NPR

Google Fights Glass Backlash Before It Even Hits The Street

A visitor at the "NEXT Berlin" conference tries out Google Glass on April 24 in Berlin. (AFP/Getty Images)

Google Glass isn't even for sale yet, but it's already facing backlash.

There have been articles in the Atlantic and Wired mocking techies who have a pair, and even Saturday Night Live got in on the jabbing at the technology.

The New York Times ran a front-page story about Google Glass and privacy, and the gadget has been banned from a bar in Seattle and casinos in Las Vegas.

But for the earnest Googlers who helped create Glass, and the enthusiastic techies who already have their hands on a pair, all this hate can be a little bewildering. Most of the people I've talked to who have the fancy eyewear just love them.

"Just taking a hike on a Sunday, I've been blown away by taking pictures and taking video," said Javier Echeverria.

Mary Lambert got cooking instructions using Glass. "The friend who I was doing it with could see what I was doing and was like 'No no no, that's all wrong,' which was really helpful and I didn't expect it," she says.

Right now, Google Glass might be the world's worst spy camera; if you go out in public with a pair on, you are guaranteed to attract attention. Still, the idea of techies mounting a tiny screen and a little camera to their faces makes millions of people uncomfortable.

According to Sarah Rotman Epps, a tech analyst at Forrester Research, that is why Google is rolling out Glass to the world slowly in stages.

"Google has been incredibly transparent ... with their Glass rollout," Epps says. "They realize that Google Glass will require shifting social norms to be accepted."

In that regard, the past few weeks have been rough for Google. If the company is going to turn around the public's impression of this product, it will need some help — from people like Sarah Hill.

Hill is a storyteller for the Veterans United Network and a volunteer for Veterans Virtual Tours. She wants to use Google Glass to take World War II vets on virtual tours of places they might be too old or frail to visit in person.

"Places like the World War II memorial, Arlington National Cemetery [or] Pearl Harbor even," she says.

Hill is convinced that leading a virtual tour for veterans while wearing Google Glass would be completely different for them than showing the group just a DVD. She says it gives them the ability to ask questions and request certain sights and sounds, like the waves on the beaches of Normandy or the waterfalls at the World War II memorial.

"And when people ask those ... veterans, 'Have you ever seen your memorial?' before they pass away, they can say, 'Yes I did,' " she says.

Google is hoping that people like Hill could begin to help the public imagine the positive things they could do with the gadget.

Last week, Google released a video of Andrew Vanden Heuvel, a high school physics teacher from Grand Rapids, Mich., using Glass to go on a virtual field trip to CERN and the Large Hadron Collider.

Sam Aybar wants to build an app to identify packaged foods that are free of the allergens that make his son sick. The app would use bar codes to create a list of safe products.

"I think Glass could be really helpful for 5 [million] to 10 million families in the United States that are dealing with food allergies," Aybar said.

For many tech enthusiasts, the upsides of Glass seem obvious.

"I've spent my life essentially helping to build the Internet, and this thing is the Internet in your field of vision," says Web pioneer and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. "For me that's the big thing ... that's the killer app."

Andreessen, who founded Netscape, among other Internet properties, is now funding startups hoping to build apps on Glass.

But even in the Andreessen household, Glass has created controversy. He says his wife has likely wanted to rip them off and throw them out the window.

"I think she's been tempted to do that with almost every piece of gadgetry we own," he says.

And battles like that could determine whether Google Glass becomes the next iPhone or has a fate more similar to Apple's Newton.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week thousands of techies are pouring into San Francisco for Google's annual developer's conference. Last year Google's co-founder Sergey Brin used this event to unveil Google Glass - his company's attempt to transform the world of wearable computers. Google Glass is not for sale yet, but as NPR's Steve Henn reports in our Business Bottom Line, this product - which attaches a camera and tiny screen to your face - is already facing a backlash.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Google won't start selling Glass to consumers until the end of the year at the earliest, but already "Saturday Night Live" has weighed in.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

SETH MEYERS: What are your early thoughts?

