Google Glass: One year on

Few products have been talked about as much as Google Glass has recently. Google unveiled Project Glass in April 2012, saying it started as a project in the company's not-so-secret Google X research lab. We're just coming up to the one year mark since the device's initial announcement, so we figured this was a good time to round up and summarise what we've learned so far. Google Glass costs $1,500 (£1,000), for those over in the States who were able to get into the pilot program (more on that later). At the moment, there's no final list price.

Okay, so here's what you need to know about Google Glass right now:

Heads up

Google Glass projects a smartphone-like experience into your field of vision. The basic idea is that you can see texts, email, queue up your music, check the weather, and more, all right in front of your eyes. You can also respond or call up things with voice-activated commands, and the augmented reality interface can highlight things you see in real life and tell you more about them. In addition, you can share live video of what you are seeing with someone else.

Like a smartphone

Google Glass itself is roughly a smartphone, in terms of hardware. There's a camera and a button on top for taking photos, a touchpad on the side, a plethora of gyroscopes and accelerometers, a compass, multiple radios, a micro USB charger port, several microphones, and a tiny bone-conducting speaker.

A Google Glass project member said in a Google+ Hangout last year that underneath the surface, it's roughly a Wi-Fi-only Galaxy Nexus, lacking just the cellular radio, and with some fine tuning to the TI OMAP 4460 processor. We still don't know if there's onboard storage, and we don't know how powerful the camera sensor is yet. The OS doesn't look like Android; Google won't say what it is.

Demo videos

There are some short demonstration videos of Google Glass which are worth watching. First off is Google's landing page, which gives some quick basic examples of the user interface. As part of the original unveiling, Google also created a One Day video to show what it would be like to wear and use Project Glass. In the just over 2 minute video, you see the wearer walk through a typical day. Calendar reminders, sending and receiving text messages, train schedule changes, walking GPS directions (including inside a famous book store), nearby friend locations, and video chat all make an appearance in the video. There's also Google's incredible skydiving demo from Google I/O last year.

Looks like normal glasses

Google Glass is the first virtual reality-style pair of glasses that look (almost) like normal glasses. Glass is designed to be extremely lightweight, and reportedly it weighs less than a standard pair of sunglasses. You can still tell there's something geeky about them, thanks to the little module on one side, but thankfully it's no Virtual Boy. Right now, Google is showing them off in five colours: Black, orange, grey, white, and blue. Google Glass can apparently work in direct sunlight, thanks to either a translucent shade built into the other side of the glasses, or possibly photochromic material like you'd find in light-reactive glasses. This week, Google also said it is working on a prescription version of Glass.

Still in beta

Google Glass is still in beta and not available yet. Back in June, Google began accepting pre-orders for an early Project Glass Explorer Edition, but you had to be a Google I/O conference attendee, live in the US, and put up the entire $1,500 (£1,000) Google was asking up front. On the Current network last year, Sergey Brin said in an interview: "I have some hopes to maybe get it out sometime next year [meaning during 2013], but that's still a little bit of a hope."

Last month, Google opened Glass availability to select Americans who posted a brief message to Twitter or Google+ with the #ifihadglass hashtag, as chosen by the company. This led LeVar Burton, of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, to quip on Twitter that if he had Google Glass, "it would be a downgrade."

This is for real

While Google initially touted Project Glass as a research project, it's clear there's more going on. Google Glass held developer events in San Francisco and New York called Glass Foundry, which focused on jump-starting third-party app development using its Mirror API and PHP, Python, and Java. Meanwhile, various Google employees have shown off Glass on Google+; people have them, but they're not allowed to leave Google's headquarters with them. It's pretty clear Google Glass is coming for real.

Convenience

The day-to-day convenience Google Glass boasts could potentially be amazing. Budget US airline JetBlue recently released some photos to show what would happen if you wore Google Glass and had to take a flight, indicating that it could display flight status, tell you where the nearest electrical outlets at the airport were and whether they were free or being used, guide you to baggage claim, tell you how much a taxi ride will cost, or help you find a free parking spot in the garage.

US food firm ConAgra Foods also released a concept app mock-up video (above) showing what it would be like to go shopping while wearing the glasses. It demonstrated shoppers finding the quickest route through the store to get each item on the list, labels the aisles by category, and shows food nutrition and review information, all within an augmented reality-style UI.

Privacy fears

Some people are freaked out by the privacy implications of Google Glass — and rightly so. One Seattle bar has already turned it into a PR stunt, banning anyone wearing the glasses from its premises. But the fact remains that people don't always want the world to know exactly where they are and who they're with at all times. And the fact that Google Glass can snap photos and record video automatically opens up all sorts of social and privacy concerns, as it's much less obvious than someone holding up a phone or camcorder.

Apps

We're starting to learn about Google Glass apps. During SXSW, Google showed off some early app partners for delivering the little bursts of information that appear inside the glass. Geek.com reports that it's kind of like Android notifications, in that Glass can only display icons and small bits of text in the miniature projector screen; it can't block your actual vision in real life, after all. When you take a photo or record video, you can share it via a new option on the timeline, but you don't have to stop what you're doing and share it immediately from a dialog box. Text and email comes in via pop-ups, and you can dictate responses with your voice. Tap on a news story using the trackpad, and the full version will appear.

We're as excited as you are

You can keep an eye on the company's Project Glass Google+ page for updates. And keep checking back at ITProPortal, where we will have continuing coverage of Google Glass, especially as concerns the most important question of all: Is it as good as it looks? Stay tuned to find out.

Meanwhile, if you're on the less excited side of the fence as regards the device, then you might want to take a look at our article entitled Google Glass: So what's the big fuss about a glorified camcorder?