Project Glass is a testing-stage "augmented reality" mobile device recently unveiled by Google (GOOG). Users experience the world around them with an eye-sized digital display, supported by a sleek eyeglass frame, featuring intuitive voice-recognition controls.
A video from Google sets high expectations for the quality of visuals -- perhaps to an unwarranted extent like Apple's (AAPL) Siri commercials or Tassimo's (KFT) metaphorical Brewbot ads. But HD 1080p or not, Glass is historic because it translates primary "smart" functions of a phone or tablet into a more mobile, less bulky experience.
For context on Google's bet here, consider the biographies by Walter Isaacson. Isaacson recently added Steve Jobs to Franklin, Einstein, and Kissinger on the list of geniuses whom he has historicized. Considering that much of Apple's current prosperity is fueled by Jobsian innovation in mobile devices, I feel the framework of Isaacson relates closely to Glass.
Thanks to Isaacson, you probably already know that Steve Jobs said "[...]customers don't know what they want until we've shown them". It's Gretzky-an: skate to where the puck of consumer desire is going. And Google has learned from this. Most people don't realize it yet, but they're going to want Glass.
Nonbelievers fall into two categories. Those who deny the practicality of the technology, and those who feel it is aesthetically un-cool. There is little I can do to dissuade the former (except tell them to learn about technology), but to the latter, I say, think about Steve Jobs.
iPhone went to a place many were unprepared to go. Many thought iPhone was just a superfluous status symbol, with no distinctive features. I remember a Gen-X coworker in 2009 showing me his Blackberry (RIMM), and remarking that it could do everything an iPhone could. He has an iPhone now. He didn't know what he would want, but Steve Jobs did.
"Convergence" has been Larry Page's mantra, and he has taken much heat for it. But consider where this mantra came from (source):
Near the end of his life, Jobs was visited at home by Larry Page, who was about to resume control of Google, the company he had cofounded. Even though their companies were feuding, Jobs was willing to give some advice. "The main thing I stressed was focus," he recalled. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up, he told Page.
Convergence of physical and digital is what you need to consider before calling Glass nerdy. Glass brings an unprecedented physical layer to computing, analogous to the social layer that Zynga (ZNGA) brought to games. You don't have to hold up a phone to compute while walking. You're not isolated behind a screen. You're computing outside and out loud. Whether you see it now or not, you will be jealous of the people who get Glassed before you do.
And, like Draw Something, Google's technological feat is enabled by the cloud. The cloud allows users to enjoy huge amounts of data beamed through a lightweight accessory. Like Spotify (see (NPSNY.PK)) has made streaming songs frictionless via cloud distribution and Facebook logins. Like Facebook (FB) has made identity convenient on a fragmented web, Google is reducing the inconveniences that restrict the current state of augmented reality.
It's re-imagining the overlap between two goods: life and information. That's closer than Matrix cables in your brain than anything prior. As easy as smartphones are to use, Glass appears simpler. I would go so far to say that Glass picks up where Jobs left off with the iPhone.
Jobs aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity. Achieving this depth of simplicity, he realized, would produce a machine that felt as if it deferred to users in a friendly way, rather than challenging them.
Isaacson also mentions that Jobs was willing to cannibalize itself by releasing similar products, and that Jobs found it appropriate to put products before profits: these two criticisms have already been leveled against Google in the 24 hours since release of its Glass video. Would the same be said of Jobs if he was introducing iSpy?
Jobs worked hard to ensure posthumous micromanagement of Apple. I'm sure Apple benefits from it. The question is, to what extent do Apple's competitors also benefit? If Glass is representative, competitors benefit at a level comparable to Apple.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.