FRED ARMISEN: (as Randall Meeks) Seth, they're amazing. You know, I used to spend so much time of my life looking down at my phone. And now, thanks to Google Glass, the phone is up here and I can use it without being rude or distracting.

HENN: The New York Times ran a front-page story about Google Glass and privacy. And the gadget has been banned from bars in Seattle and casinos in Las Vegas. But for the earnest Googlers who helped create Glass and the enthusiastic techies who've already gotten their hands on a pair, all this hate can be a little bewildering. Most of the people who I've talked to who have a pair just love them.

JAVIER ECHEVARRIA: You know, taking a hike on a Sunday and just like, you know, been blown away by like taking pictures and just like taking video with it.

MARY LAMBERT: Got cooking instructions through Glass. And the friend that I was hanging out with could see what I was doing. And she was like no, no - that's all wrong. Try it again.

(LAUGHTER)

LAMBERT: Which was really, really helpful. I didn't expect it to be in that situation.

HENN: Mary Lambert and Javier Echevarria work at Google. These guys have had Glass for a couple months. Martin Petracca used it to give his family in Argentina a tour of San Francisco.

MARTIN PETRACCA: I was like, Oh, this is where I go. This is what I do and they just love it. I don't know.

HENN: Now, while you were doing that, did your family see lots of people like do double takes and stare at you?

(LAUGHTER)

PETRACCA: Oh yeah, totally.

HENN: Right now, Google Glass might be the world's worst spy camera. If you go out in public with a pair on, you're guaranteed to attract attention. Still, the idea of techies mounting tiny screens and little cameras to their faces makes millions of people uncomfortable.

SARAH ROTMAN EPPS: Google has been incredibly transparent - pun intended - with its Glass rollout.

HENN: Sarah Rotman Epps is a tech analyst at Forrester Research. She says there's a good reason for this.

EPPS: They realize that Google Glass will require shifting social norms to be accepted.

HENN: In that regard, the last few weeks have been rough for Google. If the company is going to turn around the public's impression of this product, they'll need some help. Help from people like Sarah Hill.

SARAH HILL: I am a storyteller for the Veterans United Network and I'm also a volunteer for Veterans' Virtual Tours.

HENN: Hill wants to use Google Glass to take World War II vets on virtual tours of places they now may be too old or frail to visit in person.

HILL: Places like the World War II Memorial, the Arlington National Cemetery - Pearl Harbor even.

HENN: Hill is convinced that leading a virtual tour for veterans while wearing Google Glass would be completely different for them than showing the group, say, a DVD.

HILL: Can I hear the waves? Can you bring me closer to the waves on the beaches of Normandy? Can you bring me closer to that inscription? Can I hear the waterfalls that are going in the middle of the World War II Memorial? And when people ask those World War II veterans: Have you ever seen your memorial, before they pass away they can say, yes I did.

HENN: At least virtually.

Google is hoping that people like Hill could begin to help the public imagine the positive things they could do with this gadget. And Sam Aybar wants to use it and build an app to identify packaged foods that are free of the allergens that make his son sick.

SAM AYBAR: You know, I think Glass could actually be really helpful for, you know, five to 10 million families in the United States that are dealing with food allergies.

HENN: For tech enthusiasts, the upsides seem obvious.

MARC ANDREESEN: Yeah, I mean it's... (Laughing) It's - well, I've spent my life essentially helping to build the Internet. And this thing is basically the Internet in your field of vision.

HENN: For Marc Andreesen - who created Netscape - that sounds awesome.

ANDREESEN: I mean, for me that's the big thing. I mean that's like the killer app.

HENN: But has your spouse been tempted to rip them off your face and throw them out the window?

ANDREESEN: I think she's been tempted to do that with almost every piece of gadgetry we own.

(LAUGHTER)

HENN: And battles like that could ultimately determine if Google Glass becomes the next iPhone or has a fate more like Apple's Newton.

Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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