I had a rather unique opportunity recently. A friend – a rather special friend actually, – one with access to the most current version of Google Glass, actually offered to give me an introduction to this emerging piece of high tech. Not one to ignore opportunity when it knocks – I jumped all over it.
I had heard of Google Glass before. But frankly, I had no real idea of what it was, and especially I had no idea of how it might be used. Now, in the interest of true journalistic honesty, I must admit that there have been times when I have had difficulty with creative vision. Take for example that time when another friend working in the government first introduced me to “The World Wide Web” aka – the foundation of the internet as we know it today (and yes, that was a few years ago to say the least). I was unimpressed. I thought it was an interesting computer project. But at that moment – in hindsight one of limited vision – I thought of the web project as one without any application of interest to the general public. Okay – so I was wrong – I admit it. Moving on …………….
Not wanting to repeat my World Wide Web error, I determined that I would keep an open mind about Google Glass. After all, I do love tech stuff of all sorts and this Glass device is currently on the cutting edge. So this was my chance to explore a bit. What is this Google Glass? What is it like? How does it work and what is it good for? With an open mind I charged ahead to see what I could see. And what was my impression of Google Glass? I have to say, my introduction was something like a crash course in a somewhat foreign high tech language. I’m still trying to process all that I learned and experienced. It was really quite a trip. So keep that in mind. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I learned as well as some of my initial reactions and thoughts.
The Device – –
Google Glass is a very new and very innovative piece of highly advanced technology. I have never experienced anything like it. It’s so new it is not yet available to the public as it still goes through updates, redesigns, and beta tests. Some individuals do now have their own Google Glass, but they obtained it “by invitation only.” And even so, these lucky few still had to pay for the product – something to the tune of $1500. (Keep in mind – this price is for a very limited production product. That price will likely (hopefully?) drop considerably when Google Glass heads toward full production.)
The Google Glass hardware is well thought out and designed. I’ll try to explain the pieces of the device. Hopefully this, in combination with the photos, will give you some sense of the layout of the Glass features. Very light in weight, with a strong but extremely flexible frame which you can twist without harm, you don the device as you would with a normal pair of glasses. The “tech” items reside in a small section attached to the right stem of the Glass (orientation comments according to the wearer’s perspective). Near the right ear is the rechargable power source and also an “inductive” speaker like device which rests against the bone behind your right ear, transmitting sound via vibration. Mid stem is a touch sensitive control area. By tapping this area, or by brushing your finger upward, downward, forward, or backward you control various Glass functions. (yep – there’s a bit of a learning curve here). There is a tiny camera embedded facing frontward at the point where the right stem bends around to the front “glasses” portion of the Glass. Also somewhere in there is a tiny microphone to receive your verbal commands. Finally, on the front facing portion of the Glass (the location where the prescription lenses would be in normal glasses), there is a tiny clear glass cube in the upper right area.
Put on the Google Glass and what do you see? Nothing special until you activate the Glass with a touch. Once the Glass is active the magic happens. In thhe upper right portion of your visual field you will see a small rectangular screen (the tiny glass cube mentioned above serves as the monitor for the image). Google Glass connects to the internet and the screen is used to present visual information, just like the monitor on your desktop, laptop, or smart phone. At first this is a bit distracting. Most of your visual field is full of your regular view of the world – but in the upper right corner is this little screen. It seems to just sort of “float” there. In a very brief time however, I was able to ignore the screen, glancing at it only when I wanted to use the Glass and it’s information skills. Even so, I can see how it would probably not be wise for the recreational / casual user to wear the Glass when engaged in dangerous or risky activities which require close attention and concentration!
One of the biggest advantages to the Glass seems to be the fact that you can use it in a mostly “hands free” mode. Turn on the device and voice controls allow access to most functions.
While the Glass is by no means a large or obnoxious looking device, it is a new and unique piece of tech equipment which you wear on your face. So people are going to notice. Until Glass devices become main stream, users should be ready for a few “looks” and probably lots of attention and questions. (Remember your first reactions to Blue Tooth ear pieces for the smartphone?)
