Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Google Glass - 2013

The future envisaged in the greatest sci-fi movies of our times hasn’t exactly panned out. We don’t have expressways hanging in the air, nor cars that can hover, hit supersonic speeds with alacrity or ride on ceilings. If anything, the present is very bland in comparison shown to us by countless sci-fi epics of the ’70s and ’80s (yes, I go back a long way). But just like in the movies, we do have hyper-connected humans constantly talking to each other through smartphones, social networks and even talking to those living from beyond the grave.
Google Glass sounds amazing, but questions outweigh the cool factor

Given this, what place will Google Glass hold in our lives? Will it be the new Mark Of The Douche, taking the title away from Bluetooth headsets? Will it be the beginning of a weird future, where heads-up displays are commonplace and not stared at as something bizarre? Or will it be a huge failure, despite Google’s backing? 

One thing is certain, not many will be able to resist the temptation of trying this. And it won’t be too long before you can. The Verge, which did a test run with Google Glass, reported that the device will be out this year for a price much affordable than the $1,500 (approx Rs 75,000) that Google is asking for the initial units from developers.
Initially, Glass will be available in five colours
Initially, Glass will be available in five colours

Google already pervades some of the most vital aspects of our lives – from search of knowledge to communication to entertainment. But clearly, the company feels it's still come up short when pushing technology to humans. There’s a very telling quote from Glass Product Director Steve Lee that goes: “We all know that people love to be connected. Families message each other all the time, sports fanatics are checking live scores for their favourite (sic) teams. If you’re a frequent traveler (sic) you have to stay up to date on flight status or if your gate changes. Technology allows us to connect in that way. A big problem right now are the distractions that technology causes. If you’re a parent — let’s say your child’s performance, watching them do a soccer game or a musical. Often friends will be holding a camera to capture that moment. Guess what? It’s gone. You just missed that amazing game.

Glass is the company’s attempt to make technology available without the distraction of holding a phone or something like that. Nice try, Google, but what about the phones we already paid good money for? Well, Glass tethers with them to share the data connection, the Wi-Fi networks and, of course, voice calls. So in a way, Glass isn’t a standalone device. It can be one in the future, but it isn’t at the moment. However, it's certainly a curveball thrown at the Samsungs, HTCs and Sonys of the world. Will they be able to cope with a new class of devices that may eventually replace their Xperia, Galaxy and One phones? Of course, that's a question for the long term and there are more pressing matters which need immediate answers.

For one, what about privacy? Wearing a Glass, anyone can shoot or click anything without making the subjects aware of such an act. Basically, there’s a 720p camera fitted on to the "headset" that can be called into action any time with just a couple of gestures. Surely, this isn’t ideal and poses a whole lot of questions, especially about the practicality of Glass in a work environment, and can even be a cause of worry for those in limelight. Can you picture a whole new class of paparazzi? And we aren’t talking about just those who get paid to do it. Then there are places where a Glass could in fact be breaking a law or two, like movie halls. While many among us would look forward to better-quality, non-shaky cam prints, we are not sure it would please movie studios. 

At one point, Joshua Topolsky, who wrote the Verge feature, surreptitiously filmed inside a coffee shop when his accompanying camera crew were asked to put their cameras off. Of course, no one was any wiser about his deception. It’s a situation that will take place every day in a world where the notion of privacy has already blurred to a large extent. While we willingly over-share on many social networks, Google has not revealed how it intends to stop strangers from sharing details of your life online, before you can say, TMI.
A Glass photo sample released by Google
A Glass photo sample released by Google

What can Glass do that I cannot already do with my supercharged smartphone? That, we imagine, is the main question going through the consumer’s mind. The example that many use to describe its utility is about walking down a street without having to watch out every now and then for a wall or a pillar. The fact that the user does not have to concentrate on the device itself is one of the main selling points. 

The display of Glass rests just a little in front of the user’s right eye. It’s tiny, but big enough for you to see it in good resolution. It displays info instantly, including any Google search, turn-by-turn navigation or just plain old text messages and emails. While doing so, it keeps the user doing whatever it is they were doing before the urge to search maps or reply to a text came along. Their primary activity, be it walking on the street, cycling through a crowded alley or running on a treadmill, will remain so.

Glass can give you information on the fly, just like Google Now does for users of Jelly Bean-toting Android phones. It can suggest translations super quickly, shoot videos with “you are there” feeling and also be used for Google+ Hangouts. Sound is conveyed through a bone conduction speaker that makes contact with the mastoid process, linked directly to the middle ear, if reports are to be believed. It does this discretely without intimating others about your notifications or alerts.

When the Glass starts up, you see the time and a line that says "ok glass". But first you have to tap the touchpad on the side or slowly tilt your head upwards. Ok glass is the call sign for Glass to perform actions. For example: ok glass Google tech2 will give you the search results for tech2. The touchpad on the side also assists in selection and scrolling, and functions as the back key as well. Somehow we are not convinced about this touchpad-voice combination, even though voice is the primary navigation option. Using a touchpad placed near your ear seems cumbersome, especially if you want to move around while using it. 

Google has also in a way contended for the possibility that Glass might make the wearer look silly. The company will release the first editions in five colours, three of them rather staid – Charcoal, Cotton and Shale, which is marketing speak for black, white and grey – and the other two bright and attractive, Tangerine or orange and Sky, which is a sky blue headset. The company is also reportedly in talks with manufacturers of Rx glasses to bring Glass to people who do not have perfect vision. There’s even a version that sits atop your existing sunglasses, if you are going for the whole cyborg look. So there is at least an attempt to make it a distinctive, yet not alien-like, device.
The Glass fits atop sunglasses as well
The Glass fits atop sunglasses as well

Google Glass is certainly an exciting prospect, but questions about its practicality remain. The world has only now been accustomed to using smartphones without apprehension. With this in mind, the timing of the imminent launch seems rather suspect. Is the world at large ready for Glass? Will it breed a new line of devices worn around the various parts of the body, perhaps like the iWatch or the rumoured Samsung smartwatch? Until such a time that Glass becomes affordable and everyday, rather than expensive and niche, Google has to find a middle ground, one where our expensive, high-spec'ed smartphones are not made totally redundant. At the moment, Glass sounds like a fancy accessory that works best when combined with your smartphone. Someone who already has a top-of-the-line Android phone or an iPhone would not be very willing to shell out more bucks for Glass. Google is betting they will, but it may be too early to place a wager.

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