Do you remember when the Segway was first released way back in 2001? It generated a lot of buzz from heavyweights like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, the media, and the general public. And why not? It is an easy to operate two-wheeled, self-balancing, battery-powered electric vehicle.
In short, it was an achievement inventor Dean Kamen declared “will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy” in an interview with Time.
However, there were obviously concerns over the public’s safety, along with the $3,000 plus price tag. Which doomed the Segway in the end.
Some municipalities have banned the Segway from being used on sidewalks because it’s too fast. But, it’s also not fast enough to be driven on roads. And, we’ll be honest here, Segways are for people who aren’t exactly the most sociable – remember Gob from “Arrested Development” or all those tourists invading your town?
Despite the technology and hype, Segways just weren’t accepted by the masses. They put pedestrians in danger and people who drove them were often frowned upon.
Does that sound like a more recent device?
Enter Google Glass
In 2012 Google began testing, and later revealed, its Project Glass. Co-founder Sergey Brin wowed the audience by connecting with a group of skydivers, who were also wearing Glass, to give the audience a view of the dive. The crowd went nuts. Google proudly stated there were two goals for Glass: “communicating with images and giving people access to information”.
That was 2012. Reality would soon set in.
In July 2013, venture capitalist John Frankel announced his enthusiasm for Google Glass by stating:
It’s technology that sits between you and other people… it feels to me that it’s too impersonal. It feels more like the Segway than anything else, which is, ‘hey, this looks great on paper but I probably wouldn’t have one in the garage.’
This wasn’t the first time a comparison between the Segway and Google Glass was made. Here’s a tweet from April 2012 that reads “Google Glasses: Like a handsfree Segway for your face!”
Before Glass was even released, there were privacy concerns, which resulted in it being banned from bars, movie theaters, casinos, and hospitals. Also, much like the Segway, laws began to prevent drivers from wearing Glass while behind the wheel – Gary Howell, for example, proposed a bill that in West Virginia would make “using a wearable computer with head-mounted display” illegal.
In fact, some people have already received tickets – California resident Cecilia Abadie was considered the first person to receive a ticket for wearing Glass while driving, however the ticket was thrown out.
Google Glass, much like the Segway, is creating a lot of legal headaches because the “technology is moving faster than the ability of our laws to keep track of it,” claims technology entrepreneur and fellow at Stanford Law School Vivek Wadhwa.
For example, there are questions regarding copyright infringement and piracy. A movie goer in Columbus, Ohio who wore a prescription pair of Glass to a showing of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit in January, 2014 was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations over piracy concerns. It’s also been suggested Glass wearers could be in violation of wiretapping laws in certain states if they say a command too quickly.
Public Reaction to Glass Wearers
Besides the legal issues over Glass, there’s also the problem with public perception. People hate Glass and the people who wear them – there’s even that enduring nickname “Glasshole”.
In fact, things have even gotten violent. Over the last several months, several Glass wearers have been physically attacked. There was the story of Sarah Slocum who was flipped off and had her Glasses ripped off her face while at a bar in San Francisco on February 21. There have also been incidents where the wearable computer is ripped off the face of a wearer and smashed by an unknown assailant.
Much like the antisocial perception of people driving Segways, Glass has also gotten a negative image. Overall, both the Segway and Glass were seen as “uncool”.
There’s also the question of where you can actually wear Glass. A great essay written by Mat Honan in Wired explains this perfectly.
My Glass experiences have left me a little wary of wearables because I’m never sure where they’re welcome. I’m not wearing my $1,500 face computer on public transit where there’s a good chance it might be yanked from my face. I won’t wear it out to dinner, because it seems as rude as holding a phone in my hand during a meal. I won’t wear it to a bar. I won’t wear it to a movie. I can’t wear it to the playground or my kid’s school because sometimes it scares children.
Segway also face similar concerns. After all, it wasn’t allowed on certain sidewalks, the bicycle lane, or the highway.
What Else Is Holding Back Glass?
Finally, there’s the cost. Google Glass will set you back $1,500. For a lot of people, that’s a hefty price tag for a device that isn’t welcomed by the public, is banned from many businesses, and doesn’t have wide fashion appeal (even though some designers are trying). The Segway faced similar concerns with its cost: that $3,000 could have been spent on something that was more socially acceptable.
Maybe Google has heard the comparisons with Segway. The Big G has recently teamed up with Luxottica, the company behind Ray-Ban and Oakley. Apparently Google and Luxottica will both “design, develop, and distribute a new breed of eyewear for Glass.” While this may not change the public opinions of Glass, at least they’ll look cooler and maybe some consumers won’t be as hesitant to wear them.
So, are the comparisons warranted? Is Google Glass indeed the Segway for your face?
Some believe this comparison is unjustified. Pete Bachal argued on Mashable that the comparison isn’t fair because the Segway relied on environmental factors, while Glass has the ability to enhance users personal lives.
As of now, it’s incredibly easy to notice the similarities. Both the Segway and Glass are innovative technologies that not only challenge our ways of thinking, but also alter our lifestyles. Both presented legal questions and public opposition.
However, it’s also too early to rule Glass a failure. Google is working to make Glass more stylish and the price will drop sooner than later. And all that hubbub over privacy concerns may simmer down once Glass becomes more commonplace.
Until Glass has the chance to hit the mainstream marketplace, it appears to be following the same trajectory as Segway. The difference, however, is that Google is going to make sure Glass will eventually be embraced by a majority of people.
What do you think? Is Glass the Segway for your face? Or will be it Google’s most successful business venture?
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