Google Glass in its current form might be the ultimate early-adopter status symbol, but project leaders at Google think it will grow into a broadly-accepted product. "There's a real opportunity for Glass to become mainstream," product director Steve Lee said today at Google I/O. "We were surprised at how quickly there was a positive reaction."
Lee was speaking to a large crowd gathered for a "fireside chat" on the future of Glass, and his comments were echoed by other Google employees on stage. "We want Glass to have a big positive impact on the world," said designer Isabelle Olsson. Engineer Charles Mendis said he thought Glass would "drive forward certain types of technologies," particularly battery development. That's heady talk for a platform that will have just 10,000 units in the wild over the next few months: Google has completed inviting the 2,000 Glass Explorers who signed up at last year's I/O conference, and will soon start inviting the 8,000 people selected from the #ifihadglass social marketing campaign. "It's exciting that group isn't developers," said Lee. "It's a nice cross section: teachers, athletes, DJs, dentists, hairstylists, all sorts of people."
"We want Glass to have a big positive impact on the world."
But the Glass team wasn't dissuaded by the reality of their current numbers. "We couldn't do this in a secret lab at Google," said Lee, explaining why the Glass program was unfolding in stages. "We have to get out there ourselves and understand the social implications and educate society on why we think this is a good thing." The strategy seems to be working; Lee said he's seen "incredible optimism and excitement" from "normal folks." The audience laughed as Lee clarified: "These aren't people who read The Verge or TechCrunch."
But wearable devices have a history of social stigma, and Lee acknowledged that Glass has to buck that trend. "I've yet to meet someone who likes being around people with Bluetooth headsets on," he said, adding that Glass "needs to be something positive" in order to escape that reputation. "How do we design Glass to be social, to not take you out of the moment, but to keep you in the moment? That's the key principle." The goal, he said, was for Glass to be good not only for its wearer, but for the people around the wearer. "You can share moments with people and they see benefits," he said. "You'd like to know something and Glass is so good at getting that information that you become a hero."
It's perhaps the ultimate expression of Google's culture: rapid information retrieval can make us all heroes. Just wear this camera and display on your face all the time.