The world we live in today, drowned in screens of various shapes and sizes, has become impersonal. Slouched and glum, we stare at our screens in trains, buses, food queues, gyms and most annoyingly, even while in face-to-face conversations with each other. But will a piece of wearable personal technology do anything to change the way we interact with the world and (hopefully) each other?
From the chunky mobiles phones of the 80’s to the slick devices that we call smartphones today to wearable, motion-triggered connection devices of tomorrow (Captain Picard’s comm badge, anyone?), we have indeed come a long way. Now, here comes the fifth screen, better known as Google Glass.
As you probably know, Google Glass has been made available to certain Google employees and select individuals outside Google. It is not set to hit the public until 2014, and when it does, the price point versus launch-phase utility is what will decide on the gravity of immediate mass adoption, in my opinion.
A profusion of technical content is available about Google Glass for interested readers, so my focus rests on a few features that have the potential to change the way we go about our daily lives.
- Look and Feel: For starters, Google Glass has a plastic and titanium band that sweeps around to take the shape of the frame. A very attractively designed band that looks simple and possibly stylish from the distance but is disrupted by the relatively bulky plastic assembly that houses the circuitry, the bone-conductive speaker, the battery, a slender touchpad by the side and the visual assembly with the camera positioned on the right side—just above the line of vision so that it doesn’t disrupt the normal viewing experience.
- Voice-Commands: Although quite basic at the moment, you can command the Glass to snap pictures or record videos, and these can be shared over Google Plus, for example. You can even ask basic questions like “Who acted as Spock in Star Trek” and the answers should still be within comfortable line of vision in the device. You can also start Google Hangouts using specific commands and names of participating individuals.
- Messaging: Messages and emails are displayed and can be responded to using voice commands, although longer emails would require further taps and swipes. Dictation of outgoing email also would be a challenge, as far as I can guess, given that the Siris of the world still have difficulty interpreting pronunciation of relatively easy words. But that said, viewing emails on a wearable device with dictation-based answering while on the move is a quantum leap compared to the immensely self-contained experience that a smartphone offers.
- Sharing: Imagine your band of brothers being able to experience, in real-time, a buddy’s wedding ceremony through the eye of the glass? Real-time video feeds can be shared with your network of friends through the device.
- Google Now, the powerful ‘personal companion app’ is also integrated into Google Glass and will progressively build your ‘life-activity database’ and enable extremely relevant and timely inputs, updates and suggestions (like the best route to take to office in the morning). Very powerful, indeed.
- Translate on the go: Another handy feature that could save you while you are in a foreign land is the Google Translate feature, which comes active through the Glass. Ask the Glass to translate a word and the Glass will speak back to you the translated version.
- Navigation: The hottest feature as far as I can see, the navigation feature in the Glass allows one to get addresses instantly through a command and tap to get turn-by-turn directions. Using My Glass app on your android phone, you can beam pre-constructed navigation data to the Glass, which will be read out, as with the Google Nav app, while you are driving. Imagine the exciting possibility of a 3D navigation module that may be available through the Glass in the days to come?
- Can Google Glass make phone calls? Yes, if you have paired it with your mobile handset via Bluetooth. Google Glass acts as a Bluetooth headset and if you have set up phone numbers for your Glass contacts, you can simply command the Glass to make a call to the contact.
Living the Glass dimension
Overall, the fortunate few who have got their face in the glass are elated with the new wearable technology experience, although there is still distance to be covered before the Glass can form a meaningful enough part of the common man’s life (especially at $1,500). The form-factor still needs to undergo tweaks before it can fit faces around the globe, especially spectacled faces.
The basic app offering needs to go beyond just Google Plus, Gmail and so on to add value, and so does the usability factor, which needs to evolve to a much more intuitive and easier experience. The battery unit reportedly does not even last for a full day’s use. And this is not to mention the plastic casing that makes this first-generation device look a little clunky or the camera that performs poorly in low lighting conditions. Nor do I personally think the Glass can replace my Kindle, for example, unless the form factor takes another quantum leap.
That said, Google Glass is a fantastic piece of wearable technology and also a harbinger of things to come. I am pretty sure that the Android developer world is already buzzing, and it is just a matter of time before those possibilities become reality.
As for me, I am already dreaming of scouring the galaxy through the eyes of the Glass.
Hari Shankar is director of client services and director of Perfomics APAC.