The Reality of Google Glass Comes Into Focus

Google Glass is finally here — or at least, it’s here for the 8,000 lucky winners of the prototype version of the space-age augmented reality glasses. A wearable computer that looks like a set of Star Trek goggles, Google Glass is the latest celebrated invention from the laboratories of Google X, which is the secret lab where Google develops products that you hear wild rumors about, like balloon-powered WiFi or the self-driving car. Unlike self-driving cars, Google Glass augmented reality glasses are now an actual reality – and the first users have given us a clear look at what Google Glass really can do.

The first 8,000 prototypes of these glasses, called Google Glass Explorer Edition, started landing in the first users’ hands in late April. Now that Google Glass is actually out in the wild, it’s an interesting time to review whether Google Glass lives up to the expectations. Glass users have been posting photos and video of their experiences to Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ with the hashtag #throughglass. These user-generated submissions show us what to expect when Google Glass is available to the public, perhaps later this year.


reality of google glass


First, let’s look at what Google originally promised with Google Glass. Back in April 2012 we saw the first Google Glass commercial, shot from the perspective of someone wearing the augmented reality glasses. In the commercial, you are a hip young male with no apparent job but a very nice Manhattan apartment. Commonly-used Google icons fly across your eyesight, letting you check your appointment schedule and the weather, all hands-free. You are able to send text messages using your voice. Travel alerts update you on subway closures and traffic jams, while a 3D virtual reality map plots your best alternate route. Google Glass helps you buy a ukulele. You are involved with an attractive young lady named Jessica who calls you for video chat only at the most convenient times.

“That’s beautiful,” Jessica tells you at the end of the video, referring to either your ukulele playing or the things your Google Glass can do.


Now that Google Glass is available to a few people, we see that it cannot perform many of the features shown in the commercial. The commercial shows beautiful icons flying all over your field of vision, while actual Google Glass provides just a small display box whose location you can adjust. Icons almost never appear — users navigate their apps like a carousel slideshow, and many features require you to swipe a touchpad on the Glass’ side. Google Glass is not a completely hands-free device — you cannot just eat a sandwich with both hands and still have full functionality, the way the guy does in the commercial. The How to Use Google Glass training video that came with the first Google Glass prototypes shows a more accurate depiction of the glasses’ capabilities.

So what can Google Glass do? Google Glass can display the time, the weather or your calendar right before your eyes, prompted by voice command. It can show you photos or videos saved to your smartphone. Glass lets you read and respond to emails or text messages with your voice, and it makes phone calls. Glass does offer the 3D maps for walking or driving directions, just as it was shown in the commercial. But Google Glass cannot pull up the Google web page, or any website for that matter. That said, when you ask Glass a question, it will Google your question and display the answer in a dedicated box.

Google Glass will not use facial recognition technology, as many privacy advocates had feared it would. That’s a bummer for me, because I’m terrible at remembering people’s names at conferences and work functions. What’s more, Google Glass will not work on its own — it requires a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone to operate and if you’re not carrying your smartphone you can’t use Google Glass.


After looking through all the tagged #throughglass posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ it seems the vast majority of Glass users are just sharing video and pictures. Most of these pictures and videos are nothing special — they look like any pictures or video shot on a standard smartphone, and do not utilize the Google Glass features. It may be awhile before Google Glass videographers realize that “Just record whatever I’m doing” is not a very exciting premise for a short video.

Unless you randomly run into Conan O’Brien at a big video game conference, then you’ll get some memorable Google Glass video. That’s what happened to this Glasser when he met Conan O’Brien at E3, with side-splitting results.

This one-man orchestra video shot on Google Glass shows several different instrumental parts played by the same musician, who then layers all the parts together into one video. But keep an eye out for the little baby and the Jack Russell terrier that steal the show.

Most of the Google Glass point-of-view videos are not terribly interesting, but this Google Glass video shot while skateboarding in Venice Beach, CA is a nice, rollicking highlight.

Right now, Google Glass cannot do much that your smartphone can’t already do a whole lot better. Future versions will surely have more apps and features. The real value of Google Glass right now is just the thrill of having this technology before anyone else does, and being an early adopter.

Want to be an early adopter? It is generally accepted by the rumor mill that Google Glass will be available commercially by the 2013 holiday season.


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