Google Glasses seem cool. The technology is remarkable and Google should be rightfully praised for pushing the envelope. But given how Apple is curiously held to standards that no other company in the world is held to, here is what the response to Google Glasses would have been if the product came from Apple and not Google.
Since the passing of Steve Jobs, Apple has been rather wanting when it comes to innovation. Sure, there have been incremental upgrades to products like the iMac and MacBook Pro, but when's the last time Apple truly brought something interesting to the table?
Even Apple's most recent product releases should ring warning bells for investors.
First, the iPhone 5 launch was marred by the fiasco that was Apple Maps. Indeed, the subsequent firing of Scott Forstall reveals that it's not business as usual over at 1 Infinite Loop. Second, the release of the iPad Mini - though it has been selling moderately well - was merely a response to the growing popularity of 7-inch Android tablets.
Remember when companies used to copy Apple and not the other way around?
Put simply, tech enthusiasts have been waiting for the next big thing from Apple for quite some time, and earlier this week Apple unveiled what it's secretly been working on to satiate the masses - wearable glasses.
Yep, the company that revolutionized the way we listen to music and turned the smartphone market up on its head is now tackling...eyewear. I suppose without a decider like Steve Jobs in the mix at Apple anymore, beta products, though seemingly cool, are now being deemed good enough to make it to market.
It's sad, really. A company like Apple was once synonymous with "great" and now they're announcing products that are clearly just "good enough."
As one might expect, Apple unveiled its highly anticipated new product with a slickly produced video showing what users can expect to do with their new Apple Glasses. Basically, if you want to spend $1,500 to wear a mountable video camera, Apple Glasses may be just the thing you're looking for.
Okay, Apple's Glasses can do a bit more than that, but is it really a product that anyone needs? By all accounts, Apple Glasses is a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist.
So let's take a closer look at it's functionality.
Via hands-free voice commands, Apple Glasses can record video, take photographs, and allows users to participate in video chats. Users can also use the device to send hands-free text messages, access directions, translate languages, and even query factoids such as the length of the Brooklyn Bridge.
So essentially what we have here is a smartphone in glasses form. Smart glasses, if you will.
That's all well and good, but what troubles me is not what Apple's new glasses can do, but rather what the glasses can't do.
For example, one of the cooler things demoed in the intro video are the first-person perspective video shots where we're able to see what it's like to be a bike messenger in New York City or a trapeze artist. The ability to take up-close-and-personal video footage of family members playing outside is also nice.
But here's the catch - video is recorded in 10-second increments. According to Joshua Topolosky of The Verge, users can add more video by tapping the side of the device.
So let me get this straight. If I want to record snippets of a dance recital for example, I'll need to periodically tap the side of my glasses every 10 seconds? I thought the device was supposed to let me disconnect from technology and immerse myself in life experiences, not the opposite.
And taking photos via voice command may appear rather nifty in the demo video above, but is it really practical for capturing the right shot at the exact moment you're looking for? And as far as the video shows, there is no ability to zoom in or out, adjust the focus, or really do anything aside from taking a photo as-is.
Putting those concerns aside for a second, where does all of my captured information (video and photos) go? Do the glasses have local storage?
Nope, Apple Glasses make use of the cloud. Everything you record is magically whisked away to your personal cloud storage account.
Okay, I'm on board, but there's just one huge, glaring problem.
The glasses have no cellular connectivity.
Unfortunately, Apple's new glasses are feature-stunted right out of the box. With no cellular connectivity, users either have to connect to a Wi-Fi network or tether their glasses via Bluetooth to their smartphone's 3G or 4G connection. Unfortunately, both are fraught with problems.
First, let's tackle Wi-Fi. Okay, Wi-Fi is plentiful these days, but good luck trying to find a Wi-Fi connection that doesn't require a password. And just how does one go about joining a Wi-Fi network with Apple Glasses? Who knows?! Apple was conveniently silent about that, but one can only surmise that it involves a user tapping the side of their glasses in an effort to cumbersomely enter in a password. And sure, there are open Wi-Fi networks that don't require the use of a password, but 99 times out of a 100 you'll encounter that in a local coffee shop as opposed to a hiking trail or a hot air balloon.
Indeed, you might have noticed in the marketing video above someone skydiving using Apple Glasses. It looks undeniably cool, but how in the world is that possible given the device's limitations? Well, the company "hacked together its own 'home-brewed' transmission technology and used some expensive military options" in order to make it work. Not exactly a solution for the rest of us.
So forget Wi-Fi (maybe Apple will add cellular connectivity in version 2.0, punishing its devoted fans and early adopters as only Apple knows how), because there's always tethering, right?
Sure, but until 4G really becomes prevalent, is this really a viable option? My 3G connection doesn't always run smoothly and I'm supposed to believe that the data connection offered via tethering will be enough to provide sufficient bandwidth to my brand new Apple glasses?
What's more, the entire functionality of Apple's new glasses is entirely data dependent. Texting, accessing flight information, retrieving directions, video chatting - all of the cool features demoed by Apple in their new video - are all dependent on a data connection. Which, of course, begs the question - what in the world is Apple thinking? One has to imagine that if Steve Jobs were still alive, he would have Apple's engineers work tirelessly for weeks on end until they were able to incorporate a cellular connection into the device.
