What Google Glass Can and Can’t Do

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So how does this wearable computer stuff actually work? Can it recognize photos? Does it record everything?

You’ve probably heard about or seen photos of Google Glass, the company’s wearable computer. Some places have already banned it, even though it’s not on sale to the general public yet.

Only about 10,000 are in the wild right now, and 2,000 of those went to software developers, Clive Thompson says in The New York Times. The rest went to a pool of selected applicants who explained to Google how they would use the gadget. Everybody paid $1,500 for them.

Thompson was one of the latter group, and has a lengthy story explaining his experience using Glass over the past couple of months, along with what other people who have it think.

Glass might not be what you expect. One user told Thompson he thought Glass would give him “Terminator vision.” (It doesn’t.) Another said he’s met people who thought it could see through clothes, or instantly bring up someone’s Facebook profile when you glanced at them. Google has actually banned facial-recognition and pornographic software from the device, Thompson says, but determined users could theoretically hack it in. (Although hacking in X-ray vision sounds a little far-fetched.)

Here’s some of what it apparently does do, with varying degrees of efficiency:

  • Glow or light up when the user is viewing the screen or taking a picture, as a social cue or warning for people nearby.
  • Send text or emails by voice command. It has “surprisingly accurate voice-transcription capabilities,” Thompson says.
  • Take photos by voice command or by pressing a button on the side.
  • Video conference, which one surgeon user has found handy to both teach procedures and to remotely guide others who are using Glass. (“To have someone else see what I see — it’s just amazing in surgical teaching,” he said.)
  • Display pictures, tweets or search results on a pinkish floating screen about 6 inches away from, and slightly above, the right eye.
  • The “slightly above” part is important: By design it’s uncomfortable to look upward at the screen for more than a minute or two. (“It wasn’t something you were supposed to stare at, zoning out on videos or playing games or reading while ignoring those around you,” its designers told Thompson.)

There is currently a limited number of apps, including a cooking aid and a to-do list. In general, the device doesn’t accomplish a lot smartphones can’t, Thompson says. He actually wanted it to display more information than it did. The first-person photo and video capabilities sound the most useful compared with a phone, though he found the device awkward in social situations. Many people were (not surprisingly) creeped out or suspicious.

What do you think about Glass? Would you use it, or be bothered by people using it around you? Does it sound better or worse than a smartphone? Let us know on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

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