Are Google's glasses the future for the web?

The tech giant's Project Glass could revolutionise the way consumers and advertisers look at the world.

Google glasses
Google glasses

Project Glass is a head-mounted, transparent display that sits a couple of inches away from your eye, at an angle so that it doesn't get in the way, but requires nothing more than for you to swivel your eyeball a fraction to have "the internets" directly beamed into your brain.

Well, not quite, but there is a camera on the frame to help you effortlessly take those Instagram-filtered snaps. We're expecting 3G or 4G wireless capability, GPS, motion sensors and Bluetooth to boot.

Fitting with Google's business

Since its inception, Google has shown that the key to success is to make something great first, and then have faith that profits will follow. Project Glass was born out of Google X Lab, the same department that brought us the self-driving car and that is also rumoured to be working on a space elevator.

This secretive department is allegedly tasked with developing ambitious technologies with the potential to have a large and positive impact on society. It seems that Google has faith that any revolutionary technology that achieves this has the potential to bring unimaginable profits.

Knee-jerk doubts

When Project Glass was demoed at the developer event Google I/O this summer, the live-streamed skydive and the promotional trailer were both beautifully executed. I've got to admit, though, that the "show" is what stole the show for me on the day, feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the product itself - a sentiment that seemed to be shared by many in attendance.

Desktop, tablet, phone and even my watch already ping at the same time in some kind of weird 8-bit orchestral harmony to let me know that I've been retweeted. Do I really want or need a pair of glasses to do the same?

My mind then started to spiral into a pit of scepticism, asking myself: "Won't someone PLEASE think of the data charges!?"

Even if the Glasses can be tethered to your existing mobile phone and you don't have to go through the pain of getting a separate data contract for your glasses, you can now happily look forward to receiving a text from your mobile operator only three days into the billing month to warn you that you are already running out of data. Brilliant. Also, there is no guarantee that the display will work well in lowor strong-light situations and there has been some grumbling about how, at a fixed distance from people's eyes, the display will accommodate varying degrees of eyesight.

In fact, a lot of people took to the web to start talking about the hurdles that Project Glass needed to overcome before it got anywhere near a consumer launch, so I'll do my best to not repeat all of the hurdles in detail here but simply give you a few headlines.

Privacy concerns: "This is the tool that stalkers have always wanted! Taking surreptitious photos of people has never been easier."

Social concerns: "Hi! How was your ... *eyes glaze over* Hmm? Sorry, I just got an urgent e-mail."

Safety concerns: "Was that a red light? I was just looking at a picture of a cat on Facebook."

One day later

When I woke up the next morning, I'd had time to digest and reflect on Project Glass. With the scepticism having worked its way out of my system, I started to see the other side of the coin.

Most of the Project Glass concerns are endemic in all mobile technology and, with almost half-a-billion smartphones shipping in 2011 alone, I realised the world probably wouldn't end if people started wearing these weird glasses.

With this in mind, I was free to think about what good may come of it. I sat down with a few others at TH_NK to consider the potential applications and had a long list in a short space of time ... the possibilities could be endless.

What it means for Brands

Let's just take it for granted that if Google is allowing third-party developers to create applications for Glass, then brands have as much permission to play as developers.

For us, though, there is something more powerful and exciting to consider: the ability to measure real-world exposure to marketing messages. Imagine the Nielsen TV families of the 21st century, going about their daily lives and being paid a small fee by a research agency for permission to mine data about what ads they pay attention to, in-field and in-context. This is a strategist's dream. Glass sits in the background and returns data so we can know, with 100 per cent accuracy, which branded messages people spend time looking at.

A Final thought

There certainly are a large number of ifs, buts and maybes regarding Project Glass from every point of view imaginable: technological, cultural, philosophical, economical. But one of the things I love about this project is that Google is among the very small number of businesses that could actually pull off something this audacious, and is seizing that opportunity with its full weight.

This brings to mind the words of the Gryphon in Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking-Glass: "The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time."

Ramzi Yakob is a strategist at the digital strategy agency TH_NK.


Cycle safety

You are cycling through London, and you are approaching a junction and notice in your ambient vision the colour red. This is Glass telling you that the junction is a hot spot for cycling accidents without you having to take your eyes off the road, prompting you to cycle cautiously.

Theatre subtitles

Making mainstream theatre accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing by providing real-time subtitles through the display.

Time trial

Seeing a "ghost" version of yourself when you are running as an indicator of how you are performing compared with your personal best or a target that you have set yourself.

Second-screen sports statistics

Receiving live stats of a sporting event instantly, regardless of if you are watching it live at the venue or on TV.

Contact recognition

Bumping into someone you recognise but can't quite remember the name of and handily being reminded of that key detail along with information about your mutual friends and the last time and place where you met.

The list could go on, but we are keeping the rest close to our chest for when Google starts selling developer kits next year, and the race to develop life-changing services really begins.