No, it's not “Augmented Reality” (at least most of the time) and no it doesn’t record video of everything you see, nor can it be used to play games or run apps. But it—that would be Google Glass, Google’s much anticipated wearable computing headset—is still pretty cool. Along with a number of media and digital publishing vendors, PW was invited to participate in a hands-on demonstration of the new device organized by Layar, an augmented reality firm whose technology can be used to embed interactive services into print publications.
Organized by Layar cofounder Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald to show off their brand new Google Glass Explorer edition, the initial release of the device, the demo brought together invitees from Conde Nast, Early-adopter, a virtual reality firm, digital publishing vendor Fry Communications and others to an informal demonstration. Layar R&D lead Ronald van der Lingen applied for the device at a Google developer conference in San Francisco and the company has just received it with plans to play around with the device to get a leg up on how it may be used to impact their business.
Lens-Fitzgerald, along with van der Lingen, gave a short presentation outlining how to use the device and this reporter got to give it a short test-drive. First: while the technology seems like science-fiction, in comparison with the functionality of your average smartphone, Google Glass can seem a bit primitive. Google Glass can take a photo or video, it can do a Google search, it can send and receive messages (text or e-mail, though for best results it should be connected to your cellphone like a blue-tooth though it can work by itself), it can call up maps and give directions (it shows a GPS map and talks to you) and it can be used with Google services like Google Hangouts, which allows the user, for instance, to do live video chats.
As most know, it’s a wearable device that fits on your head like eyeware—which it is not. And while it accommodates eyeware—sort of, if you don’t mind looking a little cock-eyed—the current model works best if the user is not wearing glasses. Everything starts in a little screen situated just above your right eye, offering a small and odd but fairly easy-to-decipher home screen that sits suspended just out of the way of your general view. The device can be turned on by tilting your head upwards; it responds to voice commands (saying “OK Glass” will engage the device and show a menu of options) and a touchpad mounted on the side allows the user to scroll through photos, see the time and date, weather and a history of stuff you’ve already done on Google Glass. It also talks to the user (to give directions for instance) via a tiny speaker set near your ear.
Using a combination of voice commands (“take a photo”) and the touchpad, a user can do a google search and get answers or ask for turn-by-turn directions to your hotel, as van der Lingen outlined to our group during the demo. As we noted earlier, there are a lot of things Google Glass does not do. Indeed, it does not call up web pages like a computer (you can’t “click” hyperlinks—there are none), you cannot run “apps” on it and currently there is almost no content designed specifically for it, although the New York Times provides headlines and short abstracts of its daily issue though nothing with any detail. That said, Google Glass mostly works. Of course the notion of “reading” a book on the tiny hovering screen seems beyond possible at this point but this is the earliest iteration of Google Glass and who knows what further development will bring?
Lens-Fitzgerald said that Layar will look to experiment with the device, examining the possibilities of visual search and what is available with the current and limited Glass API, take a look at visualizing content on top of Google Glass “pages” or “cards”—the technology format devised to deliver content to the device—and examine which actions are or are not “Glass friendly.” Nevertheless, despite a lot of very professional and serious discussion about research, development and experimentation, it seemed clear that Layar and the rest of us around the table goofing around with Google Glass were all mostly united by one notion—“This damn thing is pretty cool.”