What is Google Glass?
Since its first announcement in April of 2012, Project Glass proved itself an idea with potential - enough to rapidly spread into a worldwide sensation. So, what exactly is this new piece of technology that has taken the internet and news by storm?
The Google Glass is an augmented-reality headset that projects a high resolution display above the right eye. It comes with a 5-megapixel camera and the ability to take 720p videos, audio in the form of a bone conduction transducer, 12 gigabytes of usable memory space, a rechargeable battery capable of approximately one full working day, and full Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability. Most netizens consider the Google Glass the world’s first pair of ‘smart-glasses’.
The headset is activated either by tapping the touchpad built into the right side of the device or by a simple upward head motion which then is detected by both the accelerometer and gyroscope sensor. This hands-free concept was part of Google’s principle philosophy for Glass in mind: Google Glass should not interfere with the users’ present-day lives.
Upon activation, users can swipe across the touchpad to navigate the interface, accessing social networks, calendars, reminders, and other important information stored either within the device or one’s Google account. Other features are accessible through the “Okay Glass” menu, activated by voice. From here, the headset responds to the wearer’s vocalized commands for functions such as shooting videos, taking pictures, and sending emails or texts.
By the sounds of it, the ‘Glass Experience’ seems thrilling, and the excitement is ever mounting as the release date approaches. However even before distribution, a number of people, fondly deemed ‘Explorers’, have already had the opportunity to live the experience firsthand.
What is the Explorer Program?
After the initial distribution to developers and the tech industry, Google had proposed the question, “What would you do if you had Glass?”
Googles’ concept video, “One day…” certainly has gotten technology enthusiasts thinking. It’s no wonder that technology enthusiasts were quick to sign up for their Explorer Edition Glass headsets. However, privileged as they may be, it is clear that the Explorer Edition is definitely a beta.
Several Explorers taking part in the program tell of its numerous bugs and software crashes, indicating that Glass is still not ready for consumer purchase. On the contrary, people also tell of Google’s swift actions to address the issues brought up, which may also show that the Glass age may not be as far away as we imagine. With opinions so divided, people have written about what they call the “Glass Experience” on the internet.
Upsides of Augmented Reality
Google Glass is meant to blend into our daily lifestyles and enhance it – a readily available, effective, and easy-to-utilize personal aid. The headset is relatively light and the display is positioned so as to not obscure the wearer’s line of sight, and many Explorers say that Glass does not feel out of place or uncomfortable. As Kevin Smith of Business Insider puts it, “Anyone who has worn glasses or even sunglasses won’t notice a difference.”
The hands-free interface allows the user to easily integrate Glass into everyday activities with simple motion and voice control. The Google Glass is capable of several functions of a smartphone, such as text messaging, social networking, Google Maps navigation, Google Calendar scheduling, videos, photography, and web searches, all without hands should the user wish.
Glass’s predictive software, the Google Now, not only informs the user of traffic conditions, weather and live sports updates, but also books reservations, boarding passes and appointments. Linking the software with the user’s Google Calendar also allows the Google Now to display reminders for important events as they near.
One of the most memorable uses of Google Glass, one that “won the internet” according to many, was the demonstration by Sergey Brin and others. Skydivers, bikers, and rope rappellers stormed the convention, wearing Google Glass and their experiences, were recorded through their headsets, were showcased for all to see at the convention. People all over the world saw through the eyes of a man leaping from a zeppelin and hurtling towards the earth, possible thanks to Glass.
The camera and its position on the Glass headset allows for a unique opportunity to literally see the world through another persons’ perspective. Explorers have written, blogged, and webcasted about the usefulness of such function, particularly when recording tutorials or giving family a long-distance tour while on vacation.
The Google Search feature proves particularly useful in travel. It allows users to quickly search up directions, currency rates, metric systems, and perhaps most importantly, translations. For many Explorers, Glass is proving itself the device they never knew they needed.
Has Glass Lived Up To Expectations
The real question is, Does Glass live up to the enhanced reality it promises to be?
Some people give a resounding “no”, and it seems that the recurring complaints are the battery life, the display, and voice control. Although Glass has been advertised to enhance reality as an aid in everyday life, Explorers report that the prototype battery life is only about 5 hours, and depletes even quicker with continuous use. This raises questions about its functionality in a working environment.
Some individuals claim that the display causes discomfort and headaches due to its proximity with the eyes, and others have reported mild strains from the lopsided weight of the device. Another aspect of Glass that apparently does not succeed in augmenting reality is the visibility of the display itself, as some Explorers report that rather than assisting them, the low brightness of device is a major struggle that can hinder its practical use. Because there are no built-in backlights, the headset display can be difficult to see in sunlight or other bright lighting.
Another heavily advertised component of the Glass experience had been the “hands-free” usage, which also put emphasis on the voice activation and command feature of the device. However, several Explorers expressed that the voice control is far from ideal. With no voice recognition system in place, the headset often picks up on voices of those aside from its user. There are also several cases when Glass misinterprets the user’s commands or repeats it twice, which can be frustrating when inputting searches and when writing emails or text messages. Also, Spending too long on a command causes the device to “lose interest” and turn the display screen off, and though you can reactivate and resume your previous task, it is still a complication to the idea of ‘augmented reality’ along with limited voice command capabilities in noisy or crowded areas.
