All eyes on Google Glass

Updated: Nov 10 2013, 16:35pm hrs
Google glassGoogle?s much hyped innovation will make its commercial debut soon.
Very shortly, Googles much hyped innovation, Google Glass, will make its commercial debut. The big question is whether it will be the game-changer that the company is banking on. Google has spent a huge amount of money, time and manpower to perfect the product before its official launch. There is a Google Glass Explorer version available for quite a hefty sum (close to R1 lakh) for those willing to try the concept, but the commercial version will be cheaper, according to company sources. So what exactly is the fuss all about Google Glass is an attempt to free data from desktop computers and portable devices like phones and tablets, and place it right in front of your eyes, much like the head-up display in jet fighters and some high-end cars. Essentially, Google Glass is a camera, display, touchpad, battery and microphone built into spectacle frames, so that you get a display in your field of vision, which allows you to film a video, take pictures, search and translate on the go. It does not make calls, but it does pretty much everything else you would want.

It has voice recognition, so you merely say take a picture to take a picture, record what you see on video, even share what you see, live. And all this is hands-free. You can walk down a street and use Google Map to get directions to your destination, including the distance and time to reach. You can also speak to send a message and scroll through and reply to messagesall on the go. Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format that can communicate with the Internet via voice commands. A touchpad located on the side of Google Glass allows users to control the device by swiping through an interface displayed on the screen. Sliding backward shows current events, such as weather, and sliding forward shows past events, such as phone calls, photos, messages.

It may sound like gadgets we have seen in science-fiction movies, but whether it works for most people is still to be seen. For one, you will be walking around wearing a sci-fi gadget, which does not look like an ordinary pair of spectacles. Whats equally disconcerting, till it catches on, is that you will be talking to the gadget while on the move. Google Glass uses display technology to put data to the upper right of your vision courtesy of a prism screen. This is designed to be easily seen without obstructing your view, though the police have stopped people from wearing them while driving. The embedded camera simply records your first-person perspective, allowing you to take snaps or footage of what you are actually seeing. Theres also the opportunity to use the Google hangout software to video conference with your friends and show them what youre looking at. How comfortable you are doing that in public is, of course, the key question.

The gadget comes with a MyGlass app, which pairs your headset with an Android phone. As well as sharing GPS data, this means messages can be received, viewed on the display and answered using the microphone and Googles voice-to-text functionality. That functionality is only for words spoken in English. Those who have used the device describe the experience thus. On the display, theres the time with a small amount of text underneath that reads ok glass. First, you have to touch the side of the device (which is actually a touchpad), or tilt your head upward slowly, a gesture that tells Glass to wake up. Once youve done that, you start issuing commands. You can scroll items by moving your finger backwards or forward along the headset, but most of the big interaction is done by voice. Glass is being developed by Google X, which has worked on other futuristic technologies such as driverless cars.

Whats clear is that Glass is very cool and entirely novel, but whether it will prove useful to the average consumer is somewhat doubtful. It will come down to personal preference. For many, the prospect of being filmed by someone from their glasses will make them uneasy and brings up some tricky privacy issues. Also, having conversations or even video conferences while walking down a busy street is not to everyones taste and liking. That, however, has not stopped rivals like Apple and Microsoft from developing their own versions as is Sony, but Google will be the first off the block. The future will soon be here, but at what cost Insiders suggest that Google Glass will retail for around $1,500. Whether customers will pay that much for the privilege of being able to walk around wearing hi-tech glasses and relaying commands to an invisible source remains to be seen.