Why You'll Get Google Glass

Wednesday Nov 20th 2013 by Mike Elgan
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Next-gen apps show why Google’s augmented reality headset won't just be for niche markets.

Lots of people say: "I would never wear Google Glass. They look ridiculous."

But the appearance -- love it or hate it -- is going to be considered by buyers along with what you can do with it. And the public hasn't really thought about what's coming for Google Glass functionality.

For example, if you saw people wearing big, clunky shoes, you’d say you wouldn't wear them. But if you learned that they worked like jetpacks for your feet, enabling you to fly, you'd be first in line to get them.

Functionality matters.

That's why Google Glass got really interesting yesterday. Google released a "sneak peek" Glass Development Kit (GDK) for developers, which came with a few new apps.

The kit enables software developers to create apps that actually run on the headset itself, rather than "in the cloud" as the few dozen current authorized third-party apps mostly do.

A few of these new, showcased apps provide a glimpse into the kinds of features that will turn Google Glass skeptics into fans.

Word Lens for Glass

I recently spent six weeks living in Florence, Italy. I don't speak Italian. But during that time, I wore Google Glass every day and also used an iPhone app called Word Lens made by a company called Quest Visual. Here's a short video of me using Glass in Italy to show how Word Lens on the iPhone works.

Word Lens on the iPhone is pretty amazing. You set the language (in my case, Italian), then hold it up to any written Italian -- sign, menu or magazine. The app translates the words, but keeps them in place, and even in a similar font.

Every time I used Word Lens in Italy, I thought about how amazing it would be to have that ability on Glass.

And that's exactly what Google announced this week: True augmented reality in which foreign languages are translated into English, in place in real time. By "in place," I mean Glass shows you a live video of what you're actually looking at. But English replaces the foreign language.

Here's what it looks like to use the new Glass app.

Surprisingly, the Word Lens Glass app works even when you don't have a connection. You select the language while connected, and it stores 10,000 words in the foreign language of your choice. (Google’s own augmented reality phone app, called Google Goggles, requires a data connection as you’re using it.)

This is revolutionary. By wearing Glass and running the app, there's no such thing as a foreign language sign or menu. Everything is in English!

This is the future of augmented reality, where you walk around and personally relevant contextual information is simply superimposed on your field of view. People get name tags and, if you've met them before, brief histories of your prior encounters. Everything is labeled, so you know what it is. Products are identified, and can be purchased with a voice command.

In other words, it's not just that Word Lens itself is revolutionary, but that it demonstrates a world of possibilities with augmented reality.

IFTTT

IFTTT are the initials for “If This Then That.” It's a web-based service that makes it easy for anyone to automate things online.

IFTTT supports 74 "channels," which are mostly web-based services. It invites you to create "recipes" that automates the interaction between two channels.

For example, IFTTT enables you to set up a "recipe" that automatically downloads into Dropbox any Facebook photo you're tagged in (the tagging triggers the download). You can set it so that when a specific item becomes available on Craigslist, you get an email. Or it can send you a text when rain is expected tomorrow -- that sort of thing.

Now, IFTTT has added Google Glass as a 75th "channel," which means you can set the functions of other channels to Glass. Right now, it goes only in one direction -- from other channels to Glass. I've got it set up to notify me in Glass when, say, I'm mentioned on Reddit. In the future, it will go in the other direction, enabling the triggering of events through voice commands. For example, you'll be able to say: "OK, Glass: Turn on the lights" and IFTTT will send the command to the WeMo "channel" and turn on your light.

It's not just that IFTTT is incredibly useful, but that it demonstrates limitless automation controlled by, or involving instant notification through, Google Glass.

Other Glass Apps I've Got My Eye On

Google also unveiled other apps built with the new developer's kit.

Allthecooks takes you step-by-step through recipes, hands-free, as you cook. Strava enables runners or bike riders to track speed, time and distance while exercising. GolfSight estimates distance to the pin, tracks your score and alerts you to hazards.

All of these apps give you what amounts to real-time "knowledge" about things while doing activities that require both your hands. Whereas before you had to stop what you were doing to use a phone or other device, the Glass versions enable you to keep doing what you're doing and still get the information.

Even though these apps don't even begin to take advantage of everything Glass could do, they do provide hints about what life will be like for Glass wearers two or three years from now. You'll be able to walk around and be very well informed and in total control of your surroundings and online life without appearing to actually use a mobile device. Information about the world around you and the task at hand will simply appear in your field of vision.

Information will feel like knowledge. Communication will feel like telepathy. And your voice- and gesture-control over everything around you will feel like magic.

The Other Reason Google Glass will Go Mainstream

The other factor to consider is that tomorrow's Glass won't look like today's.

Prescription glass support for Google Glass is expected in January. Google has a patent for this, which involves a separable Google Glass module that connects to specially designed prescription glasses and sunglasses with a magnet.

That means one Glass device could be worn with multiple pairs of glasses.

It also means that people who are already wearing glasses on their face will be simply adding Glass to the "hardware" already present.

Besides, Moore's Law will make everything in Glass smaller and cheaper. Google will no doubt streamline the appearance of Glass to make it both smaller and less obtrusive. And the price will probably fall to below $300 at some point in the future (today they cost $1,500, which is too much).

When you think about all these factors together -- the possibilities with app, the evolution of the hardware and the lowering of the price -- it's pretty likely that Google Glass will become a mainstream consumer product.

So let’s never say never about Google Glass. We don’t know what it will be able to do. We don’t know how it will look. And we don’t know how much it will cost.

If this week’s announcements are any indication, Glass will be amazing to use. And it will also look cool and cost little.

You’re probably going to get it.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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