So in terms of augmenting our daily lives, it seems that Glass has potential but still has much room to improve.
On Safety and Privacy
Another hot topic of Glass is the idea of safety – technology, privacy, and activity wise.
As stated before, the Explorer Edition of Glass is undoubtedly a beta – there are still glitches in the works that users discover and report to Google every day. Of course, amongst these technology enthusiasts, especially amongst the tinkering developers of the first batch, there are those who want to take a closer look at the system, leading to one of the major safety concerns of Glass. More experimental users have indicated that the current system is vulnerable hacking and modification and that able programmers can alter the functions and capabilities of Glass with ease. Thus far, this has been a plus side for Glass App developers, but with the introduction of systems like Winky, which allows the wearer to take a photo with a wink, this malleable system security starts to negate some of the responses Google has proposed to other concerns.
The largest controversy with Google Glass has been the camera built into the smart-glasses themselves. Vocalized concerns about privacy, such as unconsented photography or the recording of confidential meetings, have been brought up repeatedly in the recent months. Google has responded to these concerns with assurances that it will be obvious when someone is recording with Glass for several reasons, the first being that to film with Glass, one has to look in the direction of the subject they are recording. Charles Mendis, an engineer of the Glass team says “If I’m recording you, I have to stare at you.” Judging by the fact that staring at someone, with or without the smart-glasses, is often received negatively, and that the light upon the headset that turns on when the device is taking a photo or recording a video for others to see, the Google Glass team reassures the public that such issues are of minimal concern .
Even still, the headset has already been banned in banks, sporting arenas, performance venues, dressing rooms, and casinos – places deemed ‘stealth-photography sensitive’ or otherwise uncomfortable with the usage of Glass functions within the area. Conferences of confidential nature, such as business meetings or political discussions, are also adverse to the usage of Glass while in session.
Google addresses this in the official Glass FAQ, stating that “like everything, there is a time and place” for Glass. “Always consider your surroundings – just like you would with a cell phone.”
Like cell phones, there is an element of focus that has become a concern. Despite Google’s goal to allow Glass to fit seamlessly into the wearer’s life, in several interviews , the beta-testers indicated that the device can be very distracting, especially in that the smart-glasses are fixed in their line of vision and readily available. However, this brings up the question of safety during certain daily activities, such as driving.
One of Google’s visions for Glass is the device you can ‘take anywhere’. To the developers, this also meant in the car. One function of the headset that many Explorers were eager to try was the much-advertised turn-by-turn navigation system for the road. However, there are some rising concerns. The navigation system operates through auditory and visual commands, with the images hovering in the wearer’s peripheral view so as not to distract the driver from the road itself. A statement from The Verge, however, indicates that this function might need a bit more work before public release.
“I couldn’t see or hear enough for Glass to work in the car,” Sean Hollister expressed in his article. With the Google Maps navigation out of his direct line of sight and the provided interface, he explains that the display wasn’t bright enough for him to see the directions without looking away from the windshield. Several countries already have an existing ban on cellphone usage from the driver’s seat. Is the Google Glass really any different?
The UK Department for Transport is already working to forbid the use of Google Glass while driving, as “focusing on Glass means your eyes aren’t on the road”. States such as West Virginia and Delaware have also introduced bills regarding Glass on the go, and in the coming months before official release, other states and countries are likely to follow suit.
The Glass FAQ confesses that the “Glass isn’t for everyone.” As aforementioned, some people might experience headaches or eye strains after continuous usage of Glass, and those with vision problems or children below the age of 13 should not be permitted use of Google Glass. For these safety concerns, however, there is no solution but moderation.
The End Game And The Future
Although not yet a complete match to the beautiful concept video itself, Google Glass does preserve all the elements it promised – the smart-glasses can do some of the things your smartphone does, only quicker, easier, and hands-free. It is important to keep in mind that at this stage, all the world has to go on are the Explorer Edition headsets and a few software updates. As new releases of information are revealed, there’s only positive growth to expect. There are several new exciting details that have come to light:
Originally weighing at 8lbs (3.63kg), further development has allowed Google to design a slimmer, smaller Glass. The modifications preserve the headset’s functionality, but have reduced the weight of device to that similar to a normal pair of sunglasses. The initial price of $1,500 has been reduced, though as to how much, it’s difficult to discern the truth from the rumors.
It is true that Google set a high standard for itself with the initial presentation and constant promotion of its newest product-to-be, and that there were some blockades in the Explorer Edition. Yet Google takes it in good stride and tackles issues one after the other with every software update. The hype around the world, both positive and negative, is evidence of the change this new technology will bring to our world.
Glass: augmented reality headset; smart-glasses; an innovation.
As to how well Glass stacks up against its end goal and the true impact of the final product, we will only know with time.