Last week during Google’s big I/O event, Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, “interrupted” the keynote of the event’s first day in order to show off his personal pet project: Google Glass.  Glass is a technology integrated into an eyeglass frame to allow “wearable computing.”  Brin’s means of showing off Glass last week was by way of an impressive, muti-person, multi-modal stunt involving sky-divers, stunt bikers, and people abseiling down the side of a building to show off the sharing capabilities of Google Glass.  The stunt impressed a great deal of folks, and it was followed up by an opportunity for members of the media to actually briefly experience wearing Google Glass for themselves.  Quite a few of those folks are leaving the experience impressed, going so far as to exclaim that they’ve seen the future of computing. And, conveniently for Google, they’re buying the humanistic marketing pitch for Glass; the project moves technology out of the way of communications and experiencing life.  But that’s not really why Google is racing towards a dominant position in wearable technology.  The real reason is that if Google can get “technology out of the way,” then Google can marginalize Apple’s primary competitive advantage.

Last month, Apple unveiled their newest version of the iOS operating system, and much was made of the fact that Apple has dropped Google Maps for their own proprietary mapping technology in partnership with a smaller online map purveyor.  That step, along with the previous introduction of Apple’s “Siri” technology - a voice activated digital assistant that essentially can search for answers to your questions on the iPhone and iPad, are moves by Apple designed to negate Google’s influence over their iOS technology.  And given Apple’s market dominance of mobile computing, those moves also provide them with opportunities for market dominance in the search and mapping service industries. You can imagine how Google must be feeling about being cut out of the dominant mobile computing platform.

Read any single review of any smart-phone or tablet computing device of the last 2 years, and the benchmark against which all other machines are judged is Apple technology - the iPad and the iPhone.  And very rarely do any non-iOS devices make par. Rarer still are the devices that might make a reviewer gush that they’re better than iOS options without any caveats.  And the reason for that is the massive competitive advantage Apple enjoys in the realms of design and human-computer-interaction.  With the slick, tightly controlled iOS environment, and the existence of only 2 form factors for iOS devices, no technology maker can build a device that will be as pain free and enjoyable (not to mention sexy) to use as the iPad or iPhone.  

In the smart-phone and tablet computing world, the winner of the game is the competitor who makes the most beautiful, elegant device.  That’s why Google wants to end the beauty pageant.  Sure, the current iterations of Google Glass are “geeky looking.” No beauty contests are going to be won by them. But for centuries, people have been wearing glasses. And over time Google will be able to minify the technology backing the Glass product until it looks like any other pair of fashionable frames.  Who knows, maybe a pair of Google Glass contact lenses isn’t out of the question.  At any rate, eventually, nobody will notice the glasses.  Which means nobody will be noticing the device.  Which means nobody will care about the form of the device any longer.  All anyone will care about is the service the device provides. Given its history, that’s a game Google’s got to look forward to playing.

Google Glass and its successors wont eliminate tablets and smart phones.  Brin has already conceded that point in his discussions over the project.  But there are still only 24 hours in any day, and any day only involves a finite number of times that a person actually needs or wants to seek information, exposition, or entertainment.  By providing Glass, Google will be offering people a way to get that without having to pick up a tablet or a phone.  From Google’s point of view, if Glass takes off, Apple can hang on to it’s market dominance when people care about how the tech they’re using looks and feels.   

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