A device is worth more than the sum of its apps

hatersI generally don’t give haters my attention, because you can’t help someone who refuses to learn and relies on knee-jerk emotional reactions to things instead of becoming educated and reaching an informed conclusion. But sometimes I’m reminded of a phrase I heard once and latched onto:

“I blog because not only do I have an opinion, I cannot keep it to myself.”

The haters and beraters attacking Google Glass and its users seem to be growing in number and intensity, at least according to the sensationalistic press that can’t wait to breathlessly tear down that which they don’t understand.

But the same media that is looking to report on the problems associated with Glass also tend stick with the notion that Google’s wearable computer is defined by its apps, which isn’t something they do with other tech devices.

Headline after headline will tout that “Google Glass allows wearers to X…” or “Google Glass does Y.” The thing is, often the most sensationalistic headlines are grossly inaccurate because the feature they are reporting on isn’t inherent to Glass but rather is provided by an app created by a third-party developer.

I don’t recall seeing any headlines about iPhones doing something or the Samsung Galaxy Gear watch doing something else based solely on a third-party app that was written by someone not associated with or approved by the manufacturer. galaxy-gear--samsung-smartwatch-review-camera-picture-540x334In fact, they even tend to ignore facts about the devices themselves, such as the Gear having a camera. (That means people can clandestinely shoot pictures while appearing to check the time on their wrist. How many bars and restaurants have you heard about banning Gear?)

Google Glass is a platform with amazing potential. It is exciting to watch the Google Glass community discussions on Google Plus as people chat about what they envision wearable technology like Glass being able to help us do in the future, and sometimes in the very near future. Entrepreneurial app developers are finding new ways to entertain, aid and support Glass owners. Sometimes they hit the mark, sometimes they come up with something silly, and sometimes they create an app that is just pointless. It’s the same thing that happens with Android developers and iOS developers, although that tends to happen less with iOS due to Apple’s near-maniacal control over their universe.

So the next time you see a story lambasting Google and its Glass users for doing something outrageous or creepy, consider whether it’s the device, the user or the app that should be the focus of the article. Two of the apps that have received a lot of over-the-top news coverage include the ones that let users record their sexual encounters and another that provides information to the wearer based on facial recognition. (Having just typed those two descriptions in the same sentence makes me wonder if a new app – Google Beer Goggles – might help avoid some awkward morning-after guessing games with the person you met at the bar last night and suddenly found yourself waking up next to this morning. But I digress.)

Is the sex video app pointless and stupid? Sure. Is it Google Glass’ fault? No, because it’s a third-party app that has to be side-loaded to Glass, something many users don’t even have the knowledge or guts to do with their very expensive new tech device. So, the headlines really should have been, “Black market app for Google Glass lets you record sexual encounters.” Or, regarding the facial recognition app, we should have seen “Google Glass hackers create app to capitalize on facial recognition.”

After all, I don’t recall seeing news alerts about “Motorola phones have a porn problem.” But that’s because the media correctly reported, “Does Twitter’s Vine have a porn problem?”

illegals appAnd I don’t remember seeing headlines that read, “Want to practice your illegal alien smuggling skills? Get an iPhone.” That’s because the media correctly reported it as, “Want to practice your illegal alien smuggling skills? There’s an app for that.” 

Google Glass is a piece of hardware with built-in software and the ability to add new functionality through applications. The services those applications provide can change the use, but they do not change the nature of Glass being nothing more than a machine.

How we as humans adapt and use that machine is important, but it often can be the fault of the user practicing poor judgment or tapping into a third-party app if something goes awry. A device is worth more than the sum of its apps and should not be judged by them, no matter how stellar or stupid they might be.

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Mobile phones are doomed

OK, I admit it. That headline is all about link bait, but what tech journal or blog isn’t based on that most of the time these days? I jest, because I hate that kind of writing.

As a Google Glass Explorer, however, I have to endure my share of “they are doomed” types of blog posts, news articles and comments on social media networks.

The fact that the devices are only available to very early adopters (“Explorers”) should key everyone in that these aren’t yet ready for mainstream use. There is no surprise there, since a lot of new technology goes through the prototype, developer, alpha and beta stages before people can get their hands on it.

One of the biggest problems for Google Glass is that society has become so accustomed to instant gratification that allowing a concept to develop naturally is seen as a failure.

m_40052_1Too often, I see people wanting to compare Google Glass to modern-day mobile phones. But that is a ridiculous notion. When mobile phones first came out, they were bulky, expensive to buy and use, and seen initially as status symbols for elitists. I remember folks not understanding the need to have a phone with you all the time. I was a newspaper reporter in the early 1990s and the paper I worked at had one mobile phone. It was a bag phone that you slung over your shoulder on the way out the door after checking it out from the editor’s desk. These days, reporters are filing stories with audio, pictures and video straight from their mobile phones.

Later, when they became mainstream, mobile phones changed again, turning into computing devices that could allow us to get email on the go — a feature about which I heard people say, “Why would we want that?!” and “Those keyboards are so tiny, no one will ever use them for serious business work.” I do the majority of my work on my mobile phone and tablets these days, so put another chalk mark in the “Wrong!” column for those folks.

My headline on this post, while sensationalistic, does have a point. I believe mobile phones are doomed — in the long run. The landline phone is becoming a dinosaur as more and more people abandon them in their homes and stick with just their mobile phones. Eventually, as wearable computing devices like Glass and smart watches evolve, I suspect they will replace mobile phones. Imagine what will happen to the mobile phone industry when developers find a way to supply cell tower, WiFi and Internet connections directly to a watch or glasses instead of via a mobile phone connection. I can envision an era when people might say, “When I was young, we had to carry phones around in our hands. Kids today don’t know how good they have it.”

I have no idea how long it will take, but it will happen. The naysayers who think Google Glass is useless because it doesn’t have enough apps seem to forget that iPhones and Android phones didn’t have hundreds of thousands of apps available their first year. Those developed over time as smart, creative people found new ways to use mobile phones with an app that many others could not have initially imagined but that they now take for granted.

180px-IPhone_2G_PSD_Mock

iPhone 1

In 2007, Apple Computer launched the iPhone, the company’s first ever smartphone. When the device launched, the device did not provide any support for third-party software: Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs believed that web applications served over the internet could provide adequate functionality required for most users. (Wikipedia)

Haters are going to hate. The uniformed and uninitiated will fear that which they do not understand. But none of that should stop explorers (of all kinds, not just Google Glass Explorers) from boldly advancing. If we never had anyone say “There should be an app for that,” we would not find our mobile phones as powerful or useful as they are today.

I hope those people always keep dreaming.

And to the folks who insist on declaring something useless or doomed because it has not had time to develop properly, please accept that there are some extraordinary things going on with or without your support. But your noise is distracting the people who are going to make a difference in this world and they would really appreciate a little quiet from your corner of the Internet.

Oh yeah, and the Internet was never going to amount to anything either, remember?

800px-First_Web_Server

This NeXT workstation (a NeXTcube) was used by Tim Berners-Lee as the first Web server on the World Wide Web. It is shown here as displayed in 2005 at Microcosm, the public science museum at CERN (where Berners-Lee was working in 1991 when he invented the Web). (Wikipedia)