Google Glass is the new Palm Pilot

When people look back at Google Glass, what will they think of it, I mean as an historical artifact?

It’s possible that it will go the way of the Nintendo Virtual Boy, a bold venture into uncharted user interface territory that went down in ignominious defeat.

The odds are very small that Glass itself will be embraced by millions of users. It is simply too soon — the technology is not quite there yet, and the requisite killer apps have not yet been developed (or even conceived).

My guess is that Google is expecting, and has been planning for, a third outcome: That Glass itself will remain something of a curiosity, but it will push the agenda of wearables forward, by getting it on everyone’s mind.

I think this is why the design is so conservative. There is no attempt to create a true augmented reality device, or registration with objects in the scene. Rather, Glass mostly just supports networked audio reception, image capture, and a kind of visual annotation off in the corner of your field of vision.

Google is not trying to create an Apple Newton — a daring attempt to rethink the future in one fell swoop. Rather, Google is aiming more for the PalmPilot: Something simple with a basic feature set that introduces a new form factor in a very basic way.

The Newton was defeated by its own ambition, trying to do things (like true handwriting recognition) that were not yet supported by available technology. In contrast, the PalmPilot kept expectations low, opting for relatively low resolution/cost, a few well chosen features, and a very solid, if clunky, input method.

Almost exactly ten years later the Applet iPhone came out — a great example of what Bill Buxton calls The Long Nose of innovation.

So somewhere around 2023, partly thanks to a timely and prescient seeding of the space by Google, we might see a wearable device that will seem not only right, but inevitable.

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