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Mobile Displays – Google Glass, the eyeglass style mobile device, has continued to generate interest, criticism and commentary since Project Glass was first announced by Google in April, 2012. As described by my colleague Norbert Hildebrand this week in his article Google Glass Enters Evaluation Phase, Glass devices that have been shipped to developers and interested users have resulted in a good number of user reviews providing an early evaluation of Glass’ potential. What the evaluations to date cannot provide however, is insight concerning the market acceptance of Glass when (and if) it eventually reaches the consumer market. I say “if” since recent press reports say that Glass shipments to consumers will likely be pushed from 2013 into 2014 while Google continues to refine the device and its applications.
To date, user evaluations of Glass have focused on what it does and how it might be used, with considerable considerations of privacy issues and the “geek factor” associated with the use of such a wearable device. I have been involved with the development and application of virtual, or near-to-the-eye displays like Glass since the 1990’s. While virtual display applications in electronic viewfinders have had some success, the widely anticipated applications of virtual displays to wearable, eyeglass and head mounted displays have had only limited success – primarily in technical, industrial and specialist applications. Widespread consumer adoption of eyeglass displays has not taken off though, with the technologies now available as exemplified by smartphones and Glass, attractive and capable devices can be demonstrated.
As I have followed the development and applications of virtual displays, I have come to believe that the primary road block to their widespread consumer adoption in eyeglass form factor are matters of style and cultural acceptance rather than technology. In approaching Project Glass, Google has applied a great deal of attention to these matters. Google’s latest efforts to address these issues have been described this week by the New York Times reporting on Google’s efforts, and also in an article featuring Glass in the magazine Vogue.
The Times article describes at length Google’s efforts to address the style issue and includes background and insights into some of the leaders of the Glass design team (photo below, showing from left: Jean Wang, a hardware engineer; Isabelle Olsson, lead industrial designer; and Kelly Liang, director of business development).
In its September issue, Vogue has published a 12 page photo spread featuring models wearing Glass (photo below). In taking the path it has, Google is making sustained efforts to address the remaining and primarily nontechnological barriers to consumer acceptance of wearable mobile devices like Glass. We can expect to see further efforts along these lines as Google advances and further assesses the potential success of the product. While the jury is still out, the next twelve months should tell an interesting tale of the rise, and potential fall, of a new category of consumer electronic product. – Phil Wright