Google Project Glass overview: why it could change telephony, bring Google Plus up and Facebook down

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.


Just a couple of days ago, Google released a brand new video showing real-life footage from its Project Glass, a futuristic wearable heads-up display with a mounted camera and cellular connectivity. We’ve seen Glass in action before, but now is the first time we actually get to see the user interface of the platform powering Glass as it is (this is clearly not Android, not in a recognizable form). Not just that, we get a deeper look at what Google thinks would be the practical uses for the futuristic wearable display.

We’ve watched this video over and over again, imagining the possibilities offered by Glass. We believe Glass has the potential to be more than just a heads-up display. With cellular connectivity on board, it could well be the next big disruption since the iPhone. And with a deeply engraved social DNA, Glass could finally give Google Plus a much needed push, turn the market dynamics against Facebook, and change telephony along the way. Here is how.

Update:Google has now confirmed Glass is going ahead of schedule and is now planned to launch in 2013. Sadly, it has also confirmed that at least initially there will be no cellular connectivity option. All our thoughts below about the possibilities of Glass being a disruptive device for phones are hypothetical and obviously refer to a wearable device with cellular connectivity. The first generation Glass will not be that.

Stacking up the cards: it’s all about voice

In order to understand the prospects for Google Glass, we need to look at Google’s recent history. The company has grown tremendously since Larry Page took over as a chief executive officer replacing now chairman Eric Schmidt in April 2011. More importantly, it has started changing extremely rapidly, evolving in a very clear vertically integrated vector.

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Right after Page stepped in as CEO, he ordered a massive holistic redesign of Google’s entire product lineup. It had to be done in extremely tight deadlines - months not years. By now you can already see the fruits of it - unified modern and simplistic looks of everything starting from the traditional search engine, through Google Drive and ending with Google Plus. It is a good looking unified ecosystem with virtually no fragmentation.

Google’s strong cloud presence however is just a part of the foundation that has been laid to make Google Glass possible. Arguably the most important new piece of technology behind the ambitious heads-up Glass display that is designed to be used with no hands is voice interaction. We’ve really only recently started seeing the brilliant work done on voice recognition in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the first Android version that leverages Google’s “brain,” a cloud-based artificial intelligence system that creates more patterns as you feed it more data, and thus only gets better over time.

The end result is an extremely snappy and accurate voice recognition engine that is right now working for English, and will soon be deployed to recognize other languages as well.

The menu: surprising depth

After such a long introduction, it is time to finally jump back into that exciting new overview of Glass. For the first time, we get to see Glass in action with a live view of what is displayed to the user. Glass has a few possible passive states where it displays general information like the time, date and weather.

It seems like Google has managed to get Glass to listen to you at all times. You just say a pre-defined voice command like “ok glass” at any point at time to wake it up. Supposedly, this does not require a push of a button. That alone could be huge. Other systems like Siri and Google Voice in contrast do require to be first turned off before they start listening. That is mostly because of battery life concerns, and sidestepping that manual switch on process is actually a huge deal. We’re yet to hear whether Google has indeed found a way to get Glass to actively listen to you at all times for a wake-up command, and how it has done so while keeping a reasonable battery life for the device.

What is really interesting is next - the actual user interface and menu.

The “ok glass” voice command wakes up the display and brings up the main menu. The Google Glass main menu is navigated mostly by voice. There are five commands which might seem limited, but some of them have quite a depth to them. Here is what you can do with the Glass right now:

Google Glass menu overview:
1. Google...
- images of tigers
- Jellyfish
- say something in Thai
2. take a picture
3. record a video
4. hang out with...
5. get directions to...

1. Google...
Google is the first and most diverse voice command. The ellipses (“...”) after the command indicate that you can follow it up with sub-commands.

What’s particularly exciting is how Google shows the results. You can of course look up information, but instead of the usual results page, you get a card-like view. It is somewhat similar to Google Now (more on that later), with a very brief and concise information designed to fit the small Glass display. Searching for Images is also very straightforward with pictures showing up directly on the screen.

The “Google...” command is not just about simple search, though. It taps into Google hidden superpowers like translations so you can have Glass translate things for you on the go and also speak them to you.

We also expect that all the standard Google functions will be supported - calculator, weather, time, sports scores, unit and currency conversions, people profiles, local searches, movie showtimes, health conditions, medications info, trip planning, and others.

