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How Google Could Save Glass: Ditch the Camera

There are “no sacred cows” to avoid when Google begins retooling its Glass wearable device, Google executive Tony Fadell reportedly said a few days ago. Fadell, who is better known for the Nest Learning Thermostat, is in charge of turning Glass from a failure that creeped out many to a viable product that could actually be sold to consumers.

We will have to wait to see which cows Fadell is talking about, but here’s one suggestion that could help save Glass: Google needs to ditch the integrated camera.

When Google first launched the Explorer Edition of Glass two years ago, it put a big emphasis on that functionality. Early users of the device were encouraged to share photos and video taken with the camera on social media tagged with #throughglass, and marketing materials regularly highlighted it as a key feature.

The power of Glass, Google wanted us to believe, was in part that you didn’t have to fumble with your phone anymore, but take photos and videos from your point of view at any given second. Promotional photos and videos regularly highlighted the benefits of capturing images of children, which every parent knows don’t always perform as expected when one directly points a camera at them.

Turns out that the ability to trick kids may have not been the best marketing message. Grown-ups didn’t really appreciate the idea that someone could just record them with little to no warning, either. Glass quickly became synonymous with privacy invasions and rude social behavior, leading some to coin the unfortunate term “glasshole” to describe users of the device. And it didn’t exactly help that theaters started to fear a new wave of piracy enabled by Glass video recordings, leading some chains to ban Glass from their premises altogether.

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The irony of that is that Glass’ camera could have been a lot more invasive. Google purposely banned the the use of real-time facial or voice recognition from Glass. Developers weren’t allowed to build apps that would automatically pull up someone’s name or Facebook profile as soon as a Glass wearer pointed the device’s camera at them.

What was left was a camera that had little benefit, and much worse battery life than mobile-phone cameras, but came with a huge social pricetag. What was creepy about Glass wasn’t the fact that people had small displays in the corner of their eye, but that Glass almost equated looking at something with recording it.

The only logical conclusion for Google is to remove the camera from the consumer product, and instead focus on the added benefits of the display and the power of notifications that can be viewed in the corner of one’s eye. A number of third-party developers have already experimented with bringing notifications for services like Twitter, Facebook or even the New York Times to the device, and Google itself has shown that navigation and other instructional content can be very powerful when consumed with a device that doesn’t force users to look away from where they are going or what they are doing.

In other words: Google Glass should augment reality, not capture it. People won’t have any beef with that.

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