25. April 2013–
Robert Scoble, tech evangelist extraordinaire, has worn Google Glass for a week – and isn't planning on taking it off.
"I'll never live another day without wearing it,' he says in Berlin, before taking the stage at tech industry conference NEXT. "It's life-changing to have a display on like this and a camera on all the time. I'm capturing moments in my life that I've never captured before. I'm getting assisted in a way that wasn't possible…"
For those who've not yet taken an interest, Google Glass is a wearable computer with a tiny display screen that sits just above the wearer's right eye. It's activated and navigated by touch and/or voice – the by-now familiar "OK Glass, take a picture" or "record a video" or "get directions to Checkpoint Charlie", which brings up a map that turns when you move your head. You can make calls; do a lightweight Google Search. Scroll a finger along the side of the gadget to bring up more options; tap to select.
The functionality of the device itself is pretty limited. That's partially because this is the first version, with only 8000 members of the public so far able to purchase it (for $1500) as part of the Google Glass Explorer Programme and not too many apps out yet.
It's also down to the fundamental design. Google Glass is Wi-Fi enabled but there's no cellphone radio (more because of power usage than cancer risk concerns, a company spokesperson told Quartz). Instead, Google Glass needs to tether via a low-powered Bluetooth connection to the users' smartphone for the bulk of its features to work.
Google Glass, for now, is also linked as a device to the owner's Google account. According to NBC News, Google Wallet is required at purchase (at least for the Explorers) and certain features require a Google account to be used.
The price point of Glass at commercial release is likely to be lower than that $1500 – and Scoble expects it to drop further with time: "The cost of building one of these should be about $50," he says. "I assume that within two years this will be $200."
Google Glass – is it life-changing enough to justify the risks?
Potential privacy and safety concerns are already spilling plenty of ink. A Seattle bar put a ban on Google Glass inside its doors; a West Virginia lawmaker proposed banning wearable computers with head-mounted displays while driving.
Scoble himself caught tech headlines this week for wearing the device into public restrooms. On stage at NEXT, he compared it to other technology revolutions: "If we were 100 years ago, and we were talking about this new thing called the automobile, would we have a session about the deaths that would happen because of this thing? Thirty thousand people a year die in cars yet we all do it, because there's a lot of benefit to it..."
The risks and benefits of Google Glass won't have a revolutionary impact on society just yet. With the limited range of apps currently available, the use cases Scoble mentions to us include taking photos or videos of his kids – though the camera's not that great and the video is a major drain on battery – and accessing Calendar and Maps.
As for the risks – it's super-obvious when the thing is recording (the display lights up – see pic above) and the same rules will apply as with other devices: "It's illegal to take pictures in a place where privacy is protected," Scoble points out. "If you have a legal expectation of privacy in the bathroom or I'm trying to record audio in a conversation where there's a privacy expectation… It's similar to being a journalist."
To keep up appearances, he wrote recently, he'll prop the glasses up on his head or find a way to cover the camera up when it's obviously an inappropriate place to record.
What about how Google Glass shapes human interactions and the amount of time we spend with technology? So far, Scoble says he wears his device most of the time, taking it off to sleep or to charge. For most of that time, it's not actually on. "It stays on for only a few seconds when you compel it to turn on. A few seconds here and there," he says.
"When an email comes in, it chimes. It doesn't turn on the camera or the projector until you tell it. If I'm having a conversation, I know an email just came in – I'll wait until the conversation is over and I'll pull it up on screen. It shows me phone calls..."
That's an interruption but, he argues, not as much as pulling out a smartphone and checking it. He's looking forward to being able to read and respond to live tweets and check speaker notes while on stage, plus other new apps likely to arrive before Google Glass heads out to the masses next year. That's when it'll get really interesting...
Top image credit: via NEXT Berlin
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