Google Glass – a revolution in news gathering or an underpowered, overpriced prototype with a way to go before mainstream?

So I’ve had Glass for a fortnight now and I’ve had a few sporadic opportunities to try it out in different scenarios which I wanted to share.

To begin, I wrote about Google Glass in absentia back in Dec last year. In absentia, in the sense that I had no actual hands on time, so the piece was very much a distillation of what I knew or could establish from reports and reviews. Now however I’m basing this post on real world experience-although not a lot!. I still haven’t worn it in public,to be honest I really do feel like a complete twit with it on and though I’ve been to several tech conferences where Glass is everywhere it still looks intimidating.

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The initial acquisition process was a P.I.T.A. due to Googles extremely annoying Explorer release process. I had to lobby a colleague (who may prefer to remain unnamed) with UK residence to purchase it on my behalf. Once this obstacle was overcome the next was getting access to the MyGlass App for iOS which is only available in the UK and US iTunes stores. Having created a new US iTunes account based on and with the consent of a family members address in the US, I could then download the App.

The setup was easy enough once the App was installed. The prompt videos on the Google Glass site are very clear and simple to follow so within minutes I was practicing the gestures.

The MyGlass App is available for Android (obviously) iOS and also via a desktop browser- preferably Chrome. google.com/myglass

Once everything was working and I had learnt the basic gestures I started to add Apps (glassware) from the Glass App store.

I even did my own super simple gestures video:

One of the most exciting in my opinion is the Livestream App which will allow you to stream live video to your Livestream channel with the words” Ok Glass, start broadcasting”!

I then decided to try Glass out in a couple of interview scenarios, indoor and outdoor. The idea was to assess picture and audio quality and also explore eye-line and proximity to get “traditional” tv style shots- a mid shot interview for example.

As you will have hopefully noticed in the videos above the camera (720p/5mpx) is AUTO EVERYTHING. White balance drifts while shooting, exposure has a very obvious jump between F-Stops (or shutter speed depending on how it is managing exposure) and the “off camera” audio is pretty awful. I used a Rode SmartLav lapel mic with my iPhone on the guests to compare audio and it would be an absolute essential to mic them separately to have useable sound. The other issues are the “speaker” on Glass which vibrates against your skull -which I find really annoying. In fairness they do give you an optional earpiece which connects to the USB Input as an alternative.

In the first few days I took loads of ridiculous photographs because composition is quite a task – see the “close up” in the outdoor video. Which quickly makes you realise that this video from http://www.grovo.com has a lot of hidden truths, even if it was intended as a gag!

Keeping your head steady is a REAL pain in the neck, the camera desperately needs enhanced optical image stabilisation-to begin with Google could take a leaf out of the  @evilwindowdog book who developed Horizon App which always shoots horizontally- not because of vertical video but just to ensure framing is level. Or alternatively…

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I can’t help but think the explorer edition is grossly under-spec’d, underpowered and over priced. For Glass to have any REAL WORLD value it needs an Advanced Camera: 12Mpx+, Optical image stabilisation. Bluetooth detachable Microphone, More battery and storage (preferable removable) and more Apps. I was amazed to see that in spite of its beta presence for over two years there are still only 60-ish Apps available for it. Still the handsfree live streaming is a big win and Tim Pool (@timcast) from Vice News has been a pioneer in this space – his use of Glass during the Protests in Turkey was ingenious in my opinion.

Verdict: Definite Potential but wait for the full consumer release or a competing product with better specs and lower cost.

 

Google Glass , its concept, design and possible room to improve- a discussion document.

UPDATE ******

I just picked up this article in Engadget about Meta Pro.  Now this looks VERY interesting indeed.

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One of the first things that struck me about the build of their immersive glasses is that they have built in surface tracking (think Microsoft Kinect) and gesture tracking (think Leap motion) and also an IMU (inertial measurement unit – think the core sensor of many Quadcopters) as well as HD displays etc etc. Check out their video… I WANT ONE OF THESE!!!

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Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely believe Google Glass (or a similar wearable & connected device) will revolutionise multiple industries, eg. technical support, medicine, broadcast, navigation, marketing etc etc but in the absence of the opportunity to actually try them out I can only express an opinion abut the design and configuration as I understand it through the eyes of Glass Explorers…

So to begin lets look at What “Glass” is and What it can do…

If you are interested in a superb, forensic level teardown of the device then visit: http://www.catwig.com/google-glass-teardown/

The Fundamentals are:

Optical Display | Main Logic Board | TouchPad | Microphone | Speaker | HD Camera | Battery

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Image from http://www.catwig.com/google-glass-teardown/ This work is licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA 3.0.

So my first observation is the DESIGN…for a first generation device I think Google did a pretty good job. The Titanium (bendable) frame is very slick and without the tinted glass lenses the device does look “quite” discreet- certainly compared to the earlier prototypes anyway!

