Defining a startup around Google’s Project Glass

Scoble has another one of his excellent interviews online. This one is with two managing directors of Menlo Ventures. Lots of insights for entrepreneurs. View the video on YouTube.

At just past the 11 minute mark Scoble asks, “Is it too early to pitch a company just for these wearable computers, Google’s Project Glass?”

Considering that the Glass product might now ship till 2014 Shawn Carolan responds, “Here’s what you don’t want to count on: is if the only place to make any money and build intellectual property is once the glasses start to ship. That’s a way’s off. However, you start to think there’s a lot of apps that very clearly can find some market in mobile and then the market will explode when you get to the glasses. You’ll be interacting with it 24/7 rather than when just open up your phone.”

City touring for those who don’t use tour guides

The ability of Google’s Field Trip app to let a person know what’s around them as they walk through a city has been a long desired feature for travel apps. Not everyone wants to employ a tour guide. But this type of ambient local discovery app is not going to present a major disruption to the walking tour business with a real guide. People hire tour guides for a different reason. (More on that in another post.)

This type of app will have a greater impact on travel publishing by further reducing the perceived need to purchase a guidebook. For a traveler comfortable wandering a city a Field Trip app is a great asset to have around. Personally, I find unplanned excursions to be a great way of exploring an area. In the copywriting on the companion site for the app Google re-enforces that theme repeatedly:

there is no path, only the one you make”

“Field Trip day is dedicated to the art of the wander, and discovery through exploration”

“There are no right choices, no wrong turns – but there are treasures to be uncovered just out of sight.”

“This is not a tour. There is no guide. It is discovery, pure & simple.

Odd it might seem then for a product that targets unplanned use is that Google sponsored organized Field Trip days when the app was launched. Perhaps that simply was as a means of gaining feedback via a public beta test (without calling it that).

Note that the positioning of this product is for the local explorer and not the traveler. People are more comfortable exploring the familiar but I can see the appeal of ambient local discovery apps to travelers with an adventurous spirit.

For a review of the Field Trip app see the article by Rachel Metz in Technology Review, and Metz points out that the app would be most useful on vacations when a person is more likely to have the time for random interruptions. As most of us go about our daily lives we really don’t have the time to be pestered by historical tidbits or the latest deal down the block. Fortunately, the ability to set notification levels and the type of data is built into the app.

I’m hoping we’ll see the capabilities of this app built into the future Project Glass. If so, then Google has a huge winner on their hands.

What could convince me to develop for Android

I’m an iOS developer, but I don’t have a religious affinity towards Apple. I do like Apple products. I really enjoy coding in Objective-C. Yes, really. Mainly, though, I’m an iOS developer because Apple presents the most profitable platform for developers at the moment. With the iOS SDK I can create apps that people will use, and I can earn a living from that creativity. Yeah, I like that. With the iPhone and iPad Apple is an exciting platform for a developer.

But that may not always be the case. I’m keeping a close eye on what’s emerging at Google (no pun intended). If an SDK is released for Project Glass then I’ll want to use it. I have no idea whether Project Glass is powered by Android. Presumably, that is the case.

I also would be very interested in developing for Kindle Fire if Amazon had a more robust SDK. I’m not interested in developing e-books (though as a former librarian I have a tremendous love for books and e-books). I’m more interested in visual alternatives to long-form narratives and, sadly, the Kindle platform doesn’t seem to support that very well in comparison to the iPad.

We’ll see what happens with Project Glass, but I’m sensing it’s time to brush up on my Java skills.

Headset as disrupting factor in mobile

We all know that Google is working on a headset that will make computing hands-free. No one knows if Apple has anything like that under development. I suspect there is something happening in a locked-room behind a veil of secrecy in Cupertino. (If not, maybe Jony Ive could release a line of designer eyewear after he retires from Apple! May not be wearable computing but sure would be trendy.)

As one thinks more about Google’s Project Glass it becomes obvious that a headset of some sort is going to be a huge disrupting factor in mobile computing. I will go as far as to say that it is the future of mobile computing. Not putting a date to that but in a few years we all will have forgotten about how companies attempted to broaden their mobile advantage by increasing the screen size of the smartphones we pulled from our pockets.  The future mobile computer will be resting on our head and visual display will take on an entirely new dynamic.

A key question is whether Apple has the determination to create a product that kills the iPhone. Today that sounds crazy but we’ve all read The Innovator’s Dilemma. Google is clearly betting on a wearable headset and it might very well propel Google past Apple at some point down the road in a way that Android on smartphones never accomplished.

