Google Glass: What Is It, & Why Should We Care?

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Forget flying cars and hoverboards— the future is wearable, interactive, and has officially arrived.

Google has been touting its Internet-enabled headsets, called Google Glass, for the better part of a year. Now that they're out in the hands (and unfortunately, showers) of journos, technologists, and normals like us, we're starting to get a clear picture that we might have to wait a bit longer for that bright future we've been promised. We chatted up Nilay Patel, managing editor at The Verge, who's been using Glass for the past few weeks, to see how soon we will all be living inside Iron Man. The purpose of Google Glass is, in essence, like having a smart phone strapped to your face. Of course, it isn't quite as ungainly as your iPhone or Android — instead the device hopes to allow your field of vision and voice to inform what the Glass does. The immediate purpose of Glass is recording point-of-view video, augmenting vision, and allowing viewers to see what the wearer sees; a bit like Larry Middleman on Arrested Development.

Photo: Courtesy of Google


Therefore, Glass’ most prominent feature is a little heads-up-display that’s the secret love child of Geordi Laforge’s visor from Star Trek and Tom Cruise’s crazy hand-ballet computer system from Minority Report. Patel explained that the display “doesn't cover your field of vision and you still have to look at it.” Unlike Google’s “how it feels” video (above), “you still have to take your eyes off of whatever you’re doing and look up into [the display].” The information lines your periphery, which makes activities in the video — like giving integrated directions — a bit dangerous.

Kinks and hiccups aside, will this little piece of wonder-tech affect our daily lives? After an extensive test-drive, Patel remarks, “I think what makes it useful is figuring out what kinds of information — almost like alert notifications — you'll want in real time in your field of vision without being necessarily obtrusive.” Want an RSS feed of Craigslist’s missed connections to spam across your face constantly? Or perhaps the social svengalis out there need to be updated constantly on Klout scores and other social feeds? Or how about daily Gilt sale notifications popping up instead of waiting in your inbox? Basically, Glass addresses the question: What type of information do we want to become a part of our lives? “Do I want Twitter in my field of vision at all times? Probably not...But I guess some people do," says Patel.

Besides the socially addicted set, there is another group who might be interested in the vision-based Glass presence. Since Glass can capture photos and videos instantly through voice commands, reporters or videographers — especially those who are in high-risk areas, might find the product useful. However, for those of us covering regular news, Patel doesn't think it is quite up to the task. “No, I dont think it fills that role. It’s an experiment. It fulfills the function of putting a small screen in the corner of your field of vision. It does not do a good job of replacing your phone or laptop...or even really your wristwatch.”
google-glass Therefore, the current build of Google Glass might not be the wearable Internet portal from the future. “Well, it’s a beautiful new piece of hardware, and you’re wearing it on your face; people want to look at it. My friend Joanna wrote this piece about what it’s like to wear Glass, and it was just a series of photos of people taking pictures of her. It’s so novel and so weird that it’s hard for it to do anything except be novel and weird,” says Patel. What is most fascinating about Glass is that users (and large companies like Google) are beginning to think of different interfaces for surfing the web...and even connecting with people.

Yet, this invention is the ultimate tool for the early adopter. For any of us hoping to figure out a cool new way to document or lives or check our email, Glass needs a little more time and a lot more functionality to become relevant to your average penny-pincher. With a whopping $1,500 price tag and a waiting list that makes a new iPhone look downright easy to obtain, this new gadget sounds great in theory, but expensive and maybe motion sickness-inducing in practice.

Photo: Google/Rex/Rex USA