Google Glass is business, not consumer, technology

Google’s patenting of an ‘eye gaze’ system, allowing Google Glass to track what users of the internet-connected eyewear are looking at, reveals the technology to be a business tool rather than a consumer product.


The patent application, approved last week, describes “a reliable, low cost, and unobtrusive eye tracking system” that could present advertisers with analytics on how their ads are viewed and charge them on a measure of ‘pay-per-gaze’.

As with many Google patents, there’s no guarantee the eye-tracking idea will ever end up being realised, as Google itself has been quick to point out. But there’s a clue – albeit a counterintuitive one – in the wording of the patent application that tells you why it could eventually be a reality.

“To date, eye tracking systems have been mostly limited to research endeavours because of the intrusiveness, high cost, and reliability of these systems,” it reads, before suggesting Glass could have “a variety of useful everyday applications”.

Yet despite this comment, what this eye tracking development – and in fact almost everything about Google Glass – really lends itself to is research. The reason is that the use of Glass in its current form is going to be specialised and relatively limited. There might be enough wearers to make a live marketing campaign that targets a high-tech niche worthwhile, but otherwise it will only provide a small sample of people on which to conduct behavioural testing on something ultimately intended for a wider audience.

The reality is that people will only wear the glasses in isolated circumstances. It’s not because of user privacy, despite the criticisms that have been aired. Though I’m usually a strict proponent of respecting consumers’ privacy, the concerns around Glass are something of a red herring – at least as far as the wearers are concerned. Those consumers using it are inevitably going to be those most comfortable with new technology and most acquainted with what Google does with personal data.

Instead, I predict use will be limited simply because consumers will feel too vulnerable and awkward wearing the glasses on the street, except in very safe or solitary situations. It’s the people they interact with who will have the more pertinent privacy objections to Glass’s everyday use, and that’s why I can’t see it being accepted as a social norm to have it on your face in public, especially in this country.

But just because it’s unlikely to be a mainstream product, that’s not to say there aren’t a wide variety of specialist applications. As well as a potential behavioural insight tool, it has conceivable uses in video journalism and medical education, among other fields. With eye-tracking technology it could also become an aid for people with communication disabilities.

At the moment, Glass is perhaps being taken too seriously as a mass-market consumer product and not seriously enough as a specialist business tool.