So, what is this Google Glass? Based on my first encounter it seems that Google Glass is basically a small, wearable communications device, one that is capable of acquiring and sharing information according to the desires and needs of the user. The design of the device means that the “interface” is constantly available to the user when needed, and when used it does not interfere with other activities such as using your hands or engaging in other types of movement.
How would a person use this Google Glass? What are the advantages? Why would you want one? I don’t think there is any one answer to these questions. In this regard Google Glass is just like other tech devices such as tablets and smartphones. Every person has a different set of interests and needs. They want different types of information in different circumstances. And each person has their own way of doing things. So I imagine that people will find their own creative and distinctive ways to use Google Glass. And as Glass technology becomes more available software developers will create more and more special interest apps. I imagine that, as happened with smartphones, more and more creative uses of Glass will develop and emerge.
Specific future uses are difficult to predict, since they will depend on the individual, but the potential seems unlimited. But let me share an example use of Google Glass that appeals to me. I think Google Glass will be a great device for the traveler. When I travel I frequently have a variety of things with me – cameras, a backpack, etc. And I am frequently moving about as I explore a new location. The Glass can provide the traveler with up to date information in a fluid manner without the need to stop your activity, free up your hands, and look at your smartphone or other resource for information. Consider this scenario. You are taking a walking tour in Tokyo. You want to know what route to take to walk from The Imperial Palace to Tokyo Station. You “ask” Google Glass for the directions by verbal command and it then projects the walking route, with turn by turn directions, distances, etc. onto your device. You “consult” the image of the route in your upper right visual field as needed as you proceed with your walk. The Glass modifies and updates your progress as you walk, just like the GPS in your car. Google Glass already has this capacity built in and running. I used it during my “introductory tour” and it was really neat. Now add to this a translation feature. Imagine that as you are walking along in Tokyo you encounter a sign written in Japanese and you wonder what it says. You could simply look at the sign and ask Google Glass for a translation. Google Glass currently has a rudimentary version of this translation function in place. It’s not yet ready for “prime time” but you can see the potential.
Another brief example. Imagine you are exploring a new city and you encounter a site of interest. With the Glass you could take a photo of the site and email it to friend ( or post to Facebook etc) with your attached comment – all without breaking stride or fumbling around looking for your camera, smartphone, or “device” (please don’t tell me you would use an iPad or tablet in a scenario like this). Or you could find a nice reflective surface (store window?) and snap a “selfie”.
Adoption and Acceptance Issues —
As with many new devices, I imagine Google Glass will require some adjustments and updates to what is currently considered to be “usual” or “standard”. Some states for example are reportedly already considering the possible need to update driving laws to address the legality of driving while wearing / using a Glass-like device. Similarly, I’ve read that some restaurants have established a “No Glass” policy, apparently out of privacy concerns related to the possibility of using the camera without people being aware.(A non-issue it seems to me. A smartphone has the same potential.)
It will take some time for issues like these to work their way through the system and society. I personally think that these issues aren’t really new. They arise whenever new technology emerges. Change is difficult for many people and lots of folks struggle with some perceived threat from “new” or “change”. But over time they typically come to see that the concern was unfounded. The “new” becomes the “norm”. As an example, consider how everyone has (mostly) adjusted to the use of the mobile phone since it was “new” long ago. The potential problem is not with the new device. The potential problem is with the people who use the devices. Inconsiderate, self absorbed, or mean spirited people can be obnoxious in their use of any device – e.g, a toothpick, a handkerchief, high beam headlights, or a cell phone. (Does this sound like a bit of a rant? Probably is…..) Bottom line on this point – appropriate use and consideration of others will be especially important with Google Glass. Those who fail to use self control of this sort invite rules, restrictions, and regulations.
First Encounter Conclusions –
After my first encounter with Google Glass I can see that it is a really slick piece of high tech equipment which has a great deal of potential. It probably won’t be the device for everyone (but remember – I was wrong about the World Wide Web). There is really no way at this point to anticipate all the ways in which it can and will be used. Will I get one? Absolutely! (That is – assuming the price comes down when it goes into full production mode) I’m a photographer and the Glass has lots of potential in that field. I’m a traveler. I can see lots of travel applications for the Glass.
Prepare for Google Glass (it’s coming)…… And Enjoy the Adventure!
Dr.B, The PhotoTrekker