This was to be another relatively quiet day apart from running some errands in our local town, so I decided to test with the main perspective of analysing the form factor which the Glass has taken.
For those not in the world of computing, form factor refers to the physical dimensions, layout and overall design of a device. Often people are talking about various form factors and their applicability to certain tasks. For example you couldn’t imagine a form factor like old dial style telephones for mobile handsets, that just wouldn’t work. Instead a push button form factor was used, and eventually a touch screen form factor.
So this discussion focuses on design choices and elements which might add or detract from the Glass experience and what it’s intended to do.
So before we even enter into the discussion, we already come up against the first hurdle. What is the Glass supposed to do? What is the problem it’s trying to solve?
Having been using it now for nearly 2 weeks, I can honestly say I don’t really know. I keep going back to that TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/sergey_brin_why_google_glass) where Sergey Brin tries to explain what they are getting up to, but his whole talk doesn’t really have any convincing arguments and even he himself looks uneasy talking about it.
Let’s look at each of the 5 items he’s mentioned as these eventually lead to their choice on how the Glass is designed and hence it’s form factor.
Looking down at phone
He says that this is a problem and that people shouldn’t be looking down or touching a screen all the time, but what really is the problem with that? If the problem is that he’s stating we should all be more social, or live in the now, then that isn’t a problem associated with the phone itself, but a large societal or cultural problem. Offering a different form factor isn’t going to change the way people relate to the world, but just give them another way to pretend to relate, yet still pandering to being connected to the internet, and what that is offering the individual.
If we need access to information that is on the internet, there really isn’t a better way to do that in a mobile device right now, other than the way smartphones are built. They really have come up with a fabulous form factor in smart touch screen phones, why change it? Short of mind control, no voice control mechanism as it stands today, could rival the power of touch screen interfaces.
Remember that people have a choice when it comes to engaging in their mobile devices, and right now people are choosing to do that more than ever before, but that isn’t a problem that is related to the phone. Even in the past before mobile phones, people would dive into a book or newspaper, or they would find some way to engage themselves.
Again the further question of whether humans are designed to engage in such large populations is still up for debate. I’ve already touched on this in previous blogs.
In my opinion, looking down at the phone isn’t a problem, educating people to become more self aware, more aware of their surroundings, living in the now, living in your environment comfortably, these are all humanistic problems that need to be looked at, but technology isn’t the solution.
Something that frees your eyes
So obviously, you make a pair of glasses which sit right in front of your eyes. I don’t care how much Google argues about the Glass being outside your vision, it’s in the way, it’s in my face, it’s uncomfortable for those who aren’t used to wearing spectacles, and ultimately whereas before I was looking out at the world with nothing but air between my view and my eyes, now I have technology in the form of Glass, that stands in my way.
It doesn’t free my eyes, in fact I’d say it traps them. It teaches them that there is yet another screen I need to focus on whilst I am moving, walking, travelling. All this time, I’m missing the world. You might say that I would have missed the world anyways if I was looking down at my phone, and that would be true, but that is a choice I’ve made.
If I choose to miss the world by looking at my phone, then whatever I’m doing on the phone must by definition provide me with more value than looking at the world. If I am choosing to look at the world, then the Glass now are in my way, reminding me to look at something else online, which might be more valuable/important. It’s a contradiction!
It frees up the ears
Nope, wrong again. At least right now with their bone conductor it doesn’t play loud enough for me to hear in a moderately noisy environment. Hence they supply an ear-bud in case you do need more sound. Which of course blocks the ears, or at least one ear.
Besides, this is again another question of choice. Perhaps I want to listen to music, or an audio book, and if I did, wouldn’t it be best if I got the best experience of that, instead of doing that and keeping my ears open?
I can’t listen to 2 things at once and enjoy it, and if there were instead sounds of danger, I’m sure my other senses would all kick into play and group together to warn me, in which case I would listen to the world.
Deliver information as you need it, no need to search
I haven’t yet experienced this. That is because the limitations of the Glass and it’s apps are that they only work with certain systems. The calendar features which bring up your appointments etc on the Glass, only work with GCal. I’m on Outlook, therefore I cannot use Glass with calendar.
Train times, plane times, plane departure gates, other timely information demonstrated in their promotional video, haven’t been experienced yet because they just don’t work in my ecosystem. I’m running Glass with IOS, perhaps it’s a different experience with Android.
There’s another question of choice again, perhaps I don’t want the information when Google thinks I need it. Maybe I’ll get the information myself when I feel like the time is right. I want to choose when and how I get my information.
Conclusion on form factor
It’s a terrible form factor. Even in Star Trek, Geordi La Forge, the Chief Engineer of the Starship Enterprise, who is naturally blind and wears a VISOR, had an ongoing passion to see the sunset with his own eyes, which he eventually did in Star Trek Insurrection.
It is our human story of what we can see with our own eyes that form the intricate details of all our past histories and relationship with the world. Putting something in the front of our eyes, our window to the world, seems like a step in the wrong direction, a metaphorical middle finger to all the people who are fighting to make people more aware of the world they live in.
Somehow I don’t think the Glass is going to become a mainstream consumer device, at least I hope not for the sake of humanity.
The final message is in the video below, Geordi nails it, he wants to see, he already sees more than anyone else with his technology visor, but it’s what he says after that which really hit’s home.