Published on May 28th,2013 at 3:47 PM
By >RENO J. TIBKE

Google Glass, Meta Wants Your Milkshake! …Do Consumers Want Either of Them?

Meta-glass

Google Glass fever and upstart Meta’s rapidly financed US $100,000 Kickstarter campaign indicate #1. impending altered reality market maturity, or #2. everything new remixes the old, but still the geeks sing “Ohhhhh look, shiny!

Google Glass: Loudest Voice in the Room
In development for several years and announced way back when, Glass finally got to developers and the geek elite about two months ago (for US $1500, plus getting oneself to a mandatory orientation meeting thingy). Glass is a kind of hybrid between a head-mounted display and augmented reality (AR) prosthetic outfitted with the internets. Really, if you’re reading Akihabara News you’re probably already hip, but if not there’s a search engine very ready to help you. Big G overlord Eric Schmidt indicated last month that a consumer-ready Glass product is about a year away. Realistically, at this point it’s unclear whether Glass is expected to be a viable consumer product or more of a proof-of-concept development platform.

Meta: Quickly Kickstarted, High-Profile Team Assembled – Working Man’s AR?
If you saw last year’s sci-fi short film “Sight” or the YouTube sci-fi series “H+,” you’re already hip to what Columbia University’s Meron Gribetz & pals are aiming for with Meta. While Glass is more of a HUD with some AR, Meta is less with the acronyms and more what the name suggests: information about information, i.e., Meta hopes to overlay manipulatable imagery/data on the physical world, augmenting real reality and projecting virtual reality (VR) artifacts that you can fiddle with in real time.

For now, Meta has a slick video, a prototype, a crack team of engineers and advisors including professor Steven Feiner and wearable computing advocate guy Steve Mann, and financing to get their dev kit into dev’s hands. To its credit, Meta does seem to aim less at generalized gee-whiz gimmickry and heads-up automated narcissism, and more toward the getting actual work done.


Asian Alternatives:
First: POPSCI, very well done. The image on the above left melts one’s technosnarky heart.

In typical form, China has assimilated and excreted: the Baidu Eye is their Glass clone. There’s no indication of plans to bring it to market, so maybe they just wanted to say “Ha, ha, we can, too!” Or maybe they just wanted to do research and ride the Glass hype, which is understandable. But China, dude – might wanna think about doing some original stuff someday soon. That lack of intellectual capital is going to sting when “Designed in California” meets “Made in the U.S.A. With My 3D Printer.

Over here in Japan we’ve got startup Telepathy One pushing a Glass-looking, but as they openly declare, not Glass-like AR headset (above-right). While technology writers rhetorically speculating as much in a headline makes for good Search Engine Optimization (other adjectives include: disingenuous, blithe, lame), rather than compete with Glass, Telepathy One is focusing on social networking & multimedia – but they too are clearly attempting to catch the contemporary current of AR hype – which is understandable. And hey, even if Telepathy One flashes and disappears, that fact that the phrase “Japanese Startup” can be used without the usual preface of “Why Aren’t There Any…” is a positive thing.

Okay Then, It’s Almost Doable – But Still…
Indeed, the apps, core software, computational capability, and the ubiquitous-enough network connectivity essential for decent AR are quickly ramping up. Along with innovative concepts like the AR/VR mashup Eidos Masks, alternatives to and more advanced versions of the above devices will likely continue to crop up. In fact, the never-even-close-to-being-vaguely-realized promises of VR are also showing signs of decreased morbidity. So…

We Actually Want It vs. They Want Us to Want It
Glass, the engine of the current VR hype machine, is of course conceptually nothing new, but it has the word “Google” in the name, so people are paying attention. Of course even Google gets ahead of itself from time to time (Buzz? Wave?), but lucky for them selling ads pays well, and they’ve got a boatload of cash to pour into whatever sounds cool. Millions have benefited from Google’s side projects and non-traditional ventures (Gmail much?), but the expectations leveled on Glass are… perhaps a bit much. Suffice it to say, Google absolutely nails search and software and web apps, but thus far big-G’s hardware projects have but limped.

But if we’ve got the cash, that probably won’t stop us! The soft tyranny of the tech elite is the ability to ring a shiny bell and then watch the doggies line up to pay. Luckily, actually useless products, products produced with too much hype, products produced with too much variety, products out of touch with the people who ultimately finance their creation – no matter how awesome they seem at first blush – they will fail. Hard. (Note: Sony, if you’re here, please reread the last sentence!).

Until AR & VR technologies can out-convenience a smartphone, shrink into a contact lens, dispense with voice controls and the confusing non-verbal communication of fiddling with a touchscreen on your temple, i.e., until such devices can move beyond relatively impractical novelty, it’s unlikely they’ll amount to much more than narrowly focused research and demonstration platforms.

This is to say, along with inventing Google Glass, the search giant might also want to invent something for us to like, you know, do with it. Or maybe that’s not fair – so to be fair, one can concede that no new technology is perfect at 1.0, and any awesome innovation has to start somewhere…

Maybe it could start in 1995. Ask Nintendo about that.

• • •

Reno J. Tibke is the founder and operator of Anthrobotic.com and a contributor at the non-profit Robohub.org.

Props to io9 and Meta’s Kickstarter and Meta (but come on guys, tame that website – autoplay is really annoying). PopSci article/image; Watch the augmented reality-themed “Sight” and “H+” by clicking on those words.

              
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