Google Glass: What’s Great and 4 Big Things Standing in Its Way

Google Glass

When Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) first showed off Glass, there was no doubt that the device was a major technological step forward from smartphones. Though it naturally lacked the same level of refinement of predecessor devices, the type of heads-up-display and augmented reality offered by Glass are the kinds of technology imagined by many in the sci-fi genre. However, simply because Google has a working prototype distributed already, it doesn’t follow that the device will ever take off and become the wave of future mobile technology. In fact, there are many things still standing in its way.

Why it’s impressive

In theory, Google Glass has a lot to offer. By incorporating much of the technology of smartphones into an extra small device with a semi-transparent screen that’s always less than a glance away, Glass can make the accessibility and usability of technology that much more streamlined. Digging into your pocket to pull out your phone to do something as simple as check the time would seem thoroughly cumbersome in comparison. Checking messages on your phone would seem a bother. And taking photos and videos of something that is only going to happen briefly — or something that you need two hands to hold — would feel almost impossible on a smartphone.

As Glass is always up and at the ready to respond to simple voice commands, its seamlessness is one of the main things that make it a device to be desired. That combined with the hands-free use of the device put it a step above smartphones for users who are often on the go, and it could encourage and enable more people to get up and get moving, since their technology won’t bog them down and they won’t have to let their social life suffer.

The main attribute of Glass that makes it stand out as a potentially revolutionary device is its augmented reality. Though what the device offers in terms of services and programs doesn’t stand too far away from what smartphones offer, the way it serves users information is key to the experience. By putting the information into users’ vision without obstructing their view, it creates a very different user experience from that found by looking at a smartphone or computer screen to interact. No more staring down at a map then looking around to make sure where you’re walking or driving is following along the map’s route. Glass could put that route right in front of your eyes, so when you look at the road you’re walking, you also see the route at the same time.

While Glass has a lot going on for it that makes it sound impressive, the list of things standing in its way may be even bigger.

It doesn’t stand alone

Though Glass theoretically fits perfectly into the life of people who are always on the go and can’t be bothered to pull out their smartphones and stop to check them — or ignore the dangers of it and stare at their screens while they’re walking city streets — the reality is that Glass can’t stand on its own in terms of mobile connections.

Source: Android.com/WearThough the device works on a Wi-Fi connection, running around downtown while keeping maps, texting, or anything else requiring a consistent connection will be problematic. It can be linked via Bluetooth to a smartphone — either iOS or Android work — but that means users would have to purchase and carry both devices. A number of smartwatches have hit the market, and many presumed these wearables would be the next big market in technology, but none have blown up with anything even resembling the success of the smartphone when it first appeared in the form of the iPhone. Part of the problem with the major smartwatches on market is that they, too, fail to stand alone, requiring pairing with smartphones for full functionality.

Of course, it’s natural that at this stage in Glass’s development that it wouldn’t have support from mobile carriers, since it’s still in the testing phases and hasn’t gone fully commercial. But, if a commercial product does come out without the ability to stand alone, it may simply fall flat.

Source: Thinkstock

The price of high-tech:

Many rumors have been floating around about what the price of Glass will be when it receives a full commercial release. While the version available in the Explorer program has cost buyers $1,500, it seems unlikely that a final version would cost nearly as much as that. Most high-end smartphones cost less than $1,000 without a contract, and with one, $200 is pretty standard. If Glass was to go above that price point, it would have a hard time reaching a very broad audience, which is what it will need to bring Augmented Reality devices to the mainstream.

If it got down into the $400-$500 range, it might be able to pull in customers more successfully. This would put it above the cost of many smartwatches, but below the price of unsubsidized high-end smartphones. One of the problems with pricing hinges on the commercial device’s ability to stand alone. Paying a high price for Glass when it still requires the purchase of another pricey device could be a major detractor. But, if the commercial device is supported on cellular networks, it may have a much better shot at success, especially if it can get subsidized pricing with carriers.

Price may not stand in the way for everyone though. When Google offered up another round of Glass during a fifteen-hour sale on April 15 for $1,500 each, it managed to sell them, and the “Cotton” white models sold out within a few hours of the sale’s start. Of course, supplies were quite limited, so it’s reasonable for them to have sold out. Though the fact that a $1,500 price tag didn’t scare too many people away may be a good sign for the devices future success. A report from Google suggests that not only did all the white Glass units sell out, but all of the units made available as well. Google said, “Welcome to our new Explorers! All spots in the Explorer Program have been claimed for now, but if you missed it this time, don’t worry. We’ll be trying new ways to expand the Explorer program in the future.”

court judge gavel

The law isn’t its friend:

There are many concerns about what Glass will do, and what problems it can stir up. From people wearing Glass in a movie theater being seen as potential pirates, and people in cars becoming distracted drivers that might cause an accident, to people simply walking down the street with Glass on being seen as a major threat to privacy, there are plenty of conceptions of how Glass might transgress the law.

As of late February, eight states were taking action to try making Glass illegal for drivers to wear. Those states include Illinois, Delaware, Missouri, New York, Maryland, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Wyoming. It may not be entirely unreasonable for governments to seek out this kind of law. Phones have proven dangerous for drivers to use while on the road, and Glass isn’t so different from phones in that it is something that takes a driver’s attention away from the road — even if the driver’s eyes are on the road, their mind can be elsewhere. Most states already have laws against texting while driving, and a handful also have laws outright banning the use of phones while driving. Google is working to keep Glass from falling in with the others, as it claims that Glass shouldn’t be nearly as distracting as phones because it doesn’t require users to take their eyes off the road and can be used for GPS mapping. On top of that, Glass’s support for prescription lenses could put people in a bind, forcing them to carry around a second pair of classes when they’re not allowed to wear Glass. Google has lobbied some of the state governments in an attempt to convince them not to pass a law against Glass.

Privacy concerns may be even trickier to maneuver. Though Glass doesn’t support any facial recognition apps and shines a light whenever it is receiving a command or taking photos and videos, people are still worried about how it might infringe on their privacy. In response to this concern Google said, “If a company sought to design a secret spy device, they could do a better job than Glass! Let’s be honest: if someone wants to secretly record you, there are much, much better cameras out there than one you wear conspicuously on your face and that lights up every time you give a voice command, or press a button.” Which leads perfectly into the next issue facing Glass.

Source: Thinkstock

There are lots of misconceptions:

People have lots of opinions about what Google Glass can, does, and will do, but a lot of the ideas floating around about it aren’t entirely on point. As noted with the privacy concerns, Google doesn’t do facial recognition and will likely not allow any third-party apps that add on the feature; Glass shines a light when anything is being recorded; and the battery life of the device would never support the ability to constantly have Glass recording everywhere it went, all day, every day.

Some critics of the device have pointed to it blocking the vision of users, whereas Google was quick to note that it integrates with the vision of users, as the display is semi-transparent and interferes with vision a lot less than looking down at a smartphone would.

Because of the rampant misconceptions, Google went as far as to address ten of them in a blog post. But, even if many people have their false notions about Glass cleared up, there may be many more who don’t, and it may be too many for the device to succeed.

On top of that, Google still has to contend with getting support from app developers, making the device more stylish and wearble, and fighting the impression in some people’s minds that other people wearing Glass are “Glassholes.”

Follow Mark on Twitter @WallStMarkSheet

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: