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.

Looking through my crystal (Glass) ball

google glassI do not have a crystal ball, nor is my Google Glass able to predict the future, at least not beyond the upcoming weather but then that’s based on reports from people who get paid to be wrong a lot of the time. (Sorry, meteorologists, but I’m not alone in my assessment of your craft.)

My point is that what I’m about to tell you is a wild guess based on personal opinion with little basis in fact.

The technology represented by Google Glass is not doomed.

Robert Scoble (Photo from androidheadlines.com)

Matt Honan (Photo from his Google+ profile)

Recently, Robert Scoble, one of the first wearers and possibly most outspoken advocate for Google Glass in the past year, posted something on Google+ that was critical of another tech writer’s review of Glass. I believe Matt Honan (who writes for one of my favorite magazines: WIRED) misrepresented what is happening with Glass overall. But I cannot fault him for writing about his personal experiences, since that’s what most of my blog posts are about lately. Nevertheless, in his review of the review and of his own experiences with Glass, Scoble wrote, “Glass is doomed.”

I have lost track of the number of headlines and link-bait articles I have seen crop up since then declaring Glass dead. I find it simultaneously amusing and infuriating how much the world of tech journalism seems to feed upon itself. Scoble’s original full comment was:

But Google Glass is doomed. Why do I say that? Because the tech press tells me so.

The tech press then took part of Scoble’s comment and repeated the out-of-context snippet over and over, apparently following the old public relations adage that if you say something often enough it becomes true.

So let me jump back to where I started — the technology of Google Glass is not doomed. I do not know if Google Glass will survive in the mainstream. I think Scoble makes some good points about its wearability, its functionality and, primarily, its cost to consumers. I also agree with him that some of Glass’ future problems are the result of people having set expectations too high. It’s interesting to me that Scoble is one of those who could not say enough about how life-changing Glass was when he, as one of the tech industry’s cool kids, got to wear it first. Maybe those cool kids are more willing to bash it now because so many others are getting to wear it, too, and so it’s cooler to say it’s not cool anymore. Confused? Sorry, I’ve had a life-long problem with figuring out “cool.”

My personal experience with Glass has been very interesting and exciting and eye-opening. But I’ve also only lived with it for a few weeks. A year from now, maybe I’ll look back and wonder why I was so enamored with the device. Of course, by then, I may have another device to write about — one that builds upon Google’s groundbreaking work to produce a more consumer-friendly and affordable product. And that is my point overall: Google Glass may not last forever, but what it has done for the progress of wearable technology can never be reversed.

I don’t doubt that people said cassettes would never replace LPs, or there were those who doubted CDs could make it because of their price and people would just stick with cassette tapes. I remember when people said we need smaller cell phones, not larger ones. And yet today, I see people running around with “phablets” stuck to their faces as they have phone conversations on devices as large as a memo pad.

Fear of the unknown and early adopters who make inaccurate predictions are nothing new. Unfortunately, we now live in the Internet Age in which a small snippet of one quote taken out of context can be spread like a 140-character wildfire. Imagine if the supposedly historical predictions* noted below had been spread that way and inventions were not allowed to develop into what they are today?

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”

Darryl Zanuck, executive at 20th Century Fox, 1946 

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

“Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the Internet’s continuing exponential growth. But I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”

Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, 1995

If that last prediction had come true, I wouldn’t have this blog as an outlet for my thoughts. I suppose some might think that’s a good thing, but I believe this little corner of the world that my writing calls home serves a purpose. My goal is to inform, persuade and perhaps entertain the readers. But most of all, I want to get people talking about things so that, together, we can make predictions, discuss outcomes, take credit when we are right and humbly accept criticism when we are wrong. I suppose Robert Scoble, Matt Honan and I at least have that in common.

Now if I only I was cool, too, whatever that means.

I grew up with Fonzie as the guru of cool. No wonder Gen X is so screwed up.

*I lifted the prediction quotes from “The 7 Worst Predictions of All Time” posted at Techhive.com.