Why Google's Heads Up feature may be helpful for some mobile users

Jack Wallen offers his take on Google's new Heads Up feature that promises to keep users safe while they walk and view their phones.

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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I love my Google Pixel 5 and plan on purchasing a Pixel 6, along with a Pixel Watch, as soon as they reach the market. Except for the 4, I've felt the Pixel line of phones has been some of the strongest on the market. Along the way, Google has made some very good decisions, most of which were exactly in line with what the consumers wanted with their phones.

Then it opts to make it painfully obvious just how it feels about users—we can't walk, talk and chew gum at the same time.

We can even do more than that. We can walk, chew gum, look at our phones and avoid slamming our heads into immovable objects as we navigate crowds and crowded sidewalks.

For the most part.

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Here's what Google has done with the Pixel 5. With the best of intentions, the developers added a feature that will alert you as you walk and view your phone. Because that stop sign isn't going to get out of your way as you doomscroll through Facebook or Twitter, not knowing just how dangerously close you are to crash-landing into that signage.

Google thinks Android is just the solution for a very self-induced problem.

The solution is, aptly named: Heads Up. It's part of Wellbeing but hasn't rolled out to every Pixel device. Case in point, my Pixel 5 has yet to see this feature appear. 

I've witnessed it, countless times. I've been shopping at Target or walking down a busy street, only to see someone so engrossed in their phone that they don't spot the person in front of them stopping and slam right into their backs. Such scenes could wind up deadly. Imagine coming up to a busy street corner, bumping into someone ahead of you, and sending them out into the street, where a taxi or bus turns that innocent passerby's dream of a day into a nightmare.

I get it. You're either too bored or too busy to look up from your phones. I've been in the same position, so I have little to no room to talk.

However, that Google has reached the point where it feels the need to step in and hold our hands speaks more about us than it does about Google. Google is not in the business of babysitting its users, but the writing is on the wall. At some point, someone is going to have their faces buried in their phone, not see that sinkhole in the street, fall 10 or 20 feet and wind up in the hospital. Next thing you know, that person is suing Google for negligence or some other trumped-up charge.

The court of public opinion would point the finger of blame (or shame) at the person doing the suing.

Instead, Google probably feels it's best to nip this eventually in the bud and add a feature that will warn users they should probably pay closer attention to their surroundings. It's a sad statement about society, but that's where we are. 

We don't pay attention. We've grown so dependent on stimuli that we need a constant stream of it. Or, our daily grind has become so busy, we don't have time to spare for a jaunty walk from point A to point B. 

It's all fine and good to point at Google and laugh. Yes, the Heads Up feature seems more like an April Fools' shenanigan than a real feature. The reality is, this is where we are. We've become so busy, or dependent on a constant stream of content, that we need a third-party to tap us on the shoulder and say, "Heads up!" before we slam into abject humiliation or danger.

I applaud Google for having our backs, but I shake my head in shame at the very notion that it must. We should be better than this. We shouldn't need to have our hands held as we navigate through society with our phones.

I've read several stories and comments lambasting Google for this move. The truth of the matter is, the lambasting should be pointed at us. We are the ones slamming into each other, falling into pits, crashing into signs and worse. 

The lesson? Maybe it's time we looked up from our devices as we walk through the world. Look up, pay attention, be one with society. Forcing Google into holding our hands, as we walk and chew gum at the same time, is somewhat embarrassing.

We can do this—I have faith that every consumer can walk and chew gum at the same time. If not, we have far worse things to worry about than a Heads Up addition to Android Wellbeing.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....