Through the looking glass

2014-08-08 13:45

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Test-driving the ‘coolest’ piece of wearable tech to be invented turned out to be a damp squib

When the team at SDK Digital Lab called and asked if I wanted to experience Google Glass, I jumped at the opportunity. Never before has a piece of wearable tech generated such hype – and controversy.

Wearable tech might be this year’s big trend, but most of the early offerings – like Samsung’s Gear (a watch-like device that links to your smartphone) – have been nice-to-haves and not really life-changing. In fact, incorporating wearable tech into your daily life is?–?at the moment?–?an added complication.

I say “at the moment” because, as with all technological innovations, the early versions are always somewhat cumbersome.

Remember the very first cellphones? It’s unimaginable that those bricks were the predecessors of the slick devices we take for granted today.

But the one innovation that has got everyone talking is Google Glass, hence my unbridled excitement.

For the uninitiated, Google Glass is a piece of wearable tech that is worn like a pair of spectacles. It has a small rectangular cube of glass on the right side of the frame.

Google Glass is a piece of wearable tech that is worn like a pair of spectacles.

This cube functions as a miniscreen that appears in the peripheral vision of the wearer. With voice activation, you are able to take pictures, record videos or access messages.

The imagery that appears on this peripheral screen is part of a far larger tech trend, augmented reality, which is set to blur the lines between our real and virtual worlds.

Google Glass has only just been released for public sale in the US and is due for release in Europe this month. For the past two years, Google has only given access to Glass to strategic influencers?–?called explorers?–?in the tech industry and software developers. \

This has not only fuelled the hype, but kick-started a resistance movement to the device.

Last year in the UK, a survey found that 20% of people wanted it banned before it was even launched commercially and the resistance is understandable.

As Glass is voice-activated, anyone wearing it will be able to photograph and record what they are seeing without anyone else realising it.

In fact, the first question asked of anyone wearing Glass is: “Are you recording me?” Issues of copyright or security could easily become compromised by anyone using Glass, for example, at trade fairs, national key points and security hot spots like airports.

As the debate between privacy and secrecy grows, this device is being seen as more of an invasion of privacy than its original function, which was to allow your friends and family to see what you are seeing in real time.

So what was the experience like?

To be honest, disappointing.

The virtual screen in my peripheral vision was smaller than expected and for a digital generation now accustomed to large multimedia touch screens, the visuals are monotone,?similar to early desktop computing.

With all the tech innovation we have to absorb constantly, we’ve come to expect the Hollywood version of new technology from the get-go and this phase of Google Glass feels more like a 1980s interpretation of Hollywood sci-fi.

For example, you activate Glass by tipping your head back: like swallowing a pill with a sip of water.

Once activated, you simply say, “Okay, Glass” and give it an instruction, like “take a picture” or “play a game” (sometimes with an American accent).

So when this device eventually goes mainstream, expect to see a lot of people muttering to themselves and occasionally snapping their heads back and forth –?not quite as sexy as Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

Glass also does not come with all the software we’re now accustomed to on our phones, so the simple act of connecting to Wi-Fi requires a cumbersome process of scanning a QR code and still being tethered to your smartphone.

All you get with Glass are maps, a search engine and image-capturing, and that’s the reason it was only given to “explorers” and developers: to see what they could add to the experience.

It is also the reason people are already selling them on eBay. They expected a fully functional, futuristic device, but instead got a device that is very much a work in progress.

But to give credit where it’s due?–?the fact that you can voice-activate instructions and then see those actions being activated on a tiny screen floating in your peripheral vision is pretty neat.

Designer Diane von Furstenberg has already launched her version of Glass as a fashion accessory, but the commercial tipping point will only take place when developers have created more apps.

For now, it’s a nice show-off piece – that is, if you have strong neck muscles and don’t mind being seen talking to yourself.

What is Augmented Reality?

It’s a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world.

This additional visual layer can be added to glass surfaces, mobile devices, tablets, or, in the case of Google Glass, a small screen that appears in your peripheral vision.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit www.fluxtrends.com

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