What a disappointment! Google's prototype heads-up display glasses do not have the Terminator-style graphics shown in the concept video. They just show a simple readout above the user's line of sight for now. That's no fun. But it reveals the tension that's inherent in technology concept videos: There's a fine line between exciting prospects and false advertising.
Google's Project Glass video wasn't dishonest. The title makes clear that it depicts what Google hopes to accomplish "one day." The imagery shows off a cyborg display concept, overlaying a a rich user interface semi-transparently on the field of view. Messages, maps and notifications pop up when necessary, staying out of the way otherwise. It's an exciting future that apprarently takes place in the present.
After the video came out, Google execs immediately started showing up at conferences and on talk shows wearing Google glasses. But they were vague about the actual capabilities of these prototypes. When Sebastian Thrun dared to demo the camera while live on the Charlie Rose show, the result was pretty harrowing.
Now, CNET has made it clear that these prototypes are much more basic than video lets on. They show a little information in the periphery, above the wearer's line of sight, "about where the edge of an umbrella might be," a Google spokesperson told CNET's Rafe Needleman. Google pushed its message of augmented-reality glasses too far, too fast, and consequently it came off looking like a dud before consumers even had to try the product.
Concept videos cross the line when the company can't deliver the goods. That's why it's risky to make them. As writer John Gruber is fond of pointing out, that's why Apple stopped making such videos. Apple learned its lesson. Now it ships the devices of the future before it ever shows them off, leaving its competitors looking like they're trying too hard.
When Google announced Project Glass, Gruber proclaimed that Google had completed its "transition into the new Microsoft." At least Google gives its top brass prototypes to walk around with. Microsoft concept videos tend to bear almost no relation to real products. Exhibit A: Microsoft's "Productivity Future Vision." It's neat to show off a theoretical understanding of how future user interfaces should work, and at least these displays bear a passing resemblance to Microsoft's Metro UI. So when can consumers expect to buy any of the tech in this video? ... crickets ...
If you're going to go big with a concept video, go huge. I love the Nokia Morph concept video from 2008. It's a concept from so far in the future that the mobile devices it depicts are made of materials we can barely imagine. After watching this video, you're not left with an expectation that Nokia will ship this device anytime soon. But your mind is blown by the obvious limitations of thinking about 4" glass slabs as the way of the future. And for that reason, this video has stuck in my mind for four years, "Nokia Morph" branding and all.
Company concept videos are marketing tools. They should be employed carefully. If you promise too much, you'll have to live up to it, or whatever you eventually ship (or don't ship) will seem like a dud in comparison. All the marketing in the world doesn't talk louder than a product that speaks for itself.
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