Since Google Glass was announced, the debate on the Internet has revolved around whether it will succeed or fail to reach the mass consumer market. The arguments I’ve read tend to boil down to either the oft-repeated Android rallying cry that “it’s only a matter of time” or the Apple-hip “too dorky for anyone’s face” schtick (which, let’s be honest, could easily be fixed by Sir Jony Ive’s tender embrace). Until recently, I’ve honestly been a bit torn on the whole thing. On the one hand, yeah, there’s no way I’d wear Google Glass in public (nor want Google collecting what I see). But on the other hand, this kind of stuff really just blows my mind.
This morning I finally realized: I don’t care about Google Glass as an object or a product. I don’t care if it succeeds (it won’t, at least right now). I care about Google Glass as the beginning of a movement toward passive interactions and interfaces. I care about Google Glass for its underlying, fundamental statement that data streams should be just that. Streams. Photos, videos stories and information that flow past us, allowing us a passive awareness, with the ability latch onto to the pieces we care most about.
With the smartphone, we finally untethered our streams from our desks. As a tool, it has enabled us to communicate with each other and access information from wherever we are. Is that new restaurant any good? How do I get there? I should invite some friends to go with me. That was fun, I want share these photos from tonight with them. All of these thoughts now cause us to instinctively and reflexively reach into our pockets and purses for a powerful, magical device that, ten years ago, was dumb, bulky and prohibitively expensive.
However, our phones are also dams for information, hiding our streams and data behind lock screens and app tiles. Sure, we’ve hacked them for some use cases, like turn-by-turn directions on top of the lock screen and some fairly basic voice control (which, honestly, seems more novelty than anything). But the truth is that, no matter what UI trick we come up with, there is no way to know what’s going on and select what’s important without stopping what you’re doing and focusing all of your attention on your phone. And with every new stream of information we add, we find ourselves concentrating more and more on our devices instead of each other. Our phones buzz and we pause our interactions to check and see if the buzz was important.
We need to start thinking about, building and designing passive interfaces and hardware to enable them. This isn’t the end of the smartphone, it’s the evolution. The smartphone is a powerful tool. Products like Google Glass are attempting to transform that tool into a sixth sense. Passive interfaces will help us, with a glance instead of a gaze, decide what needs our full attention and what does not (side note: Google Glance would have been a much better name, I think). It will allow the stream to be a stream.
So, really, we should quit arguing about whether or not Google Glass is going to succeed or fail. The product in its current state (like the Zach Morris phone) will inevitably fall far short of mass-market success. However, it’s foolish to ignore the questions it poses and the opportunity the answers offer us. Passive interfaces are the future. They will untether us from our smartphones. They’ll tell us more about the world around us and ultimately allow us to concentrate more on what really matters: what’s right in front of us.