Late last week, Joshua Topolsky of The Verge reported that Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) had confirmed during his visit with the company in New York that the new Google Glass wearable technology will be compatible with both Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS. This has come as a great relief to some who have posited the idea that Google's genius is in increasing the flow of information through its devices -- more data leads to better search and advertising options, which leads to more ad revenue for the King of Search. Respectfully, I completely disagree and think Google is allowing a golden opportunity slip through its grasp. Ultimately, compatibility with iOS means the company may be able to sell more sets of the expensive glasses, but if they are well received as Google hopes, how many converts will have been lost?
Perhaps not at the base of my position, but certainly akin to it, is the description Topolsky gives of the Glass design. He explains:
This is Apple-level design. No, in some ways it's beyond what Apple has been doing recently. It's daring, inventive, playful, and yet somehow still ultimately simple. The materials feel good in your hand and on your head, solid but surprisingly light. Comfortable. If Google keeps this up, soon we'll be saying things like "this is Google-level design."
Without actually trying out a pair yourself, it is hard to take the opinion of one person as gospel, but for a company that has a reputation of catering to the cheaper end of the spectrum, this is a coup.
There is certainly an argument to be made that with this enhanced level of design -- and the expected $1,500 price tag that goes with it -- the iPhone crowd is exactly the audience that should be targeted. This group has demonstrated in the past its willingness to upgrade early and spend real money to have the latest and greatest device. But you could just as easily make the argument that anyone willing to pony up more than the price of a MacBook Air would likely be willing to buy a new smartphone in order to make the coolest new gadget work.
If you carry this second line of thinking one step further, might not this "spendy" consumer finally be exposed to Android, only to discover, in some cases, that it works pretty well? Clearly there is a gamble involved in determining what product should lead sales, or if product sales are even the point. If Google is, in fact, sticking with its model from other devices, hardware sales are not the driver of pricing or compatibility strategy.
How's that going to work?
The next question in the Glass iOS marriage problem is how the new device will communicate with what could be arguably called a foreign operating system. While Bluetooth is the most straightforward answer to this question, the battery drain inherent in this method may be a problem. The most likely solution is that "Glass will simply piggyback on existing data connections just like your Fitbit or any other kind of gadget talks to your phone today."
This form of connection will necessitate the creation and dissemination of an app for iOS to allow the device to function. While this seems like a straightforward enough answer, it is hard not to wonder if the device will not function better if it can communicate with its home base (your smartphone) in its native tongue (Android).
Quid pro quo
While there have been no lack of rumors circulating over the eventual release of the iWatch, it seems unlikely that Apple will allow this device to communicate with an Android smartphone. It is too early to know if smartphone communication will be a vital feature of the new device -- presuming one ever comes to fruition -- or if the iWatch will be a stand-alone unit like an iPod. Either way, even the most faithful Apple fan will admit that the company is known for being incompatible. Not only do cables and accessories work only for Apple devices, in many instances, these extremely expensive necessities are available only from Apple.
Short version: quid pro quo on making Apple products talk to Android is not likely.
A soft middle
While it is hard to fault with a company that specializes in marketing for -- not selling -- its own product properly, Google Glass has huge potential and I would have liked to see it remain an exclusive Android offering, at least for a version or two. Maybe there is no need to use this as another battleground in the ecosystem wars, but it feels like a missed opportunity to push Android out into the limelight, if even for a brief moment. To Google's credit, when the product debuts, it will be a significant catalyst, and the wider compatibility should drive numbers.