Through the (Google) looking glass.

Posted by Flux on 

5 August 2014


Dion Chang finally gets to test this controversial piece of wearable tech.

When the team at SDK digital labs called and asked if I wanted to experience Google Glass, I jumped at the opportunity. Never before has a piece of wearable tech generated such hype, as well as controversy.

Wearable tech might be 2014’s big trend but most of the early offerings, like Samsung’s GEAR (a watch-like device that links to your Smartphone) have been nice-to-have, but not really life changing. In fact, incorporating wearable tech into your daily life is – at the moment – just an added complication to your day. I say “at the moment” because as with all technological innovations, the early versions are always somewhat cumbersome. Remember the very first mobile phones? It’s unimaginable that those bricks were the predecessors of the slick devices we take for granted today.

However, the one innovation that has got everyone talking is Google Glass, hence my unbridled excitement. For the uninitiated Google Glass is a piece of wearable tech that is worn like a pair of spectacles. It has a small rectangular cube of glass on the right side of the frame. This cube functions as a mini screen that appears on the periphery vision of the wearer. With voice activation you are able to take a picture, record a video or access messages. The imagery that appears on this peripheral screen is part of a far larger tech trend, augmented reality, which is set to blur the lines between our real and virtual worlds.

Google Glass has only just been released for public sale in America and is due for release in Europe this month. For the past two years, Google has only given access to Glass to strategic influencers – called Explorers – in the tech industry and software developers. This has not only fueled the hype, but also kick-started a resistance movement to the device. Last year in the UK a survey found that 20% of people wanted it banned before it was even launched commercially, and the resistance is understandable.

As Glass is voice activated, anyone wearing it would be able to photograph and record what he or she is seeing, without anyone realizing it. In fact the first question asked of anyone wearing Glass is, “Are you recording me?” Issues of copyright or security could easily become compromised by anyone using Glass (EG: trade fairs or national key point security hot spots like airports…or Nkandla). As the debate between privacy and secrecy grows, this device is being seen as more of an invasion of privacy, rather than it’s origional function, which was to allow your friends and family to see what you are seeing in real time.

So what was the experience like? To be honest, disappointing.

The virtual screen in my periphery vision was smaller than expected, and for a digital generation now accustomed to a large multimedia touch screens, the visuals are monotone – similar to early desktop computing. With all the technology innovation that we have to absorb constantly, we’ve come to expect the Hollywood version of new technology from the get go, and this phase of Google Glass feels more like a 1980’s interpretation of Hollywood sci-fi.

For example, you activate Glass is by tipping your head back: like swallowing a pill with a sip of water. Once activated, you simply say, “Ok, Glass”, and then give it an instruction, like “take a picture” or “play a game” (sometimes with an American accent). So when this device eventually goes mainstream, expect to see a lot of people muttering to themselves and occasionally snapping their heads back and forth – not quite as sexy as Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

The Glass also does not come with all the software we’re now accustomed to on our phones, so the simple act of connecting to wifi requires a cumbersome process of scanning a QR code and still being tethered to your Smartphone. Currently all you get with Glass are maps, a search engine and image capturing, and that’s the reason why it was only given to “explorers” and developers: to see what they could add to the experience. It is also the reason why people are already selling them on eBay. They expected a fully functional, futuristic device, but instead got a device that is very much a work in progress.

But I’ll give credit where credit is due: the fact that you can voice-activate instructions and then see those actions being activated on a tiny screen floating in your periphery vision is pretty cool. Designer Diane von Furstenburg has already launched her version of Glass as a fashion accessory, but the commercial tipping point will only take place when developers have created more apps. For now, it’s a nice show-off piece, that is, if you have strong neck muscles and don’t mind being seen talking to yourself.

By: Dion Chang

About Dion

Image credit: Google Glass

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