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I have an uncorrectable vision problem. The only thing that can be done at this time, is to throw electronics at it. Imagine my excitement when I heard that Google was making contact lenses. Surely, these would be the lenses that contained the sensors and electronics that would address vision like mine. I still don't trust Google. But I would have been first in line to hold my nose and hand them some money. It doesn't look like that is going to happen after all. For the second time, Google has sucker-punched me into believing they had a clue. Here's what I mean:

The first time was with Google Glass. Think about it. Google Glass is a product you wear on your face like glasses, actually, like a futuristic monocular. Finally, I thought, the electronic glasses of my dreams!  Imagine my surprise and chagrin when I realized that glasses made by Google had nothing to do with enhancing vision. In fact, with all the features they have thrown at the product, enhancing vision seems to have never crossed their collective minds. How do you make glasses while completely ignoring the one thing that glasses are meant to do. I strongly suspect that when Google introduces their smart watch, it will fail to display the time.

Google contacts is even more baffling than Google glass. Google seems to be introducing contact lenses that, once again, have nothing to do with enhancing vision. The big deal about Google contacts is that it offers an effortless way of monitoring blood sugar. It is a device for diabetics, not for people with low vision. Yet, one of the more famous, geek diabetics is not rejoicing.

Daring Fireball - John Gruber Om Malik on Google’s Smart Contact Lenses           

But after the initial excitement was over, cold reality set in. It also prompted me to ask the question: why is it that a company with such good intentions fails to ask itself very basic of questions, something a normal human being would ponder before embarking on a scientific quest?

For example,  why would they ignore the fact that as a diabetes patient, it is generally recommended that I not wear contact lenses. Yes, I understand that there are many different opinions about this, but it is generally thought of as smart to not wear contact lenses, as they always carry the risk of increased complications for diabetics. And on top of that if you have say, astigmatism (like I do), then contacts are less of an option.

Google has a history of this type of bone-headedness in their hardware efforts. They made an Amplifier, content place-shifting thingy that no one understood or wanted. Its main feature was that it was made in America. Take that, Apple! They never sold a single unit. They made a notebook more expensive than the Macbook Pro, with only the capabilities of a Chromebook. They built a product that guaranteed none of the fans of Chrome OS would actually buy. But, at least they have a high-end notebook thingy, too. Take that, Apple!

The Google TV initiative was to power set-top boxes that were connected to the internet, and would serve up mainstream content that was on the internet. Unfortunately, Google didn't check with content providers to make sure that was cool, and ended up with content boxes that had most of the content blocked at the source. It was a complicated set-top box that locked you out of the shows you wanted to watch. But at least they could compete with Apple TV. Take that, Apple!

Considering their history, it is little wonder that Google is the company producing not one, but two eyewear products that have absolutely nothing to do with vision. They are an engineering company completely devoid of humanity. As near as I can tell, there are only two reasons Google makes any product: First, they want to collect and exploit as much user data as possible. Second, they want to prove to the tech world that they can invent things too. Take that, Apple! That's it. They never start by trying to figure out what fundamental, human problem they can solve with technology. They just throw something out there, and see if someone can come up with a use for it. It kind of reminds me of Samsung's "innovations".  

Om Malik says it even better:

And yet, I cannot get over what seems to me a tone-deaf approach by Google’s scientists. It also highlights Google’s fundamental challenge: it fails to think about people as people, instead it treats them as an academic or an engineering problem. Instead of trying to understand the needs of actual people, they emerge with an elegant technological solution.

It is not just this one time. Google+, their social network, is a fail because it fundamentally isn’t social or about people — it is an effort to solve Google’s need for social data for better advertising using machines. Similarly, Google Glasses are a cringe-worthy assault to the social interactions of normals, but because a certain subset of Googlers — including co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page — have a cyborg fetish, it is okay to make that design. It is frustrating for me to keep repeating this, because Google is a company with huge resources and those resources could be deployed more effectively and have a much more positive impact, more quickly. And to do that, the company needs to learn to be human and develop compassion for human condition.

The approaches of Apple and Google couldn't be more different. Apple starts with the human, and works its way to the technology. Google starts with the technology. Even when they try, they seldom close the loop by connecting with the human. Twice, Google has looked at the human eye and saw a place where data might be collected. Not once have they seen it for its biological function, and wondered how they might enhance it. 

Apple has a patent for a glasses type wearable. It may never come to market. But if it does, you can be certain that among the myriad of things it does, it will also help the wearer see better.

David Johnson

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