Hands on: Google Glass

Google Glass
Image: Google



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9 July 2014 | 0

With a 21st century trumpet fanfare Google Glass has finally made the jump across the pond in the form of its Glass Explorers Programme, sold from a tax efficient business based in Ireland but delivered from a warehouse in the UK. Glass comes in a fully developed line of fun-to-serious colour variants with an assortment of accessories that include prescription eyeglass frames, sunglasses, stereo headsets and other personal folderol. But alas the device itself is, even after a year’s exposure to the hearts and minds of the US technorati, not yet ready for actual use at the corporate coal face.

Google Glass is still a work in progress. It is in a public beta, if you will, for the well-heeled public, ardent developers and ‘me first’ early adopters (c’est moi). It works, after a fashion, but in the future, software developments aka “glassware” will likely become an essential bit of kit for certain sorts of business users.


Selfie alert: the author indulges in a little self photography while wired for the world to come

As a long time graduate from the brickish school of mobile technology, I can recognise the shape of things to come if not exactly fall in love with the gadget before me. My arm still twinges from lugging the first Compaq Portable II, a svelte 13kg, a lighter and smaller version of the Portable I — Ha! Yet along with many I could foresee a 1 kg portable with a full colour screen that did not need mains power. The Portable II had any colour screen you want as long as it was green.

While we can see the shape of the device and appreciate that there will not be any earth shaking changes in form, the crux is the iOS and Android-compatible software which are mostly yet-to-arrive. You can get the feeds and speed from Google’s all singing/all dancing web site www.google.co.uk/glass. Glass is attractive in a geeky sort of way, adaptable to a variety of human crania that determine its form factor. That is unlikely to change much from Google or the legion of copycat mobile technology vendors now queuing for entry in the Consumer Electronics Show 2015.

Glass is a very personal peripheral for your mobile. An internet connection either through your phone or via Wi-Fi is essential. The standard built in functions (Google search, making but not receiving telephone calls, taking/sharing pictures and videos and getting directions or sending SMS messages by voice) are useful. I rather like not having to dig out my mobile to see the time, having given up wristwatches when I left corporate existence. Just lifting my chin 10 degrees wakes up the Glass timepiece. As an aviator, having a compass available with a tap and a swish is handy. Users of Google Calendar and Gmail will have a ball with instant reminders and updates automatically in your face.

Virgin Upper Class passengers will be checked in by smiling red-clad staff adorned with Glass. Will the news of yet another flight delay be somehow more pleasant, even exciting, when delivered via Glass?

It is mostly hands-free but giving Glass a tap or a swish controls the menu function and “timeline” displayed hovering in the upper right side of your visual field. You can see right through the display and it is bright enough to use in daylight, even directly against a cloudy sky.

At the present time the battery life is less than ideal but is relatively quick to charge. The Bluetooth function will have you grabbing for your mobile unless you can make sense out … of … every … other … word if you use the mono earpiece. The bone conduction speaker works fine, though. Weird! The Wi-Fi is fiddly to configure and rather undependable. Roll on the day that the QR configuration capability works! Ditto the “take a picture with a wink” feature.

But this is not stopping users with a very posh and public face from climbing aboard the future of communications technology right now. Virgin Upper Class passengers will be checked in by smiling red-clad staff adorned with Glass. Will the news of yet another flight delay be somehow more pleasant, even exciting, when delivered via Glass?

Brace yourself against the day when entrepreneurial advertisers get wind of your Glass use. Until then, an app called Concur is ready to take the drag out of compiling expense claims. Simply take a picture of your taxi receipt et al. and it will be instantly filed in the cloud, awaiting your need for reimbursement. A similar aide memoire service is supplied by another app, Evernote. If you can develop Android apps in-house, Glass is your oyster.

Off the shelf now Duolingo can get you up to speed for a bit of old Europe commerce via Glass language flashcards. The WordLens app can translate the printed word for you, dead handy to avoid gastronomic surprises when abroad … and a life saver for reading obscure foreign traffic signs! If you are pursuing your commercial muse on a golf course, Golf Sight is a range finder app that also keeps your scorecard. There are a number of newsfeeds from national and international print titles and CNN if you are current events obsessed.

The usual Luddites have been exercising their concerns about the privacy impact of Glass’s ability to surreptitiously take pictures and videos. Will be all me made to wear “CCTV” placards? Didn’t we already run this gauntlet with mobiles with cameras? I’m sure the health impact of having radio transmitters athwart your mastoid process will be carefully examined in years to come. No doubt, somebody somewhere will get a migraine and the headlines will bloom.

As with any new technology, there are concerns. A list of helpful “don’ts” have been published. Chief among them is “Don’t expect to be ignored if you are an early Glass user”. People will look at you funny, technophiles will chase you down the street for a personal view, your partner may think you’ve taken up watch making. Already the devices has been comprehensively lampooned on YouTube.

And beware if you turn into some kind of proselytising Glass zealot, for they are known as ‘glassholes’.



Paul Lavin

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