Does Project Glass represent the next big step in mobile communications?
With so much new information surrounding Google Glass, we have completely updated this ‘what you need to know’ feature. Enjoy!
Many of us spend a significant portion of our day glued to our smartphones, or to other connected devices. Reading social media or checking out the weather or otherwise dipping into the wealth of data at our disposal will typically consume all of our attention, making it hard to do anything else.
Google Glass might offer a solution to this problem, giving us a way of using the outboard brain of the internet while still being able to do other things. Glass was created, according to Google, to “be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t.”
The first Glass units have been with early adopters (who had to sign up to a lottery for the privilege) since April and Google is using this semi-public testing period to fine tune the device for general consumption, as well as get the world used to the idea of wearables.
Google Glass features
Essentially, Google Glass is a wearable Android-powered computer built into spectacle frames so that you can perch a display in your field of vision, film, take pictures, search and translate on the go as well as run specially-designed apps.
Google Glass uses a miniature display to put data in front (or at least, to the upper right) of your vision courtesy of a prism screen. This is designed to be easily seen without obstructing your view.
Glass responds to voice commands as well as taps and gestures on the touch-sensitive bar that runs along the side of the frame. You can start a search with “Ok Glass..” and take a photo or launch an app with a command phrase or a tap of your finger. Glass can also be paired with a phone using the My Glass app to allow quick fiddling with settings and customisation.
Google Glass runs a version of Android, so developers can easily create apps that take advantage of its unique display and input methods. Developers using Google’s Mirror API, which makes it possible for apps to speak directly with a Glass headset, are forbidden from charging for their software or embedding ads in the Glass display. Google has indicated that this policy may change however.
The early Google Glass apps provide a neat glimpse into the potential of the headset.
You’ll be able to use Google Maps to get directions although as there is no built in GPS receiver you’ll need to tether Glass to your smartphone. Several third party developers have announced apps for services including Evernote, Skitch and Path.
The New York Times has also demoed an app that will pop up news headlines on request and JetBlue has suggested that it could create an app to show how much time was left before you had to board your flight. One developer even created an app (since removed by Google) to allow surreptitious taking of photos simply by blinking when you have something good in your sights.
Google has snapped up voice specialists DNNresearch whose voice recognition tech could give Glass the ability to translate words being spoken to you into your own language on the display. Obviously you’ll need a WiFi connection or a hefty data plan if you’re in another country, but it’s certainly a neat trick if it works.
Google Glass design
Glass is designed to be lightweight and as unobtrusive as possible. The frame will come with adjustable pads for comfort, and is expected to be both light and extremely robust. It will also have a touchpad along one arm for silent interaction.
If you already wear glasses, don’t worry. Google is trialing several different designs that will enable Glass to be attached to existing frames. There is also the possibility of designer prescription glasses with Glass functionality built in. This patent might give us a glimpse of a future, more natural looking version of Glass.
At the moment Google Glass comes in five colours: Charcoal, Tangerine, Shale, Cotton and Sky. Using Glass’s translation ability to turn that list from marketing speak to plain English, that’s black, orange, grey, white and blue. Consumer versions of the product could offer a different palette.
Google Glass specifications
Current versions of Glass offer a 640 x 360 display. According to Googlethe display is “the equivalent of a 25-inch high definition screen from eight feet away.” There is a 5 megapixel camera built-in to the frame that can also capture video at 720p resolution.
The rechargeable battery last for roughly a day, although that’s with the standard “typical use” caveat, which probably excludes a lot of video capture or playback.
There’s 16GB of flash memory built into the device, although only 12GB is currently available for user storage. The device will sync to your Google Drive, giving you both a place to stash your photos and video clips as well as a stash of documents and files you can call up from the cloud.
Bluetooth and WiFi will be built in, but there is no GPS chip – so the Glass will probably work best alongside an Android phone for full Google Maps functionality. You can however pair with any Bluetooth enabled phone and we would expect some support for iOS at least.
Sound will be produced through bone conduction transfer – vibrating your skull to transmit to your eardrum. Google recently revealed a new version of the Glass headset that can take an optional mono earbud if you need to wear Glass in a noisy environment where bone conduction just can’t give the volume you require.
Tech Radar was able to spend some time with the Google Glass Explorer edition and give our verdict on this early model.
Google Glass Controversy
Obviously with any new technology there is the potential for misuse – and Google Glass is perhaps a little problematic when it comes to privacy. Of course, Google would say that it is merely taking the functionality that we already have in our portable devices and making it more readily accessible.
A lot will come down to personal preference. For many, the prospect of being filmed by someone from their glasses will make them uneasy and having conversations logged and transcribed will be divisive.
Google has released some information regarding how you know when people are filming through the device, which should quash some people’s fears that the device will be used as a perving mechanism. Google also acted to remove an app that allowed photos to be taken silently via blinking, which could potentially have been abused. Facial recognition apps will also be banned from the Glass equivalent of Google Play following privacy concerns.
It’s important to note that there may be restrictions on when you use Glass, both legal and social. Indeed, one early adopter has already been arrested for driving while ‘distracted’ by her Google Glass headset. On the other side of the legal coin, another member of the Google Glass Explorer program became the first Glass user to film an arrest using his headset. Some jurisdictions may frown on this kind of public oversight.
A strip club and a bar have already earned cheap publicity by pre-emptively banning Glass, and TechRadar columnist Gary Marshall has had his say on Glass’ privacy implications. Gary also looked at just who fears Google Glass and why.
Google Glass Competition
Much as with the recent fad for Smart Watches, Google Glass is certain to spawn competitors. Apple and Microsoft are Google’s most obvious rivals – and both are rumoured to be working on their own equivalents. Samsung could be getting in on the act too with what looks like a sportier take on the concept.
Another project that is attracting attention for mixing screens and glasses is the Oculus Rift, which is currently very much about gaming, but could feasibly – using a camera – show you live video of reality and enable some awesome real time overlays because it’s a complete screen. The sheer size and weight of the Oculus Rift headset as it currently exists means it is unlikely to happen soon, however.
Google Glass price
Google Glass is not yet commercially available but some of those who signed up to the Google Glass Explorer program have been able to purchase a developer edition for $1,500 – around £985 or AU$1,449. Such is the buzz behind Google Glass that there is now a black market in Explorer program invites, with a ‘Buy It Now’ invite going for as much as $2,999.
The consumer versions are expected to be a little cheaper, although any actual prices remain speculative. They are unlikely to be super-cheap – but Google’s success with the Nexus 7 tablet may prompt the company to subsidise some of the cost.
Google recently unveiled an accessories store, selling Google Glass add-ons and extras at premium prices. A spare pouch for Glass will set you back $50 and a clear eye shield is on sale for $75.
Google Glass release date
There was speculation that Glass may launch early, before the end of 2013 but no announcement has been forthcoming from Google. Google has however announced that another round of invites will be sent out to those who wish to buy a Google Glass Explorer edition, with existing users able to invite up to three friends. Which could mean that the original 2014 launch is more likely. In short, it will soon be easier to get a developer edition, but those wanting a proper consumer model will have to wait until well into 2014.
While waiting for the full release, we had some thoughts about where Google Glass may be headed by the end of the decade. If Google’s wearable future comes to pass, just what will the world of tech look like by 2020?