Josh Topolsky, who spent a good few hours with Apple's new glasses as part of his thorough review for The Verge observed these limitations first hand.
Some of the issues stemmed from a more common problem: no data. A good data connection is obviously key for the device to function properly, and when taking Glass outside for stroll, losing data or experiencing slow data on a phone put the headset into a near-unusable state.
I hate to say it but it really seems that Apple under the direction of Tim Cook has really lost its way. Tim Cook may say all the right buzzwords when speaking publicly, and no one can really doubt his passion, but Apple's current CEO still hasn't proven that he has what it takes to follow up on Apple's string of revolutionary products.
Remember when Apple used to announce a new product and give us a firm launch date along with a locked-in-place price point? And remember when, following a new product announcement from Apple, the company would let members of the press give it a hands-on test run?
Well, the new Apple, unfortunately, leaves much to the imagination.
Apple is sadly mum on the details, but the company wants to release Apple Glasses to the mass market sometime in 2013 at an undisclosed price.
And if you want to get your eyeballs behind them sooner than that, well you can just participate in Apple's sponsored contest, where you'll have to explain what type of cool things you would do if you had Apple Glasses.
Okay, sounds exciting enough.
Oh wait, I forgot to mention the fine print. "Winners" of the contest have to drop $1,500 on the device, and not only that, have to fly out to either New York City, San Francisco, or Los Angeles to pick them up in person.
Leave it to arrogant old Apple to assume, and rightfully so, that their fans are just rabid and crazy enough to pay $1,500 for a prototype device and are willing to trek out to San Fran, LA, or NYC to pick it up - on their own dime no less.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Overall, Apple will be selecting 8,000 winners who will become "Glass Explorers." These fine folks will effectively be doing a lot of the field testing that Apple was either a) too lazy to do or b) incapable of doing itself.
Project Glass product director Steve Lee said as much to The Verge's Josh Topolosky:
Once those Explorer editions are out in the world, you can expect a slew of use (and misuse) in this department. Maybe misuse is the wrong word here. Steve tells me that part of the Explorer program is to find out how people want to (and will) use Glass. "It’s really important," he says, "what we’re trying to do is expand the community that we have for Glass users. Currently it’s just our team and a few other [...] people testing it. We want to expand that to people outside of [us]. We think it’s really important, actually, for the development of Glass because it’s such a new product and it’s not just a piece of software. We want to learn from people how it’s going to fit into their lifestyle.
Apple's new Glasses incorporate a lot of cool technology and may indeed be an engineering marvel, but it sadly doesn't offer anything for the mainstream consumer. Sure, I'd love to see first-person footage of Peyton Manning wearing them while throwing in the pocket, or footage from a surfer scaling a 20+ foot wave at Mavericks, but how in the world is this product a game changer?
Products like the iPod and the iPhone were runaway hits because their utility required no explanation. The manner in which those products fit into people's lifestyle was obvious and apparent. Now, unfortunately, Apple is going the alternate route with its heralded new glasses. It's hyping up and pushing a product without first ascertaining if it even has a place on people's lifestyles.
Oh, how they mighty have fallen.
Another issue we haven't heard any details about is battery life. If I'm recording and uploading a lot of video footage, I can't imagine the battery will be able to last me throughout the day. What's the alternative? Turning the glasses on and off when you need them, I suppose. But doesn't that defeat the purpose of wearing the glasses (instant access to information and data capture) in the first place?
It's also worth noting that hedge fund manager Eric Jackson sent out a tweet earlier this week saying that a VC who had used the glasses told him that the device "actually is not very good at the moment, gives big headaches."
Of course, Apple's marketing machine makes sure that such observations never hit the mainstream.
What's more, there are practical and societal implications to be considered regarding Apple Glasses.
For example, a world where everyone is wearing Apple Glasses is a world where everyone is potentially being video-taped 24/7. And sure, that potential exists today with the proliferation of smartphones, but recording footage with a smartphone is rather conspicuous.
And I haven't even yet tackled the issue of aesthetics - namely, who wants to be walking around wearing glasses when they don't have to? Who wants to live in a world where masses of people are running around saying "Ok Glass" to themselves, insulated in their own little augmented reality bubble?
It's no surprise that many folks are already likening Apple Glasses to the Segway to the extent that both products incorporate incredibly cool and ambitious technology into a product that simply doesn't resonate with the mainstream.
Mark Wilson opined back in April:
The Segway flopped in part for its cost and in part for the fact that humanity isn’t quite that lazy, but there was a deeper, visceral reaction to the core of the product that signified a silly future rather than an inspiring one.
I hate to say it, but I'm starting to question if Apple has what it takes to compete in the tech marketplace post-Steve Jobs. Samsung is now innovating more on the smartphone front than Apple is, and we haven't seen true innovation from Apple - in any market - in quite some time.
Apple Glasses is a noble effort, to be sure, but Apple doesn't have the ability anymore to take cool technology and wrap it up in a device that actually improves people's lives and appeals to the mainstream.
Instead, Apple is trying to sell us on a product with cool technology that belongs more in a MIT research lab than it does on the shelves.