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See members of the Glass dev team talk about the prototypes here

But heres the thing, when you wear it you do look like a bit of a nerd, Im OK with that to be honest, I’ve carried a Leatherman on my belt for the last 15 years and have gotten quite used to the smartass “boy scout” remarks. But one thing does irk me, and that is the position of the prism/display. BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones referred to  the display as “what looks like a 20″ plasma hanging in the distance” but what I have yet to witness in reality is watching someone “look up to the right” to check the display. I genuinely wonder if one eye attempting to focus a few centimeters away and the other attempting to mimic the focal point but without any reference will be both a strain on my aging eye muscles and a long term RSI risk. Try it yourself…hold a finger in front of one eye (about an inch away from your face) and try to focus on it for more than a minute!

For a more detailed analysis of the potential risks with the offset display read this article on/by Steve Mann.

http://spectrum.ieee.org/geek-life/profiles/steve-mann-my-augmediated-life

(Maybe there are some very clever prism di-opters in there to trick your right eye into believeing its focussing 3 meters away?)

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VOICE RECOGNITION. I do think the voice recognition is a good idea, being able to be hands free all the time is very useful and the other benefit is that encouraging people to perform an action for you is VERY SIMPLE. If you consider CNNs plans to release a Google Glass App (GlassWare) especially for the iReport UGC project then it is possible to see how quickly Glass could be leveraged for getting content- potentially in realtime!

“OK Glass, Stream to YouTube” or “OK Glass, Stream to iReportLIVE” that’s a hell of a lot simpler than trying to encourage a member of the public to…Take out their mobile device, hold it horizontally, record some video, contact the newsroom to let them know you have some great UGC content, use your own mobile data allowance to upload it to the newsroom servers and wait for it to finish sending before getting confirmation its there, then wait for editorial review and note it may not be used – but while we have you on the phone can we ask you ten questions to establish who you are and whether you are a trustworthy source. PS-thanks for the effort!

With a device like Glass it will be possible to quickly establish where you are (GPS/GeoLocation data) Who you are via social media accounts, iReport user account etc and whether you are a power (repeat) user/contributor. Members of the public will start to feel like professional stringers!

In relation to VoiceRecog, hopefully the command list will expand so you can teach Glass to learn your voice patterns and then in time recognise complete sentences – the way Apples Siri does (is supposed to). The risk being something like this….(haha)

HD CAMERA – the Camera is HD, well 720p HD with a 5 megapixel photo resolution. There is room for improvement here, in February 2013, at the World Mobile Congress Aptina and Omnivision both announced they would be shipping a 13megapixel mobile imaging sensor that would be capable of record video at 4K resolution 25/30 fps. At the same conference Qualcomm announced they too, would have a new Chip, the Snapdragon 800 which is at the core of Samsung’s Galaxy Note III. One of the first smartphones (Android) capable of shooting at 4K resolution. For an interesting review of the Galaxy Note III 4K ability see renowned cameraman/director/DP Philip Blooms blog.

The other limitation is the storage within Glass – 12Gb of “useable” flash memory. Thats pretty meager when it comes to HD video and is probably part of the reason the camera is just 5mpx/720p. When shooting video the camera has a default record time of two minutes.

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While on the topic of the camera,Image
can I introduce you to PivotHead – think GoPro in a pair of Sports Sunglasses. This is the Pivothead Durango Smoke, heres a snippit of some of its features…..
– Control: Connect your Pivotheads to your iOS or Android device with the Pivothead Mobile Apps to configure video recording and image capture settings, download files, and more.
– Video: One-button video capture | 1080p, 30fps | 720p, 60fps | 720p, 30fps
– Photos: Capture 8, 5, or 3 megapixel photos
– Timelapse: 6 setting modes for capturing full-resolution (8 megapixel)  time-lapse sequences
– Burst mode: Capture bursts of 3, 5, 10, or 16 images at full resolution

BATTERY The “One Day of Typical Use” line in the spec document above is a little of an overstatement. Maybe if you sleep for 22hours a day its true – but most reviews I’ve seen suggest about 2 hours operational time – particularly if shooting video.

I think its worth pointing out the latest developments in batteries designed using carbon nano-tubes and graphene. A recent article on computerworld.com highlighted a research project in New Jersey Institute of technology where the researchers managed to build a flexible carbon-nanotube battery. An article earlier in the year on extremetech.com outlined the potential of Graphene as a superconductor and how it could revolutionise the battery industry and electric car industry. However other new battery technology is on the doorstep too, Lithium Sulphur batteries claim 5 x the energy density of Lithium-Ion batteries and several companies are researching Lithium Air as an even more efficient solution. Bottom line: battery technology is finally developing at an ever increasing speed –its nowhere near Moore’s Law but its going in the right direction.

TOUCHPAD I guess the touchpad is there as a backup in case you run out of voice commands or develop laryngitis 🙂 but seriously though, Ive seen several videos on you tube with users fumbling to navigate what is a fairly shallow control hierarchy. Its here that I think a smart watch or the like my actually have a use. If a smart watch (or mobile phone) was paired with the headset then you could probaly navigate the menus far quicker and more efficiently than swiping at the arm of the headset – and heres another possible use for the smart watch – what if it had a detachable microphone as part of the body which would act as a bluetooth or wifi microphone for the headset allowing you to actually record interviews with people witout sitting on their lap. If you are wondering what the hell Im talking about then take a look at the demo videos  from Robert Schoble.

