A mobile future seen through Google Glass

When Robert Scoble showed us his Google Glass, was he showing us more than an interesting new product? Was he showing us a new, mobile-centric future of computing?

Most who were at NEXT a couple of weeks ago would agree that Robert Scoble bringing his Google Glass with him – and sharing them with conference attendees – was one of the highlights of the conference. The conference has always been about the digital world, not just the web world, and getting the chance to see such an intriguing device in action was very much in its remit.

Some people remain deeply sceptical – but not always for the right reasons. A surprisingly geek-prejudiced article from Wired suggested that the sorts of people who are wearing Glass will stop it ever getting acceptance. This argument seems to lack any sense of history. The first users of the internet, and then the web were geeks and nerds, people that the cool kids would sniff at. Heck, even computers were a geek toy originally. The people that the article are denigrating are the early adopters, the ones who play with and help refine new technologies before they hit the mainstream.

And it’s worth bearing in mind that new products are often profoundly changed in their journey to the mainstream. Bill Gates – and Microsoft under his control – was a huge proponent of tablets a decade before the iPad arrived and made them a consumer reality. What sells now isn’t what he predicted -or was selling – but he had the right basic vision. It was merely the form and interface that was wrong.

But its to another CEO of a once-market leading company that we should look for a hint of the future Glass represents. Step forward BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins:

In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore. Maybe a big screen in your workspace, but not a tablet as such. Tablets themselves are not a good business model.

At first glance that looks, at best, like a hugely misguided attempt to paint tablets as a passing fad, as so many others have tried to do with other technologies. Remember when some people tried to paint the internet as “CB radio for the 90s?”. At worst, it looks like an attempt to obfuscate BlackBerry’s poor record in this area. But, as iMore’s Rene Richie pointed out, a more interesting reading suggests a different view of the world, one where the mobile phone becomes our default computing device, projecting itself into a range of screens around us.

The futurist in me wants to take that a step further, to where the computing is decoupled from device, and the “brains” are a constant thing we always have with us, hooked in everywhere, capable of being expressed as a phone or tablet or laptop or desktop or holodeck for that matter. All my stuff, existing everywhere, accessible everywhere, through any hardware interface available.

That’s pretty much what Google Glass represents. Glass isn’t a self-contained device. It’s a way of your mobile phone projecting itself into your field of vision at all times. It’s the first step towards a future where the phone does the work, and connected seamlessly with both the cloud we’re all familiar and another cloud – this time of surrounding devices.

Glass is, at best, a way of making your mobile phone even more useful. If Heins is right – could the tablets of the future merely be larger displays for our phones?

There are handicaps in the way – not least battery life and seamless device connectivity. One could also argue that building everything around the phone creates a single point of failure, and just brings us back to a version of the old Steve Jobs digital hub concept. But it’s one possible future, and Glass shows us just how that might look.