On face computers

Given my history with face computers, every time a new one launches people ask me what I think about it. This time it’s Apple’s turn to try to make face computers happen.

I thought I’d write up a few of the things I learned in my Glass experience that apply to anyone doing this:

  • People really, really care about how they look. Especially how their face looks. If you wear eyeglasses, think about how many pairs you tried on the last time you got new ones. Then imagine the glasses store had only one style available.
  • Plus, when something covers your eyes, it’s hard to see what you look like to others. When you find out later, it’s often unpleasant.
  • Speaking of eyeglasses, over 50% of the world’s population already wears them. Especially the older, richer people. Are you replacing those glasses? If not, how will you work with them? Most face computer designers forget about or willfully ignore this, perhaps because they’re young people with young eyes.
  • Face computers are often pitched as the replacement for phones. But people love their phones! So far every new type of wearable device has only made phones more important (for sync, setup, handoff, etc), not less.
  • And the business case for mass-market face computers depends on them replacing mobile phones. If you aren’t replacing a phone, you’re an accessory, a productivity device, or an entertainment device. Game consoles are a $20-50B market; laptops ~$150B; phones are >$500B. That’s why Glass focused on a highly mobile device rather than an immersive, more stationary one; it’s a completely different market.
  • Comfort is only slightly behind fashion in priority. Weight especially matters. Every additional gram makes the experience worse; anything over 50 grams makes it time-limited. You can play some tricks by shifting weight rearward off the face to the ears (as we did with the battery on Glass) but that buys you only a bit more.
  • The critical experience point is not using the device, but charging it. Any charging friction at all makes you have to think about whether and when you’ll need to use this device again. If that time is not in the next few hours, most devices won’t get charged–and they’ll be dead when you next think to use them.
  • Business uses change a lot of these equations. If it helps you do your job, people will use (and charge) devices far more willingly. Glass eventually pivoted to enterprise and found more success there.
  • “The killer app for glasses…is sight!” My colleague Ricardo Prada expressed this once in a brainstorm and it crystalized better than anything else what features, constraints, and use cases were going to be most important for Glass. Does it help you see more about the real world? Then it has a chance. If it’s trying to replace the real world, it’s much more challenging.

I still believe that the glasses we already wear (to help us see) can and will do more for us. I don’t believe people will make any compromises to how they look or feel in order to have those improvements. Unfortunately I expect this will limit the appeal of face computers to niche (or business) purposes for the foreseeable future.

I’d love to be wrong about this. Apple in particular has a history of succeeding where others have failed, and I fully realize I’m opening up myself to a “less space than a Nomad” moment. But this area has fundamental human physical and social challenges, and I haven’t seen any device yet that is up to that task.

When technology advances to the point where lots of face computer styles are possible at 50 grams or less, I think things will get interesting again.

Barack Obama, SF fan?

Fascinating to see that [Obama is reading Seveneves this summer](https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/08/12/presidents-summer-reading-list), by my [design hero Neal Stephenson](http://bob.ryskamp.org/brain/?p=4150). Another example of the massive impact that fictional storytelling can have on the world, through the people who read it.

On originality

“Don’t try to be original; just try to be good.”
– [Paul Rand](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yOjts0tpco)

Topple vs. restore

“In our world, we have enough power to topple our most important systems, but not the power to restore most of them…[but] there is still time to restore this well enough to aid fundamental changes in how our societies make decisions, and especially to start to better deal with the large potential systems disasters we face.” – [Alan Kay](http://worrydream.com/EnlightenedImaginationForCitizens/)

Trains go up, trains go down

This is awesome: [use excess solar power to drive trains uphill](http://www.aresnorthamerica.com/), then let them drive back downhill to generate power when the sun goes down.

The problem with ideas

> You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen.

> And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it.

Steve Jobs

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s top life tips

From [an interesting article in the The Sunday Times](http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/economics/article4022091.ece?print=yes&randnum=1212475411171)…most of these agree with even my experience.

1. Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.

2. Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.

3. It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.

4. Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act – if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.

5. Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.

6. Learn to fail with pride – and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error – by mastering the error part.

7. Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’).

8. Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants… or (again) parties.

9. Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.

10. Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.

Complex design

From William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle TED talk:

> Imagine this design assignment:

> Design something that…

> * makes oxygen
* sequesters carbon
* fixes nitrogen
* distills water
* accrues solar energy as fuel
* makes complex sugars and food
* creates microclimates
* changes colors with the season
* self-replicates

> Why don’t we knock that down and write on it…

Links about the newspaper debate







Two obstacles to improving online newspapers