Now heres where I start to wander off into my own little dream world where lots of different technologies collide/converge into a hodge-podge of ideas.

What if there was a wearable computer (like Glass) but that had…

1. A full HD or 4K camera in the centre of the frame, with a shutter to open/close it (for those paranoid folks)
2. Had a Transparent/Bendable OLED technology display that covers the entire visible surface of the glass to create a completely customiseable, immersive HUD (Heads up display)
3. Used Smart Glass technology to allow you to turn the glasses OPAQUE/Semi Transparent/TRANSPARENT with a flick of a switch.
Lets call that Privacy mode for the shits and giggles – so you can watch movie or immerse yourself in some serious Augmented Reality/ virtual reality games – with out the distraction of the real world beyond. Or maybe you just want to get some kip without taking the headset off?

Damn, I’m trying to decide is that more Terminator or Ironman???
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This Glass uses a special film which when an electrical current is applied to it makes it “transparent” but when the current is switched off it becomes opaque:

Check out http://www.intelligentglass.net/smart-film-self-adhesive.html

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Or how about an iPhone/Android Wifi controlled version?: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/843725167/sonte-iphone-ipad-android-diy-wifi-digital-shades

I noticed a tweet last night from Todd Smith (@Cisco_Mobile)

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where he had picked up on an Apple patent for a wearable headset…see full patent info here

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By the looks of things it is anything but discreet (gross understatement) but it does in fact very closely resemble the Occulus Rift Virtual Reality headset which has created a huge stir in the VR / Immersive gaming community.

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So lets recap. When Glass goes public I for one really hope it will have a better camera, better battery life, more storage, pairable/wearbale controller (maybe a smart watch) wireless/bluetooth mic support and a more dynamic HUD- or maybe Apple will just come up with a real competitor for it?

Google Glass and the Future of wearable tech…not in my words, but some thought provoking insights from others.

I rarely post off topic and tend to stay pretty focussed on technology and trends but I for one have been quite blown away by the unravelling story about the NSA PRISM surveillance programme. The following articles have got me thinking about the future and where we “may” be headed.

The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ – NYTimes.com. Click link or image to see the NYTimes article….

Julian Assange, editor of Wikileaks (in case you have just been defrosted from a seven year cryogenic state) writes in the New York Times (See link and image top) about the “The New Digital Age” – a book authored by Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google and Jared Cohen, former advisor to Condaleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton now director of Google Ideas.

TheNewDigitalAge

The article is a pretty disturbing and thought provoking construct of a future that may well come to pass and one that we all, have willingly subscribed to…it’s likely of course that it will be argued that Assange is just taking a shot at big buisness and circulating another conspiracy theory, but frankly I think the article poses some interesting thoughts. Read it and decide for yourself.

In that context, Ive been a very occasional user of Facebook for a number of years now- there are a number of reasons, not least of which is my annoyance at the continually changing security and privacy rules (or lack thereof). However I have to confess I, like many techie heads, was quite excited at the prospect of Google Glass and what it might introduce to consumer technology trends.

However on the way back from Norway yesterday I did a lot of reading of related stories on Twitter. One that struck me was an article by ArsTechnica about Stephen Balaban, the co-founder of Lambda Labs.

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In the article Cyrus Farivar @cfarivar  talks to the 23 year old about the Facial Recognition API for Google Glass that Lambda Labs has released and his dream of his company becoming” the largest wearable computer software company in the world”. The article is well worth a read but these two paragraphs were intriging to me:

 …He even outlined a gradual plan for how facial recognition could work.

“At first it’ll be limited to friends of friends,” he said. “It would scan your face, and let’s say it knew who you were. Then it would then say, ‘What are Cyrus’ preferences?’ [If you opted out] it would say ‘not recognized’ or ‘not found.’ But if it did find you, it would generate a summary of what we have in common: topics of interest, mutual friends, mutual institutions. Right now we do this signaling in an inefficient manner: t-shirts, Facebook profiles, or the e-mail address that we use. But in the future, that signaling will be more explicit. The things that you care about will be provided to you.”

This “inefficient manner” has another name, right? Talking. After all, that’s how we build relationships with each other—we talk about our interests, we converse, we build trust. That’s how interactions have happened between humans since the beginning of intelligent conversation.”

So thats two articles to munch through – now have a read of these two by Bryan Appleyard, special feature writer for The Sunday Times.

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The first entitled Has Google gone GaGa? the other on the same topic as the Assange article, The Future According to Google

Now finally have a read of this article by Adam L Penenberg via PandoDaily entitled Google Glass in 10 Years the view from Dystopia

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Thought provoking stuff! Here I was getting nervous, excited and slightly uncomfortable about the fact that GLASS would be able to stream live to a YouTube Channel! (as well as take photos, google search,  voice recognition, record videos, geo-locate and in time, I have no doubt, deliver targeted user advertising etc etc)

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Tim Willoughby, Asst. CEO LGMA speaking at the recent Fujitsu Innovation Gathering in Dublin said -Your phone… “knows more about you than your partner” that being true, then by default, Google too knows you more intimately than you might like to imagine. – G