If you think folks look dorky talking into a Bluetooth headset as they stroll down the street, wait until you run into an early adopter of Google Glass.
Recognized by Time Magazine as one of the Best Inventions of the Year 2012, Google Glass is a wearable computer that’s lighter than the average pair of Oakleys.
Glass, which allows users to access the Internet, snap photographs and record video clips to be shared with friends via Google+ or gmail, is an attempt to liberate data from desktop computers or portable devices. The idea is to get the information you need — directly in your line of vision.
The Explorer edition, being beta-tested by 8,000 lottery winners willing to cough up $1,500 for the privilege, isn’t actually a pair of specs at all. It’s actually a titanium glasses framework — with a small square screen on the high right. The digital display is attached to a curved piece of plastic (available in charcoal, tangerine, shale, cotton or sky) that contains a camera, bone-conducting speaker and battery.
The device looks less cyborg when the wearer snaps on either the sunglass or clear visor. While those who wear regular glasses will have to fit the current Explorer edition over them, Google promises to come up with a designer (more expensive) frame to accommodate prescription lenses.
The Explorer edition receives data through Wi-Fi or can be tethered via Bluetooth to either an Android device or an iPhone. If you want to know how it feels to wear Glass, check out the YouTube video.
Google confirmed that Glass would be available to the public just in time for Christmas at a cost less (but nobody knows how much less) than the $1,500 beta users paid.
Still Apple, Sony and Microsoft as well as Vuzix, Oakley and Baidu fully intend to become Google’s rivals. A significant cost savings will come to those who wait.
Beta testers have already complained — as testers are wont to do — about the seriously short (1-2 hours) battery life, the lack of volume control that makes phone conversations in noisy locations impossible and their dashed expectations. Google Glass doesn’t yet actually augment reality even though it’s highly touted as such a device.
For example, augmented reality would actually integrate a patient’s chart or vital sign information with the surgical field while a physician is operating. While Google Glass offers certain elements of augmented reality, it’s not quite there yet.
The future of Google Glass rests with a so-called “killer application” actually being developed in somebody’s Silicon Valley garage. But geeks bearing such gifts as apps for news, facial recognition, photo manipulation, sharing to social networks, language translation, flight information and map directions won’t be allowed to charge for their creativity. Sergey Brin’s device; Sergey Brin’s rules.
As personal technology becomes increasingly invisible, however, the prospect of Google Glass prompts some crystal-ball-gazing-type questions. Will Glass make us all paparazzi? What will happen to the First Amendment as it comes in direct conflict with the right to privacy? How more socially isolated can human beings actually become?
The 5 Point Cafe, a seedy bar in Seattle, was the first business to explicitly ban Glass. In part a publicity stunt that garnered worldwide attention, the sanction was also a harbinger of regulations to come. Las Vegas casinos, where computers and recording devices are already verboten, have already weighed in.
Crime-fighting shows have accustomed us to the idea that surveillance cameras catch (almost) our every move. In fact, the average American is videotaped at least 30 times a day. Just for giggles, total up the instances in which you spot the probing eye of Big Brother as you trek through the next 24 hours.
Still, the prospect of being videotaped, having private conversations recorded or a facial recognition app readily available — to individuals not involved in law enforcement — makes most of us uneasy.
Google Glass is an early technology that’s clearly still in the experimental stage. What interests me most is not how useful Glass proves to be in the present, but how Glass — as an evolved augmented reality device — creates seismological cultural shifts in the future.
When my son presented me with an iPhone for Christmas 2011, he insisted it would change my life.
It did. With all the apps on my phone, I find myself equipped with email, Google, a turn-by-turn driving guide, 1,263 photos, Spotify, a 4-in-1 calendar, a calculator, Facebook, a tipping guide, a plant identifier, a GPS-enabled star/planet guide, Amazon, solitaire, 381 e-books and this newspaper — all contained in a 2.25-inch-by-5-inch-by-.25-inch gadget.
I did draw the line at a hands-free headset, however. I didn’t want to look like a dork.