When I was in college, I tried (not very successfully) to write a science-fiction story that, I hoped, would be the most plausible extrapolation of current trends I could come up with. Among other things, I imagined that people would have near-constant internet access via wire-thin headsets that would project images directly onto people’s eyeballs and be operated either by voice or pen-and-pad system like the PDAs of the mid-aughts.
I imagined this all happening in the late 21st century. With the launch of Google Glass, though (see here for a good summary), my attempted projection into the future is looking way too conservative. But when, exactly, will adoption of Google Glass (and imitators–Apple and Microsoft are both rumored to be working on their own versions) become widespread?
One of the first times I heard about Google Glass was from an old high school friend who’d won a chance to be among the first people to get to try the new technology. The catch, it turned out, was that Google was asking him (and other would-be early adopters) to pay about $1,500 for the privilege.
When I heard that, my reaction was that Glass wasn’t going to be the next iPhone so much as the next BlackBerry: something that rich people buy, but will never see mass adoption. Instead, I thought, maybe in a decade the price of Glass-like decides will come down and maybe then everyone will have one.
But maybe it was hasty of me to assume that. Here’s the first part of a review of Glass by Robert Scoble:
This week I gave five speeches while wearing it.
I passed through airports four times (two more in a couple of hours).
I let hundreds of people try my Google Glass.
I have barely taken it off since getting it other than to sleep.
Here’s my review after having Google Glass for two weeks:
1. I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor). It’s that significant.
2. The success of this totally depends on price. Each audience I asked at the end of my presentations “who would buy this?” As the price got down to $200 literally every hand went up. At $500 a few hands went up. This was consistent, whether talking with students, or more mainstream, older audiences.
3. Nearly everyone had an emotional outburst of “wow” or “amazing” or “that’s crazy” or “stunning.”
4. At NextWeb 50 people surrounded me and wouldn’t let me leave until they had a chance at trying them. I haven’t seen that kind of product angst at a conference for a while. This happened to me all week long, it is just crazy.
5. Most of the privacy concerns I had before coming to Germany just didn’t show up. I was shocked by how few negative reactions I got (only one, where an audience member said he wouldn’t talk to me with them on). Funny, someone asked me to try them in a bathroom (I had them aimed up at that time and refused).
6. There is a total generational gap that I found. The older people said they would use them, probably, but were far more skeptical, or, at minimum, less passionate about the fact that these are the future, than the 13-21-year-olds I met.
So, let’s cover the price, first of all. I bet that Larry Page is considering two price points: something around $500, which would be very profitable. Or $200, which is about what the bill of materials costs. When you tear apart the glasses, like someone else did (I posted that to my Flipboard “Glasshole” magazine) you see a bunch of parts that aren’t expensive. This has been designed for mass production. In other words, millions of units. The only way Google will get there is to price them under $300.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Larry went very aggressive and priced them at $200.
He goes on to give some reasoning for why Larry Page will go for the $200 approach, which I confess I don’t really follow, and I’m even less able to vouch for his claim that the material cost of Glass is only $200. But if he’s right, we could be talking about Glass becoming the next iPhone in something like a year, rather than something like ten years.
Scoble has a follow-up post where he adds some detail and addresses the concern that Glass could be the next Segway. One issue that’s especially interesting to me is that is privacy. According to Scoble, people are surprisingly cool with this aspect of it.
Whether or not Glass succeeds, I expect we’ll all have to adjust our ideas about privacy sooner or later. Digital cameras and digital storage space for all the photos and video we’re taking with them are going to continue to get smaller, cheaper, and more ubiquitous regardless of the success and failure of any individual product. At some point–perhaps when robots actually do become ubiquitous in our every day lives–the idea of objecting to being recorded in most spaces will seem absurd.
Part of the issue with privacy now is that it used to be, even if you didn’t hide your free-time activities, most people had no way of finding out about them unless you told them. Facebook has changed this, and some people (namely, idiots) have started responding to having that information that they’re not used to having by doing things like firing teachers for being seen with beer in Facebook photos.
Here’s my prediction: the biggest part of dealing with these so-called “privacy challenges” will be getting people to stop freaking the fuck out over what other people do in their private lives.