Google Glass

I recently spent some time with Google Glass while attending the Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco. I wrote about my experiences with Glass on The Push, but I thought I would expand on some of my thoughts here.

As a developer I'm very interested in Glass. New computing platforms are always exciting and Glass is even more exciting than others. With glass you get a display that you can always see, a camera that's always pointed where you want it to be, and a full compliment of sensors. It's a lot to be excited about, even to an iOS developer. While the native way to develop for Glass will be with an Android SDK called the GDK, there is also a RESTful API for Glass that any of us can use.

The big question though is what does Glass mean to users? To me it means that I don't have to pull my phone out of my pocket to see relevant information. I can glance up, check the notification that came in, and return to what I was doing. The camera that's always pointed in the right direction is compelling too. I've missed plenty of shots because I didn't have a camera ready. With Glass I can just reach up and push a button to take a picture.

But that's only the beginning of what people can use Glass for. Getting directions while walking around a new city would be very helpful. Instruction manuals for fixing something on your car, or building a model airplane. Possibly augmented reality at some point – though the off-in-the-corner display isn't well suited for that kind of application. Like any new platform, it will take time for the ecosystem of apps to mature and develop as everyone learns what the best experiences on the device are. We saw the same thing when the iPad first came out. My only hope is that developers embrace Google's design guidelines on the platform: that glass apps should get out of the way of the user.

Finally, a few words about privacy. Most of the concerns I've seen discussed center around the camera on Glass, which as I mentioned is always staring in the same direction the person wearing it is. The same feature that can be convenient for capturing a memory could be  unsettling to other members of the public. Only time will tell if this concern will affect the product's future, but as for me its not something that I am concerned about. Here's why.

Over the last 8 years, including my time as a photographer for the UT student yearbook and newspaper, I've photographed hundreds of events ranging from parties, classes, meetings, disasters, parades, protests, conferences, and sporting events. Rarely, if ever, have I had someone tell me that I couldn't take their picture. Journalistic photography is different from casual photography. But both journalistic and casual photography have unspoken codes of conduct and etiquette around what is appropriate to take a picture of and what is not. Glass photographers would need to adhere to the same codes, and I see no reason why they would not. A lot of concern around Glass seems to be centered around private events. Given the ubiquity of cell phone cameras now, I don't think that the existence of Glass will make things any worse for people wishing to not have their picture taken.

Then, there's Facebook. Turn back the clock 10 years and imagine telling parents that their kids would end up posting thousands of pictures of parties on the internet with their names attached to them. Even now, that's a scary thought. And yet Facebook is the most popular website on the internet and is used by 94% of teenagers who use social media. Just because a piece technology is unsettling to some doesn't mean it won't become widely used. In the case of Facebook, privacy rules, responsible social media practices, and proper etiquette fell into place to help people feel more comfortable on the service. If the value proposition from Glass is high enough, then I think the same thing will happen there.

There's a recent story that highlights a benefit of ubiquitous photography. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon tragedy the bombing suspects were identified within hours due to unprecedented levels of photography in the area around the race finish line. So while we all hope that something like that never happens again, we can still be thankful for all of the cameras that helped catch criminals before they could commit another act of terrorism.

For those looking to get a head start on, or learn more about what developing for Glass will be like, there are a few places to go for information. Mutual Mobile created a Glass simulator that you can try out here. That will give you some idea of what you'll see on the display. There's also an API emulator available here that will show you what developing for the RESTful Mirror API will be like. Finally, there's the Google developers site, which is full of great resources that you can check out.