In the latter part of episode 56 of The Critical Path (starting around the 57 minute mark), Horace Didiu discusses this topic with guest James Allworth of Harvard Business School Forum for Growth and Innovation. Horace advises “nurture the disruptor…the opposite to whatever sustains you.”

Allworth brings up Google’s Project Glass as potential for disrupting mobile computing (1.03 mark): “I think wearable computing. There’s definitely something there…a lot of value in getting the information on a passive basis rather than the active basis of sticking your hand in your pocket when you need to find something out.”

“We have to do a jobs to be done analysis”, according to Horace, “to understand what people hire these products for, even if they’re not able to tell you… I use the term mobile computing as the overall theme of what’s happening as versus a phone…something that helps you get things done in your life…it’s the apps taking on the job, not the phone itself…Still opportunity above where we are. That we may have reached the ultimate communicator product but we haven’t achieved the ultimate personal assistant product.”

Allworth went on to examine the functionality of icons and how data is accessed by function based on icons. He doesn’t think that approach is going to last that much longer because it does not scale. “I think there’s something about the Google Glasses. It’s going to force them to really, really crack the interface. Because if you got this thing up in your field of vision 24 hours a day , seven days a week, you’re not going to want to scroll through applications. It’s going to have to get more intelligent in thinking about what’s the bit of information you need to know right now?” That ties in directly with the context functionality that Scoble is talking about as next challenges for iOS and Android.

Getting familiar with Google Glass

I mentioned that Google’s Field Trip app hints at the future of Google and its Project Glass. I wanted to learn more about Google Glasses. First thing I learned: don’t call them glasses…there’s not a lens…just a tiny display at the upper-right. Puzzling how that’s going to work…until you think more about it.

David Pogue in in an article titled Google Glass and the Future of Technology calls it an entirely new gadget category…”like a smartphone that you never have to take out of your pocket”. He also has one of the few first-person accounts of it’s like to wear Google Glass:

…the tiny screen is completely invisible when you’re talking or driving or reading. You just forget about it completely. There’s nothing at all between your eyes and whatever, or whomever, you’re looking at.

And yet when you do focus on the screen, shifting your gaze up and to the right, that tiny half-inch display is surprisingly immersive. It’s as though you’re looking at a big laptop screen or something.

If you wear glasses you can try a little experiment. Shift the lens of your glasses up a bit above your eye. Then glance up at the lens: it’s remarkably clear. Hmmm, I wonder if that’s the effect of Google Glass. Having worn glasses for my nearsighted vision since the age of ten, I’ve long been used to that bit of blurred vision outside of the frame. (It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to see how Google Glass could be adapted to also include lens for corrective vision.)

Beyond the hardware innovation the real advantage to users is that Google Glass presents the possibility of a hands-free approach to interacting with a computing device. While a touchpad is integrated in the earpiece it’s certain that voice control offers more advantages.

Earlier in the year Google released a video that gives a point-of-view perspective as to how Google Glass might work. Of course, that video is clearly just a concept rendering with a lot of help from motion graphic designers and not an actual recording of what it’s like to actually use the product.

At the Google I/O 2012 conference Sergey Brin shows the video capture capabilities of Google Glass (“being able to share what you’re seeing live”) by having a group of skydivers stream real-time video from their Google Glass to the auditorium.

Will people actually wear these things? That’s an obvious question, but we already do wear odd things on our bodies. Farhad Manjoo, writing for Technology Review, places Google Glass in a long line of “functional wearable objects—think of glasses, monocles, wristwatches”. Bluetooth headsets being among the latest in that line. And there’s those earplugs with thin cables that trail down into our pockets connecting to our smartphones.

Another first-person account with Google Glass

Spencer E. Ante writes of his experiences with Google Glass, “…long-term potential. The device fit well. It was easy to snap a picture or video without taking my smartphone out of my pocket. It was cool to see the information there in front of my right eye, though a little disorienting.”

Google Glass holds the potential for seamless access to the digital world without managing a gadget.

Field Trip app hints at Google’s future

Aimed at travelers & locals curious to learn more about their city, Google’s Field Trip app (Android only for now) serves up content based on your specific location within that city. The app launches today in six cities.

The app, oddly for a Google product, presents a very nice visual design. There’s  even a sleek made-for-tv commercial. What is Google up to with this app?

An insightful post on the New York Times Bit blog predicts that the app “reveals a lot about the big directions Google wants to go.”

Note the binocular/field glasses motif that also forms the icon for the Field Trip app.

Are those field glasses just ornamentation, clever use of graphics,  or a hint towards Google’s future attempt to disrupt mobile computing with Google Glass & wearable computing?