In the final minutes of a two-hour conversation that opened the Google I / O conference on May 11, the company’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, briefly presented the proposal for a new version of a product that is went very badly a few years ago: Google Glass. Although they take up much less space than the other products listed here, the fact that the presentation ends is iconic.
Google often uses its annual developer event as a space to showcase concepts that stay in people’s imagination and eventually become products in the first place. This time around, the announcement offers an alternative to the metaverse, an idea that was hammered out by Mark Zuckerberg, who also changed the name of his company from Facebook to Meta.
We are taking steps towards a more immersive digital life. The “new Google Glass” is still a prototype, closer to a desire than a commercial. However, it opens up incredible technological possibilities. It remains to be seen whether the company will be able to address the problems of the original version, especially those related to the invasion of privacy.
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Google Glass was launched in 2013, taking advantage of the technology industry’s move at the moment in favor of buttonless smart products. It was a personal project of Sergey Brin, co-founder of the company, which offers the ability to make smartphone calls, easily take photos and videos, and browse web pages, which are projected on a small screen in front of the straight eye.
Technological innovations and the expectations created around Google Glass indicate that it would be another great success for the company. But a series of problems turned it into a resounding failure, and it was discontinued in 2015.
For starters, why pay $ 1,500 for something that no one really knew what it was and that the battery lasted only three hours? The little that Glass offers could be done with advantages even from smartphones. Also, the product was considered dirty or at least did not fit the way people dressed.
But one of the biggest problems was the invasion of privacy issues. A camera that will constantly point out annoying interlocutors, even more so when the user could take pictures and even record video without the other party knowing. There was always a fear that the crew would be invaded by pirates.
Maybe it was a product ahead of its time, but most likely it was launched with a technological euphoria that didn’t consider the impacts it could have on people’s lives. Now Google has a lot more technological maturity to launch a more useful and consistent product. But the question that needs to be asked in the face of every new technology remains: do its benefits outweigh the problems it brings?
The company seems to have learned from the mistakes of the original Glass. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, the new version was focused on solving a real need. “Language is key to connecting with each other. Yet, understanding someone who speaks a different language or who tries to converse if you are deaf or hard of hearing can be a real challenge,” Pichai said in the presentation. Therefore, the new Glass captures the audio of the speaker and presents subtitles with the translation projected on the lens of the glasses.
Augmented reality is metaverse
There is a fundamental difference between metaverse concepts, such as Meta, and augmented reality, such as Google Glass. The first means being immersed in a reality that does not exist, in a completely digital environment. It’s like being in a game, and not interacting with it “from the outside”. Augmented reality, on the other hand, projects digital elements into our reality, allowing us to interact with them as if they really exist.
The metaverse is simpler to understand, since there are products that drink from this source for two decades. The best known of these is Second Life, launched in 2003 and which still exists today, despite having a proportionately few users today.
Zuckerberg’s proposal now adds immersion in this digital environment, thanks to devices such as virtual reality glasses. Considering the billions of dollars the company has invested in the technology, it’s not a question of “if,” but of “when” will be offered with all that is presented. Perhaps the biggest barrier is the popularization of virtual reality devices, which are still too expensive for the masses.
Augmented reality, in turn, has an even greater impact, that we are not the ones “entering” the digital world, but virtual elements that “invade” our world, allowing for its manipulation. Movies and series have abused this resource to demonstrate futurism.
This is the case with the interface used by the character Tony Stark, in some “Iron Man” movies, from Marvel. Lots of people leave the theaters who want to be able to use the function! But bold proposals also exist in the real world, such as those introduced by Microsoft a few years ago, around its products such as HoloLens glasses.
Many other companies are also trying to plant their flag in this field, such as Snapchat, which offers its Spectacles glasses, created for people to share photos and videos, with a new version that also offers augmented reality features. And we can’t forget about Apple, which promises its own glasses with this feature soon.
Maybe the original Google Glass was a commercial failure, but it allowed us to think about potential problems with a technology like this. This paved the way for better augmented reality services and the metaverse itself. That’s not to say they’ve all been resolved.
The issue of privacy is always on the agenda, awaiting regulation by companies as well as legislation to prevent abuse. In addition, some experts fear that with the increasingly immersive and customizable digital worlds, many people will turn to them as an escape from their real problems, almost as if they were a new type of drug.
There is no doubt that we are on our way to this. Virtual and augmented reality bring incredible possibilities to improve our lives, and despite these concerns, the more immersive they are, the more powerful and fun they will be.
So, wanting to “resist” doesn’t make much sense. What we need to do is understand and take ownership of all its benefits and control its risks.