Google comes clean(er) about Glass: What you need to know
Google spilled some beans in an earnings call this week. The company also published facts about the hardware, software and licensing. And finally, users started receiving actual units, and have been blabbing about them on social media. Glass has already been prohibited in some locales.
Here's what we've learned and what it all means.
Who's using Google Glass
First, the lucky winners: Google held a contest calling on people to tell why they wanted Google Glass. Google picked 8000 people for their Glass Explorer program. The gadgets aren't free: They'll still have to pay $1500 for the device.
That price is not necessarily the price consumers will pay for the shipping product when it does ship; no retail pricing has been announced.
At Googe's June developer conference last year, called Google I/O, Google offered to sell Glass to any attendee. Approximately 2000 developers who purchased those units (on Amazon.com) have not received them yet, but are expected to in the coming weeks. Google won't charge those credit cards until the hardware ships.
By the time Google's next I/O conference begins, there should be about 10,000 people outside of Google itself in the possession of Google Glass devices. ( Google's next I/O starts May 14. Google is expected to make Glass development a focus of the event.)
Google Glass may cause eyestrain or a headache, according to the Google Glass FAQ. Google says Glass is "not for children," and that "Google's terms of service don't permit those under 13 to register a Google account."
Google Glass is a headset worn like glasses that has a projector for beaming images into the wearer's right eye, creating an illusion equivalent to viewing " a 25-inch high definition screen from eight feet away." That beaming of images happens by way of a prism, which bounces the light from the tiny projector into the prism and from there into the eye. The prism is clear, so looking through it shows both the projected image and also the normal field of vision. Users have to look up and to the right a little to see the Google Glass display.
Glass has 16 GB of RAM, 12 GB of which are usable for apps. Sound is relayed to the user's eardrum not into the ears but via bone conduction through the skull.
Glass has a built-in microphone, which does a good job of picking up the voice of the wearer, but strains to capture sounds farther away. This is probably by design for both the privacy of non-wearers and also to improve the voice recognition of the user.
The right side of the Google Glass hardware is a touchpad, which enables users to control the device by tapping or swiping. Glass connects to the Internet and any Bluetooth-capable phone via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The battery should enable a day of moderate use on each charge, according to Google. However, using the video feature drains the battery much faster. One user estimated that a video recording of less than seven minutes drained about 20 percent of the battery power.
The camera takes 5-megapixel pictures and 720p video. Glass comes with a Micro USB cable and a charger. It comes in five colors: Charcoal, Tangerine, Shale, Cotton, and Sky.
Glass runs Android, according to an earnings-call comment by Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page this week, although almost certainly a custom version of Android rather than the same version that runs on smartphones. In other words, Android smartphone apps won't run on Glass, and (presumably) Glass apps won't run on Android smartphones.
Glass comes with an Android-only app called MyGlass, which among other things enables SMS and GPS messaging. MyGlass for other phone platforms could come later.
An analysis of MyGlass reveals multi-player game support, although it's possible that it's there for Android in general rather than Glass in particular.
Developers can create apps, which Google calls "Glassware," using Java or Python plus what's called the "Google Mirror API," and a set of services called "RESTful" for conveying messages to and from the Glass devices.
How it works
The Google Glass user interface is based on "cards"—discreet chunks of information similar to cards on Google Now—and these exist in a timeline, which users can navigate via a swiping gesture on the touchpad.
"Cards" are created by developers who write software for Glass and are pushed to Glass via the apps they build and which users can "install." Cards can stay in place in the timeline, or can be "pinned" by the user so they remain accessible as time goes by.
In addiction to information, the cards can offer simple user interaction and can be shared between Glass users. Users can capture pictures and video through the camera with voice commands or by tapping the touchpad. Users initiate voice commands by saying "OK, Glass," which "wakes up" the device and prompts it to accept voice input.
By saying "take a picture," "get directions to" or "make a call to" users can command Glass to function in these limited ways. Voice commands can also enable users to Start a Google+ hangout, use Google Now, search the Internet, translate language, get the weather and find out flight information.
If you make a call or send an email or text message, that communication happens not by Glass alone, but through a smartphone.
One user this week recorded an "unboxing" of Google Glass through Glass itself. As the unboxing reveals, Glass comes with clip-on sunglasses. In the future, Google may partner with Ray-Ban or Warby Parker to offer prescription eyeglasses with Google Glass electronics built in. Another possibility is a clip-on product that turns regular eyeglasses into Google Glass devices.
The terms of service
Google Mirror API Terms of Service were published this week. Google is banning for early users the resale, loan or transfer of a Glass device without Google's permission. Google reserves the right to remotely de-activate the devices and not give accused violators a refund.
Google is banning monetization by app developers: No charging for apps, no advertising.
Glassware apps don't run on the Glasses, but in the cloud. No retail ship date or price has been announced, but prognosticators say it could go on sale by the end of this year at the earliest or the end of next year at the latest.
What these facts tell us
Overall, the facts we learned this week tell us that Google is taking a very conservative, controlling approach to the platform.
Instead of flooding the device with features and functions, it's limited to a few common, powerful features. Instead of releasing it to the public, Google is allowing only 10,000 initial users and banning them from selling or sharing the devices.
In other words, Google is taking something of an Apple approach to the new product, which is the right way to go for a product as "different" as Google Glass.
So now that you know what Google Glass is all about, are you interested in buying one for yourself? If not, why not?
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