New gadgets — I mean whole new gadget categories — don’t come along very often.
The iPhone was one recent example. You could argue that the iPad was another. But if there’s anything at all as different and bold on the horizon, surely it’s Google Glass.
That, of course, is Google’s prototype of a device you wear on your face. Google doesn’t like the term “glasses,” because there aren’t any lenses. (The Glass team, part of Google’s experimental labs, also doesn’t like terms like “augmented reality” or “wearable computer,” which both have certain baggage.)
Instead, Glass looks like only the headband of a pair of glasses — the part that hooks on your ears and lies along your eyebrow line — with a small, transparent block positioned above and to the right of your right eye. That, of course, is a screen, and the Google Glass is actually a fairly full-blown computer. Or maybe like a smartphone that you never have to take out of your pocket.
This idea got a lot of people excited when Nick Bilton of The New York Times broke the story of the glasses in February. Google first demonstrated it April in a video. In May, at Google’s I/O conference, Glass got some more play as attendees watched a live video feed from the Glass as a sky diver leapt from a plane and parachuted onto the roof of the conference building. But so far, very few non-Googlers have been allowed to try them on.
Last week, I got a chance to put one on. I’m hosting a PBS series called “Nova ScienceNow” (it premieres Oct. 10), and one of the episodes is about the future of tech. Of course, projecting what’s yet to come in consumer tech is nearly impossible, but Google Glass seemed like a perfect example of a breakthrough on the verge. So last week the Nova crew and I met with Babak Parviz, head of the Glass project, to discuss and try out the prototypes.
Now, Google emphasized — and so do I — that Google Glass is still at a very, very early stage. Lots of factors still haven’t been finalized, including what Glass will do, what the interface will look like, how it will work, and so on. Google doesn’t want to get the public excited about some feature that may not materialize in the final version. (At the moment, Google is planning to offer the prototypes to developers next year — for $1,500 — in anticipation of selling Glass to the public in, perhaps, 2014.)
When you actually handle these things, you can’t believe how little they weigh. Less than a pair of sunglasses, in my estimation. Glass is an absolutely astonishing feat of miniaturization and integration.
Inside the right earpiece — that is, the horizontal support that goes over your ear — Google has packed memory, a processor, a camera, speaker and microphone, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi antennas, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass and a battery. All inside the earpiece.
Google has said that eventually, Glass will have a cellular radio, so it can get online; at this point, it hooks up wirelessly with your phone for an online connection.
And the mind-blowing thing is, this slim thing is the prototype. It’s only going to get smaller in future generations. “This is the bulkiest version of Glass we’ll ever make,” Babak told me.
The biggest triumph — and to me, the biggest surprise — is that the tiny screen is completely invisible when you’re talking or driving or reading. You just forget about it completely. There’s nothing at all between your eyes and whatever, or whomever, you’re looking at.
And yet when you do focus on the screen, shifting your gaze up and to the right, that tiny half-inch display is surprisingly immersive. It’s as though you’re looking at a big laptop screen or something.
via The New York Times – David Pogue
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