In order for Google to 'figure out what it wants to be when it grows up' (as Steve Jobs advised +Larry Page
) Google must first determine what it is -- more important now than ever due to its latest +Project Glass
initiative which I believe doesn't deliver on the true promise of Augmented Reality. At this stage of its life, it is beneath Google to launch any more unrefined flops -- it must get this right, and I hereby provide my feedback in the hope that +Sergey Brin
, +Babak Parviz
, +Steve Lee
and +Sebastian Thrun
can put it to good use:Google's Core & Potential
At its core, Google is the library card catalog of hyperlink accessible human knowledge. No, it's not the library, nor is it the librarian. It's a library card catalog whose value is in directing people to information they are actively seeking online. Of course, Google's genius (resulting in its majority source of annual revenue) was in discovering how to monetize search and discovery with no cost whatsoever to the seeker of information. At its core, Google's service offering is brilliant in its simplicity and even more brilliant in its business model.
At its core, Google is the library card catalog. Google's potential is to evolve -- in the near term -- to the librarian's assistant; a HUGE evolutionary step. The library card catalog is a self-service solution lacking the richness, sophistication and contextual cross-reference intelligence (semantic web combined with artificial intelligence -- HAL, not Siri) only a gifted and caring librarian's assistant can deliver (no human librarians will be harmed). In the long term, Google's potential is to be the librarian's assistant to the digital/virtual as well as the physical world. This next evolutionary step is where Google takes what it has done by making itself indispensable to the online experience and applies it to the real-world experience, and this is where augmented reality comes in. Imagine a WWW without a search engine -- all of the content would be there, but fragmented and largely undiscovered -- very similar to what the physical world is like at the moment. Google will ultimately (or -- should ultimately) do for the physical world what it has done for the digital world, and that achievement will truly be revolutionary and aligned with Google's core reason for being. An intelligently framed, articulated, planned and executed augmented reality strategy will unlock the next level of human evolution and usher in a new age of innovation and unimaginable opportunity. This is how Google needs to grow up.Why Augment Reality?
Before one sets out to augment reality, one must ask why it should be done -- if at all. Reality is context-poor by default. We humans shape our reality by creating meaning (yes, we literally create it from nothing), telling stories and associating feelings, thoughts or other labels to people, things, places and so on. At its most fundamental level, augmenting reality would enable us to quantify our qualitative existence, bringing science together with art to make magic -- the promise of alchemy finally within reach. Augmenting reality (done the right way) will lead to a profound increase in the quality of life for humans who will have instantaneous, contextually relevant real-world access to more information than all other generations before -- combined.Forget the Hype -- Begin at the Foundation
The first step in determining how to deliver a compelling AR experience won't be to wonder what level of transparency the overlay screen should be for the oversized 3D travel route map. The first step will be in determining how Google will go back to its roots & discover innovative ways to begin collecting data about every place and thing people may come to experience during their course of life on Earth. Offering an AR device that only works on some things and not others is not worthy of launch -- it's worthy of discussion, which I believe Google has rightfully invited. The AR device needs to have the ability to scan terrain and objects and be able to identify object shapes in order to assist in the identification process. The AR device needs to be an input device first and foremost, before it can be considered at all for output. Therefore, Google needs to focus on the kind of technology required to scan real-time, real-world scenery and provide real-time feedback based on object ID. I know Google is already doing similar research with other projects, but it would have to be combined with hard core hardware research, innovation & investment. On the UX front, there is no reason at all for any more than 1/2 of the user's overall viewport to EVER be cluttered unless the user is not in motion and has indicated a 'full screen' preference. There is still plenty of time for UX design, but now is a good time to begin refining those UIs.A Basic Use Case Scenario
When I look at a table with a few magazines and a coffee mug, the ideal AR device will identify the table as a table (making a determination that an object with 4 legs in the context of a room would most likely be a table -- it might ask me if it is a table when I visually select it. If I say no, it would let me identify what it was and this process would work very much like Wikipedia <-- Crowdsourcing would be a natural way to take stock of all objects in the physical world). If, in fact, the table is identified as such and I visually select it, I could determine what brand it is (if the data exists, if not I could offer it for approval, etc). When I look at the magazines, the AR device identifies the covers and offers digital versions for me to browse (if I so choose and/or if available) or basic information about each magazine (based on what the publisher has shared and/or what others have shared, including reviews, etc.). When I look at the coffee mug, the AR device scans the mug dimensions and because it has a scale built in (synchronized upon initialization and constantly updating based on my field of vision -- like the human eye, not a small task) it builds a 3D model of the mug if its shape does not exist in the database and lets me know how many ounces it can serve. If the mug is branded, I can discover where to purchase said mug, etc.Start Deep & Work Your Way Up to Superficial
It's ok to be superficial, but it's better to start deep -- get to the root of what made Google what it is today. Google made it easy for people to discover things online by -- first -- taking stock of all things online. AR will be no different. Google will need to dig deep into the capabilities afforded by present-day technology and it may even need to invent (or spearhead the invention of) the next generation of technology for it to do what is required. Google will need to build a search engine for real life. It's not supposed to be easy, but the right path rarely is. Google AR must be about enabling anyone who wears it to elevate their human experience (but in a deep, meaningful and transformative way) -- and life as we know it will never be the same again.