Let's get real about Google Glass

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We all know what Google Glass is, and are familiar with its capabilities and limitations.  This knowledge is important to help us determine how to effectively exploit this technology.  We must take the next logical step in our examination of Glass and analyze possible personal and professional benefits.  I intend to outline some such interesting benefits and discuss what must be done to make Glass more appealing to a larger audience.


Consumer Potential

At first, Glass seems like a device aimed squarely at consumers.  This may be a consequence of its conspicuous and almost comical appearance.  It doesn't exactly give a "let's get down to business" feeling to casual observers, unless you work at a Stark Trek convention.

While its cooky appearance is a conversation starter, this also makes Glass a bit socially unacceptable in all but the geekiest of circles.  Still, it has a lot of potential in the personal consumer market, provided the stability and aesthetic issues are ironed out.  Successful portable devices have managed to unobtrusively improve on more traditional everyday items.  Glass can make this leap, but it's not quite there yet.

There are already a number of applications designed for Glass that are intended for personal consumer use. In fact, one might say that the vast majority of the applications currently available on the Google's Glassware store target individual users.  These include Facebook, Twitter, Gmail integration, even an app that challenges you to run against groups of zombies.

There are indeed some innovative apps for Glass that make interesting use of the hardware (such as the previously mentioned zombie game).  However, ports of news and music applications aren't much more than an uninspired attempt to make Glass into another smartphone or tablet.  I think this is selling it a bit short.  Maybe Glass will replace smartphones in the future, but that day is likely far into the future. With this in mind, it is especially important to focus on the properties that make this device unique.  From there, we will be better positioned to deduce some innovative uses for everyday people.  

The hands-free nature of Glass opens up some possibilities. The convenience that comes with this natural property of a head-mounted wearable smart device is also its most powerful benefit.  You can easily take videos and pictures without fumbling with a shutter button, or aiming.  Your eyes are the viewfinder. In this respect, you can capture moments much more naturally.  It is arguably easy to forget that you are even wearing the camera (after becoming more comfortable with the device).  Recording notes (such as through the Evernote app), turn-by-turn on-foot navigation, and the ability to live-stream an important moment are all much more convenient with Glass.

However, in its current form, Glass likely isn't much more than a gimmick in the eyes of the everyday consumer.  I, too, share this view after a month of firsthand exposure.  There aren't enough good reasons to wear Glass.  It isn't a practical replacement, or even a capable supplement for a smart phone.  It is an awkward device with very poor battery life.  While it does make some tasks more convenient, smart phones are much better suited to handle most tasks associated with modern everyday life.

I wouldn't be surprised if Google (or someone else) irons out the wrinkles in Glass at some point in the future, making it more usable for everyday consumers.  Until then, its best to focus on the immediate potential that Glass offers for professional users.  


Professional Potential

This is where a head-mounted smart device really shines.  This is particularly true in professions that can benefit from ensuring hands and arms are unobstructed.  There are also some common use cases for Glass across many professions, though.  

Take a presenter or speaker, for example.  How useful would it be to see your presentation notes in the corner of your eye?  This could free you up to focus on the audience instead of looking down at your phone or laptop.  How about watching a presentation from the speaker's point of view?  Perhaps observers could use this to help overcome their fear of speaking.  Maybe this could be used to prepare for a future presentation.  Another possibility: reflect on a previous presentation by using the video to determine the audience's reaction to specific elements of your presentation.

Glass opens up a lot of doors for police officers.  Imagine being able to scan a license plate while observing a suspicious vehicle, and then receiving instant answers regarding the origin and status of the automobile and likely occupants.  After pulling the vehicle over, Glass could be used to scan the driver's license instantly.  The magic of Optical Character Recognition would allow the officer to know, immediately, if the driver is wanted by the authorities.  The entire encounter could be recorded live and streamed to a base station as well, in case an emergency arises.  Audio could be instantly analyzed and an alert could be sent out if gun shots are detected.  The officer could easily request backup using voice control.  These types of features could save lives.  

While Google strongly discourages developers from writing real-time face recognition applications for Glass, this is clearly one of the more powerful and obvious uses for such a device.  The warning from Google has not stopped some from developing real-time facial recognition apps.  In fact, one is even featured on the glass-community forum site.  There is no doubt that facial recognition can be a huge benefit to law enforcement agencies.  It can make identifying dangerous individuals at large events more efficiently.  

Do you manage an amusement park?  Outfit customers with Glass and provide them with a discount to film their encounters on various rides.  Now you can show potential customers the park from a customer's point of view.  Great marketing material!  


Implementing Your Idea

Some potential software (such as one the analyzes a driver's license) might require development of a new Glass application.  Glass applications can be written in any language using the mirror API, which allows you to control Glass using code that does not have to be installed on the device directly.  For more direct control of Glass and access to all elements of the hardware, you will need to develop a native Glass application in Java using the Glass Development Kit.  The learning curve for GDK apps is a bit more steep, especially if you have no previous experience with Java or have yet to develop any other Android apps (since Glass runs the Android mobile operating system).

Other ideas may require minimal or no development effort at all.  This is especially true for the amusement park owner who simply wants to enable customers to film their visit.  The presenter-centric scenario requires minimal integration work with an existing presentation system, and use of the camera to film the audience.  Please remember to request permission before filming!

Where do you think Google Glass offers the greatest benefit?

Topics: Culture & Company

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