The Future According to Google

Diane Von Furstenburg’s runway show at New York Fashion Week caused a stir not only in the world of fashion. The show’s models strutted their stuff all donning one much-hyped accessory – the Glass by Google augmented reality glasses – while Google co-founder Sergey Brin took up an unlikely spot in the fashionable front row. What can we take from this unlikely collaboration about Google’s innovative product? And is this technology really going to take the world by storm?

Google Glass is a research and development project by Google X, which aims to incorporate digital technologies into everyday life. The head mounted display (HMD) will have similar capabilities to a smartphone, but will interact more ‘seamlessly’ with the surrounding world. This is referred to as ‘augmented reality’ as the display will superimpose information e.g. maps and travel information over the wearer’s field of vision. Interaction with the device could involve voice commands or simple manual actions (such as pushing a button on the side of the device to take a photograph).

This all sounds very futuristic but Google Glass has faced criticism and been the subject of internet parody since its inception. Concerns include questions about the safety of such a device, the possibility that Google could include advertising in an increasingly obtrusive way into users’ lives, queries over the quality of internet signal necessary for the smooth interaction Google’s promotional materials suggest and the effects the widespread use of the technology could have on social etiquette and individual privacy. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the technology’s only real life application might be watching illicit material in public, doing for visual pornography what the Kindle has done for erotic literature. Talking to someone who may be recording you or checking their facts on Wikipedia could also be a little disconcerting. The failures of previous Google X projects, such as the self-driving car, have also been cited as a model for the future of Google Glass.

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While some software developers have been given the opportunity to pre-order a prototype for $1500, media outlets have reported that the eventual product should retail at a similar price to high end smartphones. Google’s decision to showcase the glasses on the DVF catwalk suggests its keenness to highlight the company’s innovative edge in the field of wearable technologies, at a time when all eyes are turned towards Apple’s iPhone5. What the early marketing of the product indicates is that Google is most concerned that the headset appear aesthetically desirable (more chic, less geek) and practical (skydivers filmed their falls on the glasses in a stunt in June). Ultimately it may be Google’s ability to convince the public of this, rather than the technology’s intrinsic inventiveness, which determines the project’s success.