Photo: Evan Spiegel
Project Glass, Google’s big experiment in wearable computing, is not about what you think it is.Google has a plan for the device that could transform how we share images, and it’s got the hardware. Now it just needs a reason for people to use the hardware.
And a controversial startup called Snapchat could fit Google’s plans as smoothly as a Project Glass headset slips on your head.
Most observers have assumed that the point of Google Glass is to call up information on a heads-up display. After all, Google’s all about search, right?
But the first purpose Babak Parviz, a key engineer on the project, cited for Google Glass in a recent interview is enabling “pictorial communications”—communicating through photos or video.
Communicating through photos? That sounds an awful lot like Instagram, which is now owned by archrival Facebook.
Or like Snapchat.
Wait, Snapchat—isn’t that about sexting?
We thought so, too. But it turns out there are a host of reasons why people might want to send a photo that isn’t stored permanently online.
Detractors of Snapchat insist that the only reason why you’d want to send someone a throwaway picture is because it’s something dirty.
Defenders insist that the real reason for disposable pictures is a generational shift in behaviour: Kids who have grown up with Facebook ever-present in their lives are keenly aware that everything they share is watched and scrutinized. Tools like Snapchat give them freedom to share without consequences, to communicate without the pressure of every interaction being drenched with meaning.
Google is designing its Glass headsets with lots of storage and battery life so they can capture tons of everyday moments—far more than we currently take with our smartphones.
A lot of those photos and videos are going to be poorly framed, ugly, fuzzy, or otherwise imperfect. They’d tank among the cute-dog-and-pretty sunset Instagram set. They won’t be the kind of thing you want to go down on your permanent Internet record. But they may be meaningful to your close friend and family.
The output of Google Glass, in other words, will be the perfect content for a service like Snapchat.
Google could easily clone Snapchat and build disposable-sharing features into its Google+ social network. That will probably go about as disastrously as Facebook’s attempt to clone Snapchat with its Poke app.
We think it would be smarter to snap up the team who tapped into this teenage shift in zeitgeist and let them run semi-independently, as Google did with YouTube—only integrating as it makes sense.