Google Glass is the latest experimental technology from the US tech giant. It was originally unveiled last year and has since been timidly rolled out to a select trial group in the States. However, since then, for a variety of reasons the sci-fi glasses haven't made it to UK shores, which is sad as the technology reeks of business potential. As explained to us by a Google spokeswoman during our hands-on time with Glass, this is largely due to the simple fact that the technology is still in a testing stage and very much a work in progress, not a final product. For many this will be a good thing, as the most noticeable thing about Google Glass is its size and extrovert, futuristic design.
Design and build
In terms of actual practicality, Google has designed Glass to be ultra usable, setting the power pack at the rear and mini high resolution display in front of the user's right ear. While predominantly using vocal inputs, Glass also has a trackpad feature on its right arm, which lets you turn it on with a tap, or navigate through the device's menus with up and down strokes. It also has a camera button that lets you silently snap a photo or shoot a video using its 5MP 720p camera.
Google has also done a decent job of making the prototype Glass very comfortable to wear, with its metal framing and nose holster fitting comfortably and feeling unobtrusive. But despite all these perks, we couldn't escape the feeling that the device made us look very strange; even if we wore them in Soho, one of London's quirkiest areas, we'd still feel self conscious. For this reason we can't see the current generation Glass prototype getting mainstream success in the consumer space. However, the enterprise space where aesthetics isn't really a concern.
Operating system and software
Google Glass runs using a heavily customised version of Google's Android operating system and is designed to offer users a similar experience. The main app store for Glass isn't in the UK yet, but with the few pre-installed on our demo unit we got to enact a variety of tasks using the device. Powering it up by leaning our head back, we were able to search for a picture online, take a photo, get directions using Google Maps and open various web pages. This was because the demo unit we tried was tethered to a Nexus 4 running Google's MyGlass companion, a custom application that enables GPS and SMS messaging features on Glass.
Pretty much all the tasks we carried out were done by saying "OK Glass" followed by our instruction. To get directions, for example, we said "OK Glass, London Eye" and then tapped directions on the trackpad to launch the Maps app. Once open the app presented us with a dynamic map showing our current location. Impressively we found the icon showing our location actually reacted to where we were looking, making it easy to know which direction we should walk in to get to the landmark.
Glass is also confirmed to integrate Twitter, Facebook and Google Now to offer users dynamic push updates. Sadly we didn't get a chance to see how Google Now works on Glass as it wasn't connected to our Google account, though we did get a chance to see a Tweet come in. The Tweet popped up on the display with a suitably phone-like beep alert from Glass' Bone Conduction Transducer, similar to the technology used in hearing aids.
Google lists Glass' display as offering users an equivalent viewing experience to watching a 25in high-definition screen from eight feet away. Initially we found the screen was slightly blurry, but soon sorted this by altering the angle we were viewing it from using the hinge connecting it to the metal frame. The screen seemed no better to us than non-HD TV quality, falling short of current high-end smartphone displays.
Poor battery has been one of the key gripes coming from the Google Glass US test group, with many complaining that it dies in mere hours. We didn't get a chance to test Glass' battery life, but the spokeswoman on hand told us she generally gets about four and a half hours' use off it before having to reconnect it to a Micro USB charger.
We have to say we're impressed. While the device is far from ready for general consumer use, as a proof of concept it's pretty amazing. Glass screams enterprise potential, with its dynamic update features and Google service integration making it an ideal productivity tool for manual labour or general business. Our optimism is further compounded by the attitude Google took when explaining Glass, with the firm clarifying that it is are testing out new applications for the platform every day. The spokeswoman went so far as to start theorising over what kinds of people could use the technology – such as plumbers or delivery men – indicating that this isn't the first time Google has considered Glass' enterprise appeal.
There's currently no official word on when Google Glass will arrive in the UK, or what future plans the company has for the tech, but check back with V3 for updates.
Written by V3's Alastair Stevenson
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