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Seeing through Google’s goggles

Poor Google. No matter what the Stanford-bred tech giant does, everything they do will always be compared to the fruit company down the road.

Which means no matter how hard they try, nothing they do will ever be seen as cool.

A very cool person once told me that ‘cool’ is something you just can’t try to do. Either you are, or you aren’t. Either you have it, or you don’t.

Like hitting a baseball, the less hard you try, the better you do. Relax and enjoy the ride.

Having said all that, Google’s Project Glass is very cool. Wearable tech built into the frame of your glasses? Yes, please.

Google’s not-so-private Google X labs spilled the beans Wednesday on their efforts to pioneer a new tech genre. Google is spending millions if not billions to shape the future of cell phones, computers and just about anything electronic into a single wearable device.

A two-minute video released today demonstrates a morning in the life of a Glass-enabled human being. Sure, it’s neat. But other than a nifty user interface — not exactly Google’s strongest suit to date — and some swank photo-capturing powers, the functionality is not much we haven’t seen.

Inside New York’s famous Strand Books, Mr. Glass picks out a book. No summary? Certainly no price comparison. What was the point of showing us that?

Wearable tech needs to be the same blank canvas that computers and mobile devices have been in the past. If the mobile world is dominated by a new layer of digital rights management, and limited by what vendors, consultants and advertisers want us to see, then the future looks bleak.

But back to the cool factor. You don’t show how cool your tech is by showing cool people using it. Sony, Dell and Samsung have all tried that in their advertising over the years. By and large, they’ve all looked foolish doing so. Especially with lousy tech.

Think about Apple. How many Apple commercials feature people — outside of a disembodied finger — using their products? Quite the contrary. Apple commercials are tech porn, a POV camera ogling Cupertino’s latest creation.

If we do see people in Apple’s commercials, they’re usually not actually using a device. Apple’s “switch” ads showed regular people talking about Macs, not using them. And their famous “crazies” ad features historical figures who died decades before the first personal computers emerged.

This isn’t about Apple, either. It’s about human psychology. Actually showing someone “using” a product is too complicated, too subject to interpretation. The simplified, idealized image of a person in the afterglow of a product works much better.

In Google’s promotional images for Project Glass, some very cool and beautiful people are shown wearing Google’s very cool product. But that misses the point.

Sure, Google needs to convince the world that wearing something that still resembles pre-teen headgear is actually cool.

But more than that, in this day and age, people are too smart to be fed dreamy crap with little to back it up. What about battery life? Reception? Data speeds? Voice performance? A Jetsons-style promo without meat on the bone is writing checks your tech can’t cash.

You get to be cool by actually being cool. By showing us things we never knew existed, and then making us want them so bad we’ll do foolish things like wait in epic lines or pay insane inflated prices.

Wired’s Steven Levy was correct in invoking Apple’s Knowledge Navigator videos of the late ’80s in connection with the Project Glass promotions. As impressive as both promos are, they both conveniently fail to mention the kind technological limitations that can destroy the overall user experience.

Both also try to make things “cool” perhaps a bit before their time. Tablets took 20 years before anybody close to cool — other than myself, of course — actually used one. Google is hoping it can accelerate that timeframe from years to months.

We’ll see if it works.

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