Google Glass: A lot of hype, but little information

With Google ramping up its Project Glass publicity efforts, it's time to connect the dots on the information we do have about the high-tech eye-wear.

The media hype of Google Glass is on the rise. Sightings of Google employees wearing Google Glass are no longer unusual in Silicon Valley and at key trade events. Google has dialed up the public exposure of Google Glass without releasing much technical information. It appears, though, that Google is ramping up public awareness even more as it prepares to ship as many as 8,000 Google Glass units later this year.

Last week, Google announced its Explorer #ifihadglass program soliciting applications from the public to become a Google Glass Explorer. The applications are limited to only 50 words submitted via Google Plus or Twitter. Google will choose 8,000 people from the pool of applicants to pay $1,500 for Google Glass and participate in the program with Google and its marketing and advertising partner Anomaly. The winners will receive their invitations in March. Google did not announce a shipment date, but one can imagine that Google can’t expect the winners to wait too long and must already have units in production.

This group experiment with Google Glass is intended to engage users of Glass whose experiences will be tested. This is different than the first groups selected last June that met in January in San Francisco and New York for a two-day Glass Foundry hackathon where Google tested developers’ experiences building Google Glass applications.

Google appears to be intentionally creating slightly lower expectations for the #ifihadglass Explorers in its recently released video, focusing more on recording video, taking pictures and sharing the results via Google Glass. Anyone not amazed by this video is a candidate to be the target of Louis CK’s Everything’s Amazing and No One is Happy rant. But the footage in this video is less notable than the capabilities represented in the Project Glass: One Day video last year:

In the latest video, Google is probably under-promising while it works with independent developers to complete software that will be really amazing, so the product will over-deliver when it is released.

Remarkably, after hosting a couple of two-day Glass Foundry events, little information other than a few pictures has been leaked. All we know is what Google released this January just prior to the hackathon about the Google Glass application programming interface (API) codenamed Mirror API. Google Developer Program Engineer Jenny Murphy said:

"if you have done development with other web services at Google you will feel right at home…so you can develop with whatever tools are your favorites, whether that may be PHP, Python or even Java"

Searching the term "Mirror API" with Google, as well as Yahoo and Bing, produced no trace of the developer experience or copy of documentation about the API. It can be inferred from the programming languages supported and reference to "web services" that the Google Glass APIs that developers used at the hackathons are designed for building server-side applications.

Stephen Lau, Senior Software Engineer at Google, said on Quora:

[Google Glass doesn’t] require a smartphone connection - they can run independently on wifi.  Without any connectivity though (phone or wifi), some functionality is still available.

Lau’s post, albeit not an official Google announcement, does not specify whether Google Glass will be running Android or another operating system. But taking the two quotes together, the Mirror API can be called from apps running on a host or a smartphone. Since Wi-Fi connections are not reliable for a moving wearer of Google Glass, tethering it to a smartphone connected via LTE 4G is a more likely configuration. In this configuration, Google Glass would function as a smart IO device with local smartphone processing capability and a consistent high-speed connection for larger-scale processing and access to Google services, such as Now, Google Apps, Maps and others.

To imagine what might be possible with Google Glass without spending $1,500, one can download a free copy of Google Goggles from the Play Store. Google Goggles is an Android app that lets you search with Google using an image taken with your smartphone. It recognizes famous landmarks and works of art, and can translate foreign language text into one’s native tongue. It’s not hard to imagine the truly amazing experience of wearing Google Glass if it is merged with Goggles, as was implied by some of Google’s earlier videos.

But for the time being, imagining and speculating is all we can do.

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