On February 20th 2013 Google released a new video of their highly coveted project, Google Glass. The two-minute long showcase features a great deal of smiley, happy people showing off the functions of the hardware, but will it really be all it’s cracked up to be?
First things first, what on Google Earth is it?
Google Glass is the search engine’s foray into the augmented virtual reality field of technology. Essentially, it integrates a pair of glasses with a visual heads-up display in front of your eyes where you control what you see with voice commands, interacting with the world around you by simply looking at an object. Google initially released the video below in April 2011 as a way of illustrating the capabilities they wanted the glasses to have and to create a buzz about the project.
Pretty cool, right? Well don’t make a decision just yet. Let’s start with what we do know about Project Glass.
• The hardware consists of a plastic frame that wraps around your head, just like any conventional pair of glasses, with a small plate of glass covering the right eye – it is unclear whether the screen is interchangeable.
• Google filed a patent for ‘Wearable Computing Device with Indirect Bone-Conduction Speaker’ in 2011 and the idea is that there wouldn’t be any need for headphones as sound would vibrate through the skull. This isn’t as high tech or gruesome as it sounds, as Ludwig van Beethoven first did this in the 18th Century by listening to the vibrations between a piano and his head via a rod.
• It will run on Android, have 3G or 4G connections, GPS and a motion sensor built in.
• While the device is intended to be its own entity, rather than a mobile phone add-on, it will still be able to interact with your smartphone and the cloud.
• A camera will be installed beside the glass lens for video recording and taking photos.
Now take a look at the new video of the project:
The purpose of this video is to show off the range of uses and applications Google Glass has to offer, from extreme sports recording and taking photos of a tranquil scene, to video calling another user.
As we can gather, this is much more than just spectacular vapourware. It is currently under development at Google X Lab, the Area 51 of the scientific community, who are also pioneering a self-driven car. The Google X Lab personnel pride themselves on developing new, outlandish ideas that will have a genuinely positive, life-changing impact on society. But does Google Glass fall under that remit?
If it’s developed correctly, the GPS satellite navigation on GG would truly be groundbreaking. Current car sat navs tend to have a reputation for being unreliable but you get the impression that, with Google Earth combined, GG’s sat nav would be the best there is. How many times have you gone roaming around a new city, or driven down a dirt track, not knowing where you were going? Not only could GG tell you where you are, and where you need to be, but it could also offer detailed info on the surrounding buildings, landmarks and other areas of interest too.
The same goes for walking down a familiar street. Just like in the video, if you saw a cinema billboard, poster for a gig or ad for a restaurant, you could simultaneously view the menu, book a table, choose a film to watch and book tickets for a gig in town after – all with a few simple voice commands.
For more practical applications, GG could be used as a way of giving subtitles to the hard of hearing in mainstream theatres or, for sports purposes, you could view a ghost of yourself so you know exactly when you need to push that little bit extra to beat your personal best.
There’s a big question mark looming when it comes to how web pages will be viewed. Already there is some disparity between mobile devices and desktop views of the web where some sites can’t be scaled down to suit different viewing methods. So how will a web page be viewed on a glass plate the size of someone’s eye and how would they interact with it?
The February 2013 video features an ice sculpture artist giving a voice command for ‘photos of tiger heads’ and conveniently up pop six pictures of tiger heads that he could use to sculpt from. The first six pictures of a Google image search of the same phrase (‘photos of tiger heads’) brings back a completely different set of results – two of which are bad cartoon drawings – so it may not work as smoothly as the video might suggest.
If the idea takes off, the mobile market could be dented. You could phone other Google Glass wearers; send them texts, videos and images all via the camera and Wi-Fi attached.
For the glasses to work and perform their full function, they need to be constantly connected to the internet. This could use up a lot of bandwidth in the home, cost a huge amount on any pay as you go tariff and be susceptible to the unreliability that goes with being connected via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
Following the video in February, a press release from Google followed announcing a competition for 8,000 lucky winners to get their hands on the latest Google Glass prototype. All they have to do is use the hash tag #ifihadglass followed by their idea on what they’d use it for. This sounds like a major scoop but there’s a catch: you have to pay $1,500 after you win in order to get hold of the hardware. The Guardian ran a survey titled ‘Would you pay $1,500 to wear Google’s Glass’ and at the time of writing, the poll stood at 70% ‘No’ with over 500 votes cast.
Another major negative aspect to GG is the privacy/anonymity issue. Already, Google know exactly where you are based on your search terms and social media profiles, giving you tailored results for your area. So if we put Google patented glass on our face everywhere we go, there would always be a moment where someone who doesn’t know you, knows exactly where you are. The Orwellian connotations to this do get slightly over hyped in places like YouTube comment boxes (like ‘let’s all replace our eyeballs with ping pong balls, made by Apple/Google, filled with apps to advertise us to death’) but the overriding theme of the lack of privacy is certainly valid.
This Google Glass parody on the first video released in 2011 illustrates the lack of privacy very well in morbidly black humour;
On a more practical level, it is unclear how long the battery will last. For a device so small – and a subsequently smaller battery – that makes videos, takes photos and uploads/downloads content, how long would you actually have before it runs out of juice? In addition to this, they expect it to produce sound that reverberates through your skull, but would this really be better than headphones?
Finally – saving the most angst-filled problem till last – we come to the subject of advertisement. A large number of sceptics believe it will be just another way to force-feed you adverts, reminiscent of Fry’s commercialised dreams in Futurama. Coincidentally, a YouTube search of ‘Futurama advertising in dreams’ returns the Google Glass promo in one of its results. If this is the case, it would infuriate consumers no end, after being duped by a very flashy video, to see that they are just guinea pigs in a grand commercial scheme.
Are People Excited By It?
Prior to the new video in February ’13 there were far more sceptics than believers to the project. An article by The Washington Post titled ‘Google’s Project Glass: Gimmick Or Great Idea?’ sparked a debate where roughly three quarters of the 112 comments posted on the article lambasted the idea. However, after reading through all of the trending tweets from when the new video was released, it’s evident that people were in awe of its sleek beauty and versatility, dreaming of what they would do with it.
Wow. Pretty blown away by this new Google Glass thing google.com/glass/start/wh…
— innocent drinks (@innocentdrinks) February 21, 2013
Is It The Future?
On the same day that Google Glass announced their new video, Sony gave their official overview of the Playstation 4. It seems that rather than concentrating on a better gaming experience, they’ve pushed the boundaries for the next generation by incorporating a whole new level of social media sharing options. You can record clips and take screenshots at a push of a button and instantly share it with all your social media channels. The question that needs to be asked when taking into consideration these two new forms of technology is why do we need to share it? Or rather, why do we feel the need to share it?
If consumers want to buy Google Glass to take home videos, photos and use it for personal recreation, why would they want to share it with potentially thousands of people they don’t even know? Moreover, when it comes to sensitive data such as addresses, bank account details, phone numbers and email addresses being thrown about on things like Google Glass, how secure would that data and a user’s identity be?
I’m not suggesting that the overlords of Google intend to exploit this kind of information, but there are certainly people out there who would and have the know-how for getting it.
There are some amazing new technologies being developed, like Asus’ new touchscreen and Apple’s iWatch, but Google Glass seems to take precedent in terms of consumer hype. This is hardly surprising due to the well crafted videos they have used for showcasing the product.
You can use it while skydiving, performing spins in ballet, playing table tennis, creating art masterpieces, barrelling down high speed rollercoasters, getting out of bad traffic, skiing, horse riding, fencing. This is all well and good, but what the video doesn’t tell you is: what would happen if it were to rain?