A Thought About Google Glasses and Human Senses

We have close friends staying with us this weekend, along with their 2-year old son, who is awesome. Every now and then, he’s playing with their iPad, and it just reinforces for me how engaging these new devices are. What makes us human is the ability to perceive our reality through one or more of five senses, the senses we learn about in grammar school: taste, smell, hearing, sight, and touch. I’m sure this has been written about before — but, it just occurred to me. (Obviously, I’m not sure technology will give us smell and taste, though I remember a company from the last bubble — Digiscents — which was formed in 2001 and then named one of the 25 worst tech products by PC World Magazine. I originally heard of this company because we bought their Aeron chairs in a firesale.)

The iPod and iPhone releases heralded Apple’s foray into “touch” enabled devices. It’s no secret that a major reason we feel so emotionally connected to these devices is that we are able to not just touch them, but interact with them, get responsive feedback, and feel as if it is, in a way, human, too. Given the way Apple conceives of and designs its latest fleet of products, I wonder how the company thought about our human senses and how they could design products that produces sounds for us to hear (iTunes, etc.) and interfaces for our fingers (touchscreen).

Now, what about sight?

The advances in mobile phone camera hardware (and the software applications they enable) give users a different type of sight, a window into the world. There’s the obvious explosion in photographs, encapsulated by the meteoric rise of Instagram and other photo-sharing services. Over the past year, we’ve seen more video clips uploaded from phones, giving the user another line of “sight” into other worlds. When you start thinking about mobile technologies, interfaces, and the sense of sight, Google Glasses just sounds more and more interesting. Up to now, all of our devices have drawn in our own sight, our own attention. With Google Glasses (like with Siri), the visual interface could harness our own sight and augment what we see. Considered in this framework, Google’s creation could be their first step into creating a truly human product, one that could provide an emotional connection much like we have with our iOS devices today.