5 Things I Learned About Google Glass


Google-Glass-preso-thumbBe it fad or future fashion, Google Glass is attracting strong interest in the web development field. Around 80 people turned out at the headquarters of Portland web services company WebTrends last Thursday, reeled in by a presentation on “Developing/Designing for Google Glass.”

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Google-Glass-preso-thumbBe it fad or future fashion, Google Glass is attracting strong interest in the web development field. Around 80 people turned out at the headquarters of Portland web services company WebTrends last Thursday, reeled in by a presentation on “Developing/Designing for Google Glass.”

For developers, it’s apparent that future businesses and startups could be built around apps for Glass, the wearable computer with a head-mounted display. For web designers and webmasters such as myself, keeping up with evolving screen dimensions is becoming a necessity of the job.

For everyone else, it remains to be seen how much of a fact of life the devices will be.

Eric Redmond, author of an upcoming book on Google Glass, showed off the device, which is still in a limited, pre-public release program. Here are some of the things I learned about a device that is part work tool, part fun toy, and part privacy cannibalizer.

Android Indeed

Photo courtesy of Faddah Steve Yuetsu Wolf
Google Glass kit developers and users, post-presentation

Being still in pre-release, even seeing one or two of the devices can be surprising. At the start of the presentation, Redmond asked for a  show of hands of “Glass explorers” in the room, and got a count of nine — possibly a local mini-record of sorts.

To get the device, Redmond said, most on the west coast must travel to mandatory distribution centers such as L.A. or San Francisco. Google staffers give training before releasing the technology to its new owner.

However, this edict might be changing. One user in the room said he received his by mail.

As others have noted, being around someone wearing the device is a little creepy. The current design fits over any pair of regular glasses, giving an immediate asymmetrical and technical look.

When you’re standing in front of a Glass user, it feels like no accident Google named one of its core products “Android.” The presence of a recording device is unnerving, despite the fact the device activates a front-light when operating.

1. The presence of the device is currently hard to ignore.

Not a Virtual Reality Device

Photo courtesy of Faddah Steve Yuetsu Wolf
Presenter Eric Redmond

Currently Glass links through your phone, and doesn’t have a built-in Internet connection. As Redmond says, “its processing is powerful for like, 2007.” Battery life is only a few hours.

He also starts by saying what the device is not: it’s not a virtual reality device. Despite the fact Glass has an intricate gyroscopic system, the display is not a fully immersible experience.

The screen simulates an image in the upper-corner of your vision, leaving the rest of your view rather normal. The lighted area seems to be about 12 feet away and about 5 feet wide by 3 feet high. This is a relief, because focusing your vision on something an inch away from your eyeball would be fatiguing.

2. Wearing Glass does not immediately transform your environment, it enhances it.

Doing the Google Glass Boogie

The capabilities of the device are a mixture of voice calling, video calling, messaging, acquiring maps and directions, and other routine tasks.

Working the device itself is a mixture of weird head ticks and talking to oneself.

Currently, “ok glass” is the mandatory voice-activation prompt for the device. Upon hearing this initial phrase, the device waits for a further command, such as “call home.” The voice trigger can be so sensitive, Redmond says, that during on-site training, Google staffers only refer to the prompt as “OG.”

Swiping the side of the device with a finger scrolls the display backward through time. For example, if you take a picture, look up the meaning of “privacy,” and then a local address, as you scroll through your timeline, it will display first the address, then the definition, then the picture.

However getting all these voice prompts and touch commands to work correctly can be hit or miss. Redmond’s attempt at a mid-presentation Tweet was pretty humorous when Glass misheard him.

3. There are still plenty of kinks to work out.


A Tweet demonstration goes terribly, terribly awry.

Designing and Developing for Glass

The design area for Glass is 50×50 pixels. Since the device has to account for broad swings in lighting scenarios — from broad daylight to dark boardroom — design panels need to be high contrast, such as white or yellow text on a black background. Subtle designs, such as blue interacting with yellow, are currently not recommended.

Developers can create their own local apps in preparation for a likely Glass app store. Writing native apps involves the GDK (Glass Development Kit), using the Java coding language.

Since the GDK, Redmonds says, is 90% similar to the ADK (Android Development Kit), the ADK is a great place to start.

The current list of authorized apps is fairly small, featuring familiar names such as Facebook, CNN, and Tumblr among others. One surprising addition was an authorized app for Elle magazine, the French lifestyle magazine.

Redmond spoke of one independently created app similar to a 3D “Space Invaders.” Looking into the display area in any part of a user’s environment, he said, showed the invaders all around, closing in, and the user battled them with Glass activations.

4. Keep designs high contrast and simple, develop now to get a head start.

Privacy Schmivacy

Google co-founder Sergey Brin

At this point, for privacy reasons, a facial recognition app is still rumored and spoken of in hushed tones.

However, it’s hard to imagine such a feature will stay non-existent for long.

Whether it’s an opt-in environment, or one that automatically detects identities with online sources, the future could come where you can board an airplane wearing Glass and it could identify nearly every passenger on board.

As Redmond harshly puts it, “privacy is a thing of the past.” As well, he says, the devices are just going to get smaller and better.

However, the demise of such privacy could come with other social gains, and Redmond shared an anecdote to illustrate it:

Earlier this year, Google co-founder Sergey Brin walked onstage before a large crowd, looking down and poking at his smart phone. The audience was aghast at the sight of Brin phone-fiddling, while leaving the expectant crowd waiting.

Brin went on to explain it as an example and criticism of current smart phone usage, with people hunched over and looking down at their phones, instead of each other.

Glass could pull users away from their clunky devices, he claimed, and have them finally looking at each other.

5. Privacy could be lost, but with benefits.


Author’s Note: Thanks to the Northwest Media Collective for sharing their Google Glass.