2. take a picture
Snapping images with Glass should be an extremely rewarding and spontaneous experience - after all you can snap images everywhere almost instantly. Most importantly of course, you can shoot images while doing something with your hands. Then, even with a smartphone it takes a couple of seconds to take the device out of the pocket and fire up the camera, Glass has the potential to cut that time drastically.

So far, we are only seeing single images taken with Glass but we see no reason why a deeper menu cannot be implemented by the time of launch with standard camera options like burst shots, live filters and so on.

3. record a video
Recording a video is another great examples where the hands-free nature of Google Glass shines. What makes Glass different from most head-mounted cameras though is its cellular connectivity and ability to instantly share the captured footage.

5. get directions to...
With Google Maps in the corner of your eye at all times you can easily navigate yourself while driving, cycling, walking. Again, having your display head-mounted and your hands free is the greatest advantage to Glass.

Could it replace traditional voice calls and texts?

You’ve probably noticed we missed number four in the previous chapter. That was intentional. The Google Glass supports hangouts which are live video chats via Google Plus, and that is hugely important. It is so important we think it can replace traditional voice calls and become the next big mobile disruption after the iPhone.

Update: Google has now confirmed Glass is going ahead of schedule and is now planned to launch in 2013. Sadly, it has also confirmed that at least initially there will be no cellular connectivity option. All our thoughts below about the possibilities of Glass being a disruptive device for phones are hypothetical and obviously refer to a wearable device with cellular connectivity. The first generation Glass will not be that.

In the demonstration video for Glass (check it out right at the end of this article if you haven't yet), you can see a ton of fascinating special moments shared via hangouts. The things Google’s team captured are pretty amazing - live hangouts while skydiving, skating, running, playing with your kids, the priceless moments in life that become the best memories... Hangouts are voice calls on steroids.

Voice calls on Google Plus are completely free and messages sent through Google’s social network are free as well. Why would you need to pay for minutes when you can have all your communication with free hangouts and messages?

Let us make this clear - the carriers should be afraid of Google Glass. It has the potential to disrupt phones (we are not saying it is going to necessarily happen) and kill a golden source of income for mobile operators. After all, all those minutes you buy are an extremely profitable business. Not so much with data.

All of this technology however is not new. Free voice calls have been around since forever, and we’ve had phones supporting those services like Skype in the last two or three years (carriers viciously opposed it at first).

Google Glass’ role in this is to be the enabler. A unified platform bringing voice, social, search and the cloud, everything together.

Google Glass Plus, Facebook minus

Next, in our imaginary journey, we start looking at the immense consequences. Google Glass is an enabler not just for free voice calls via hangouts, it is a huge push for the Google Plus ghost town of a social network that Google has been supporting in the last year and a half.

Glass has the potential to justify its existence and give it a much needed push. It could be a disruption for social networking as well if Facebook does not react.

Google Now

Another piece of the puzzle that could fit well in the Google Glass paradigm is Google Now, the smart card based system that automatically pops up information relative to your location and the time.

While it doesn’t make all that much sense on a smartphone, a device that you are not seeing at all times, it doubles in value when used with a heads-up display that is at the corner of your eyesight anytime, anywhere.

Google’s video indeed shows cards automatically popping up on Glass at an airport helping a user find his gate, and we have no reason to doubt Now will arrive in its full glory on Glass.

Conclusion: release date and availability

What we like about Google is the fact that is has opened up the Glass project to a wide audience: from developers to fashion models, and everyone with ideas on other possible uses of Glass can join in the discussion.

There is tremendous potential and opportunity in wearable devices. As smartphones reach 1080p displays and lag free performance with the latest chips, it seems users will start looking at them as a commodity item, much like we look at desktop and laptop computers nowadays. The hype around them after the touchscreen revolution in 2007 will start to slowly dissipate in the coming years.

The biggest minds in the industry like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates have both repeated over and over their belief in voice as the technology they are most excited for. We wholeheartedly agree.

Google’s Project Glass is expected to come in 20142013, but it will surely evolve a lot along the way. As every new technology, it carries many risks. Not everyone wants to start walking around like a cyborg and Google will have to put huge efforts into making Glass really stylish and/or concealed. That we believe is the biggest hurdle for Glass.

Google will also have to figure out a way to monetize this eventually and serving ads definitely does not seem like a viable option on that tiny screen.

Still, we are confident in the company’s efforts and it’s motto of skating to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. Google Glass does exactly that.

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