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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.