A Killer App for Google Glass

by Tim Bajarin   |   March 15th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 9.53.50 PMThere has been a lot of talk and excitement about Google Glass. This product has caught the imagination of the Technorati and has even garnered feedback from the mainstream media by way of reports that Google Glass would be barred in some restaurants and bars. Clearly this product and product concept is fascinating and who knows if it will catch on or even be successful beyond early adopters who love gadgets.

It is true that there could be some solid use cases that develop in vertical markets for something like Google Glass, possibly for use in medical, transportation, public safety, etc. However, at $1500 it is hardly a consumer device. The fact that it could take pictures, record video, deliver speech to text, and put you into hangouts or even get directions is interesting but it would have to do a lot more than that for consumers to even pop for it at this early stage.

I realize that this is the price of entry for these early versions of Google Glass and that over time they could get into more consumer friendly pricing. In fact, most major technology products start out quite expensive and then eventually come down in price over time. Part of getting the price down comes from the early adopters helping to pay for the early R&D costs of developing the product and with greater demand the vendors, in this case Google, will get better price breaks on components as well as help pay down initial equipment and manufacturing costs.

While I don’t think it can get down into consumer prices anytime soon, I do think there could be a consumer friendly app tied to these glasses that could have appeal for some vertical users as well as a group of consumers that could actually drive high demand for these glasses even if the glasses are a bit pricey.

By nature of my work, I am what you might call a reluctant world traveler. Over 35 years I have traveled close to 4 million miles and visited 55 different countries because of my work in the tech field. I was born in the US and my first language is English. I took Spanish in high school and on the side have tried to learn French very unsuccessfully. Ironically, my dad was Filipino and my mother was German and both spoke their respective languages fluently. But I grew up in a time when making sure your kids spoke English well was a priority and they did not see the need to teach us Filipino or German.

So, like any person that goes to another country where they speak a different language, getting around these cities and understanding the various directional signs and printed text is next to impossible to comprehend for people who don’t speak the native language. I have been to Europe so often that I have come to recognize key words and signs in the various languages spoken there, plus they use a Roman alphabet. However, when I am in Japan, China, or any other Asian country where they use pictographical images in their writing, I haven’t a clue what they mean or are trying to tell me. That is not completely true. I have learned to read the local signs for “the toilet” in just about every country I go to.

There is an amazing app on the iPhone that I use today to try and decipher words, sentences and even signs in German, French, Spanish or Italian when I am the country’s where these languages are spoken. It uses the iPhone’s camera and when in the Word Len’s app, it literally translates the local language into English in real time. But because of the size of the iPhones screen it only delivers a small portion of a sign or documents message and you have to hold the iPhone pretty steady over the words in order to get the true gist of the message.

Now imagine if I was wearing Google Glass and it is tied to my iPhone or Android phone and a special mobile app version of Google Translate. In theory, I could pick up the local paper in Paris and start reading it as the glasses scans the words and it instantly translates them into English for me. Or I may be walking down a street and see a sign on the wall of a building and I just look at that sign and it is translated on the spot. Or I go to the underground subway in Japan and look at the signs that give various directions and I get those signs translated for me as I scan them with my Google Glasses. Imagine how much it could help any world traveler get the most out of a trip abroad.

Perhaps the biggest adopters of this type of application though could be diplomats, politicians and anyone dealing with International relations, including the military. One of my assignments in the past was at the EU offices in Geneva, Switzerland and during my time there I was dealing with documents from dozens of countries that all had to be painstakingly translated for us to even work with them. Imagine if I had had Google Glass back then and could just take one of those documents and read it in real time. It would have changed my work-flow dramatically. However, I know a lot of world and business travelers who would gladly pay the price for a tool that can do this type of job for them also.

The big question is whether Google is even working on an app like this? It is hard for me to believe that they do not have this in the labs since marrying Google Glass and Google Translate makes for a perfect marriage. From what I know of the technology, it is also more than possible to deliver this type of application since the mobile processors are getting more powerful and so is the translation software.

I see Google Glass as a great product, but using it for real time translation would make it revolutionary. And the technology is here now that could make this a reality quite soon. If so, I will be one of the first to buy it with this specific app in mind.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • http://twitter.com/newtechpress newtechpress

    This is a great idea. It’s the equivalent of the Babel Fish or the TARDIS telepathic translator. I’m geeking out.

  • arrow2010

    Microsoft already showed it in concept form right here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6cNdhOKwi0

    • steve_wildstrom

      Sorry, but anyone can do a CGI concept video. Google at least has prototypes and has promised a real product. I’m dubious about the prospects for Google Glass, but they have gone way, way beyond a concept video.

  • steve_wildstrom

    I think this would be a great app, but I suspect it will take a lot more than this to make Google Glass a viable product. Even in this increasingly globalized world, I just don’t see this generating enough demand.

    What would be really cool would be if I could put on my Google Glasses and read a book in Chinese. But given the current quality of Google Translations–by far the best around–that is quite a ways off. But some day, the babelfish will be real.

  • http://twitter.com/DarkTemplar1111 Dark Templar

    what about the GS4 guys, any comment ?

    • benbajarin

      I have lots of thoughts on it, but I am hesitant to fully flesh out my analysis until I get some hands on time, which I will next week.

      • http://twitter.com/DarkTemplar1111 Dark Templar

        Thank you Ben, my question was not of great importance, it was just a reflection alongside a glass of good wine :) … But to put things in perspective, I am following with interest Techpinions. I have a Galaxy S3, which I personally consider superior to the iPhone in the smartphone segment, and an iPad, which is far superior to all other tablets (hardware, app ecosystem, etc …). My question is the following: will the current widescreen smartphone trend affect Apple? Thank you very much! PS: sorry for my english, it is not my primary language …

  • michael interbartolo

    what if the glass only has to identify the paper via certain markers then let’s the server side Google translate pull up the paper in your native tongue. keeps the processor power needed in glass down and lets the translation occur in the Google server farms. glass just has to know what page you are on and which day’s paper you are reading.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Google Translate is always server-side. This is a function that requires both tremendous compute power and lots of memory. Device-side doesn’t work well even with PCs, let alone mobiles.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vanminh.nguyen.73 Văn Minh Nguyễn

    My Windows Phone has a similar app, I can see Google doing this, if they play it right, they’ll include Google Play (or at-least something similar) into it. I expect to buy the Google Glass during this decade, I must admit that the present prize ”scares” me, but Google Glass is an innovation that seems to be taken straight from the world of sci-fi, and I admire the people who made it.

    Kudos to Google.

  • drew goodspeed

    my wife is hard of hearing, imagine if I could speak to her and she could SEE my word, how that would help our communications and reduce the feeling of isolation.
    We would love this tech
    Drew

  • drew goodspeed

    This tech could also guide blind people, with voice feedback of what the camera can see ahead and around the wearer, a kind of electronic “guide dog”