Google Glass is a wearable computer in the shape of eyeglasses, complete with a "heads up display" over one eye. As one of the very few people who have had hands-on Glass experience, here's a first-hand look at what it's like to wear Google Glass. What does it feel like to use right now, in beta form? It's exciting, frustrating, and a surreal experience. Read on for more details.
Google Glass is a headset which is worn the same way you'd wear a pair of sunglasses. Instead of two eye pieces, there's a single display above the right eye. Running a modified version of the Android operating system, Google Glass is capable of connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi or a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone. When connected, Glass can display e-mail, Google Now information, text messages, take photos, record videos, place phone or video calls, and GPS navigation. Of course, Google Search is deeply integrated.
Glass can use Wi-Fi around the house or office, Glass can pair with a smartphone (iPhone and Android are preferred) via Bluetooth for connectivity when you're on the go. When paired to an Android device, you can also take advantage of SMS integration for conversations and GPS functionality for navigation. There's a touchpad on the right-side of Glass for controls, but the majority of input is done using voice commands.
Right now, Glass is available only in beta form; it's in testing and isn't officially available to the general public. Google expects to have Glass refined and ready to release sometime in 2014. Glass Explorers (as beta testers are called) are either a developers who purchased Glass, or individuals who won a Google contest to become an Explorer. For developers and contestants alike, the cost was $1,500. There are nearly 10,000 Glass users in the wild. Don't get your hopes up: There's no official word on an exact launch date or price from Google.
Glass has one speaker, a Bone Conduction Transducer, that sits near your right ear. The speaker isn't especially loud, and doesn't work well in noisy areas -- it's especially hard to hold a conversation via a phone or video call. In loud environments, I've found that it works best to so place a cupped hand over the ear to make it easier to hear.
Using Glass is all about making the most of voice commands. When Glass wakes up, either by tapping the touchpad or moving your head up, the magic phrase of "OK Glass" appears on the screen below the time. Muttering that phrase activates Glass, and allows you to sift through the currently available commands. Sadly, in its current form, Glass doesn't care who voices commands. That means anyone can shout out and take control of Glass.
There are two ways to take a photo or record a video using Glass. The first is by using voice commands: "OK Glass, take a picture" (or: "record a video"). The second is by using the shutter button located at the top of Glass. The button is faster and more discrete (but arguably less fun). Contrary to popular belief, Glass is not always recording or snapping photos. There's no indication when the camera is in operation, but if you look at someone wearing Glass and the display over the right eye is not lit up, it definitely isn't operating.
Fun fact: Google doesn't call apps for Google Glass "apps." Google refers to them as Glassware. Glassware is very limited at the moment. Developers are working with a beta API, which Google has severely limited (apps cannot make more than 1,000 API calls per day, for example). That said, Google has some sample Glassware available that includes Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Gmail, CNN, The New York Times, Path, Evernote and more. Twitter and Facebook don't allow for browsing of timelines, instead both only offer to let users upload photos taken with Glass to their timeline.
Even with these limitations, developers haven't held back from sharing their work with fellow Glass Explorers. There isn't one central place to find Glassware to use with Glass -- like a Glass app store -- but the Google+ Glass Explorers group and the private Glass Explorer forums both contain links to install unreleased services. Google Glass Apps is a free Web site that compiles available Glassware. The list is not nearly exhaustive, but it does give Glass users and fans alike a good idea of what's being worked on.
Instagram made a name for itself by letting users take mundane smartphone photos, place a filter on them, and call it art. Glassagram picks up from there by letting users take a photo, send it to the service, and then get it back on Glass with a variety of filter treatments applied.
And then there's GlassFrogger. The game lets you view a frog as it attempts to cross the road, just like the classic game. In order to move the frog, or make it jump, you must physically jump yourself. One jump moves the frog forward, hopefully missing the speeding semi and impending death. GlassFrogger is an interesting first look at augmented reality gaming through Glass. While the road isn't overlaid onto the real street in front of the user, after playing for awhile, I can say you do start to feel as if you're actually in the game rather than just staring.
Since there's a camera built into Glass, a SKU scanning app was bound to happen. Crystal Shopper lets you scan barcodes and immediately see the highest and lowest price for that item on Amazon. If you decide you want to purchase an item, it can then be saved to a list with a simple head nod. Imagine a future in which you do this with food items in the grocery store; instead of prices, perhaps, you'd able to view more detailed nutritional information. It's the future.
The first time I snapped a photo with Glass that I normally wouldn't have been able to take, I began to realize how much of an impact Glass can have capturing everyday moments that are otherwise lost. This photo, which took on a horseback ride with my kids, wouldn't have been possible without Glass. Not only am I leading the horse with one hand, but I'm also hiding on to my son's leg to ensure he doesn't fall off. A simple voice command captured this moment. Thus far, it's one of my favorite photos from Glass.