Over the pond with Paul O'Brien of MoDaCo
Third in our continuing series on living with Google Glass . Paul O'Brien is the founder of the UK-based MoDaCo.com, a longtime smartphone hacker and developer and an all-around good guy to know.
To date, Google has only made Glass available to Explorers in the United States. I'm not entirely sure why that is, it might be to do with certification, logistics, or perhaps the original idea of personally handing over Glass to each and every buyer.
Either way, it means that if you reside "over the pond" in the UK as I do, you're out of luck for getting your own unit — your best option is a really good buddy who lets you try out their Glass.
But what's it like using the ground-breaking device in the UK?
While chatting to fellow Glass users, I'm often availed with stories of being frequently approached, questioned and asked for demos, as if a surprisingly large proportion of the populace knows exactly what Glass is. I don't know how true that is (I suspect in culturally technology focused cities it happens more), but here in the UK while I have experienced that on a couple of occasions, the response is usually somewhat different.
First up: "The stare." This is by far the most common response to walking around wearing Glass (which, by the way, takes a little while to build up the courage to do regularly). People just look, in a "What on earth is that?" way. They don't say anything, they just look.
Running a close second to the stare is "the averted look." Rather than be seen to be staring, some people look away from you when you're walking around wearing Glass. They then try and sneak a glance when they think won't be spotted doing so. It's all about being British and reserved, you know.
A slightly more worrying response I've seen is the "are you recording?" question. I guess people see a camera on Glass and become naturally suspicious that they are being filmed. One could argue that the starers, and the averters are probably thinking this, too, but just don't say it!
When you do tend to get the questions, interest or requests to "have a go" is when you either know the person, when you have broken the ice first, or when it's that most uninhibited group of all — kids! While visiting a friendly recently wearing Glass, his son walked into the room, said "Wooooooooah, Google Glass!" and after having a go let it be known to his dad that they are now top of his Christmas list. Oops. :)
When you start a conversation about Glass, people are generally fascinated. If people do try it, most are blown away. Why wouldn't they be? Glass is amazing.
There has been a lot of coverage in the press recently about a Glass Explorer from California who was ticketed for wearing Glass while driving (well, and while speeding). She has challenged the ticket and it looks set to go to court, but with Glass effectively not available in the UK yet, we haven't seen any similar cases here.
Such a showdown looks inevitable, however, as back in July a Department for Transport spokesperson said "We are aware of the impending rollout of Google Glass and are in discussion with the police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving." It seems pretty clear cut, but I think to ban Glass outright while driving would be a big mistake.
For me, Glass feels similar to the myriad systems that are in a car nowadays — with the same propensity for causing accidents or distracting the driver. It's easy to cause an accident by fiddling with the various gadgets built into the car. But used responsibly, I think Glass can make for a safer driver. Today, Glass offers driving directions without looking away from the road. Tomorrow, who knows what Glass could bring. Accident warnings? Traffic notifications? Speed limit reminders? Imagine if Glass could read road signs as you drive around and display them on demand to remind you of the restrictions where you are currently driving. I think Glass could have great potential in car, and evidently vehicle manufacturers do too, with Ford and Mercedes (amongst others) experimenting with the technology.
One of the most incredible things about Glass as a developer is the potential it brings.
When I'm wearing Glass today, it already does some very cool things that are genuinely useful. I love the convenient picture and video snapping, live video calling, notifications, live data when riding my bike, all that stuff — but I know it could do so much more. The incredible "Word Lens" application that was recently released demonstrates the kind of potential Glass has, with real-time language translation before your very eyes.
Google's recent release of the GDK (Glass Developer Kit) preview gives a wonderful insight into how easy it can be to develop Glass apps - for any existing Android developer the change to developing for Glass is very minor - apps will run with very minor changes. Arguably Google's challenge at this stage is getting the attention of developers when the userbase is so small, but we all know that developers like to tinker with this kind of thing. Hey, i've already started experimenting with a bunch of apps for Glass myself when I have much less interesting things I should be doing.
Getting Glass ready for everyone else
The question I get asked most about Glass is "will this really become a thing … is this the future?" My answer is always, "Yes, but not in it's current form." For many people it's surprisingly difficult to see past the nerdy glasses! As a custodian of Google's pride and joy, I almost feel responsible for telling people that it will look more normal in the future, it will do even more, the battery life will be better, it won't drain your phone battery so fast, it will become more socially acceptable, it will be a lot cheaper… and I'm saying all those things because I genuinely believe them. Google is really onto something here!
One final thought on Glass, and that's around monthly update schedules. As Android users we're very much used to application / OS updates dropping at random. If you're anything like me, it's quite fun to fire up the Play Store to see what apps are updated and then to dive in and see what's new. Like an unexpected, free, treat. But Glass does it differently — Glass updates are released once a month and to be honest, I'm really liking that idea. You know an update is coming, you know it will probably contain some cool new stuff and it's an exciting time as that part of the month rolls round. It's like having 12 Christmas' a year. :)
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