, beyond an inquiry for a factoid about blueberries, the bulk of his time is spent taking photos and videos—including one of those first-person basketball games. And guys like this don't exactly highlight the utility:

From over here, Google has created a nerdy looking $1,500 wearable camera and video recorder.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.