Hands-on with Google Glass’ big December (XE12) update


Gizmag runs through the big updates from Google's XE12 update for Glass Explorers

Gizmag runs through the big updates from Google’s XE12 update for Glass Explorers

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Earlier this week, Google pushed out the last software update of 2013 to Google Glass Explorers. As Gizmag is now part of the Google Glass beta-testing party, we thought we’d give you our hands-on impressions of some of the new features.

Wink wink, nudge nudge

Wink is extremely handy if you're a Glass-wearer ... and maybe a little creepy if you're a...

The biggest new feature might be Wink, which lets you snap a picture just by winking. There was already a sideloadable app from a third-party developer that let you do this, but the experimental feature now comes straight from Google, baked right into the firmware.

In my experience, Wink works just as advertised. Wink with your right eye, and about a second later, you’ll hear the chime as Glass snaps a pic of whatever you’re looking at. It registers almost all of my deliberate winks, and it also differentiates them from regular old double-eye blinks. I did set it off by mistake a few times, but it was probably because I absentmindedly closed my right eye (too much caffeine perhaps?), not through some fault with the software.

If your goal is to always be ready for that Kodak moment, then Wink is something of a breakthrough feature. It’s never been easier to snap shots, no matter where you are, what you’re doing, or what your hands are holding. If your goal, however, is privacy, then you might want to keep an eye out for people wearing Google Glass. They can sneak pictures of you easier than ever.

Gatekeeper

You'll need to pick four gestures to unlock your device (not to lock it, as Google's visua...

Another big addition is the new Google Glass lock screen. If you set this up, anyone will need to know your handpicked series of taps and swipes to unlock Glass (much like a passcode on a smartphone). If you have Glass’ on-head detection set up, the screen doesn’t appear to lock when you take Glass off; you’ll have to actually power it off (by pressing the power button for a moment) to lock it.

Unlocking Glass is simple. When you wake the device from sleep, you’ll see a lone dot sitting below the current time. Enter your unique series of taps and swipes, and Glass will unlock. You even get visual feedback, showing each gesture as a series of dots on the screens … kinda like sheet music for security buffs.

Glass gives you some visual cues when you're setting up your lock screen gestures

The new lock screen gives you a nice layer of security for your US$1,500 device, though you will have to remember to press that power button to put up the gates.

MyGlass for iPhone, Hangouts, and more

The MyGlass companion app is now available in the iOS App Store

Another huge addition is better compatibility with the iPhone. Google just launched the MyGlass companion app into the App Store, so iPhone-owning Explorers now have some extra features.

The biggest are turn-by-turn navigation on your Glass display and a screencast of your Glass display on your phone. Android users have already had both of these features for a while, but hey, it’s nice to see this make its way into the App Store nonetheless. The iOS version is still much more limited though (due to iOS’ system-wide restrictions for third-party apps), so you can’t use SMS and you’ll need to pay for a personal hotspot plan to use navigation.

Hangouts messaging is now compatible with Glass, just be prepared for it to hijack all of ...

With the XE12 update, Google also brought a few more officially-supported apps to Glass. Google Hangouts is a big one. You could already use Hangouts for video calls, but you can now use it for messaging. This includes picture messages, something Glass couldn’t do before. It also helps to fill in for the lack of SMS on the iPhone version, though your friends will need to be in the Google ecosystem with an active chat app to get your messages.

The biggest problem I have with the new Hangouts messaging is that it automatically becomes the default way of sending messages. See, Glass doesn’t let you choose how to contact a friend. You say “OK Glass, send a message to Suzie” and it handles it from there. Hangouts gets priority, followed by SMS, and then email. So if a contact has their email address tied to a Hangouts account, you can’t send them a regular email. It will always send it as a Hangouts chat message. You can get around this by turning off Hangouts integration altogether, but then you miss out on its other perks.

YouTube is also in the fold now, though maybe not in the way you’d expect. You still can’t watch YouTube videos on Glass (that would probably kill its battery anyway), but you can now share videos you’ve taken to the popular video-sharing service. After recording a video, just bring up the “Share” option and choose a YouTube card. There are separate cards for Public, Unlisted, and Private options, so there shouldn’t be any confusion about who can and can’t see your masterpiece.

You can also now share your Glass-recorded videos to YouTube, including with public, priva...

There are also a few extra apps added to MyGlass’ Glassware section, like Weather Alert and Wall Street Journal. I don’t live in an area with much severe weather, so I haven’t been able to test that one yet. But it could be a handy feature to have onboard, especially if things like tornadoes, blizzards, or icy roads are concerns in your area.

Winkfeed is another new app that puts RSS feeds on Google Glass. You can read them on the device itself, have them read aloud to you, or save them to Pocket to read later on another device. Winkfeed doesn’t really fit my workflow, but if you only have a few feeds you follow, it could be a handy way to get news alerts from your favorite sources pushed to Google Glass.

We’re going to have much more on Google Glass in the coming weeks, but don’t expect to see any big software updates from Google for a while. Google says that this month’s big batch counts for both December and January, so these will have to tide you over until February.

 

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Google Glass: what you need to know (Price, Specs and feel)


Are Google’s glasses more than just a gimmick?

Google Glass: what you need to know
Does Project Glass represent the next big step in mobile communications

When Google Glass was unveiled, the tech world instantly fell into two camps. Camp one was excited: we’re living in the sci-fi future! Camp two, though, wasn’t so happy. It’s vapourware! some said, while others worried that Google just wanted to plaster ads on the entire world. Is either camp correct? Let’s find out.

What is Google’s Project Glass?

Google Glass is the attempt to make wearable computing mainstream, and it’s effectively a smart pair of glasses with an integrated heads-up display and a battery hidden inside the frame.

Wearable computing is not a new idea, but Google’s enormous bank account and can-do attitude means that Project Glass could well be the first product to do significant numbers.

When will it be released?

Originally Project Glass was mooted for a public release in 2014 at the earliest but the latest news on the Google Glass release date suggest it’s beginning to look like we could seeconsumer units by the end of 2013.

That’s because the prototype Explorer units are becoming an increasingly common site around San Francisco – and Google is even allowing competition ‘winners’ to pay $1,500 to get these early offerings.

What does Google Glass do?

The core of Google Glass is its tiny prism display which sits not in your eyeline, but a little above it. You can see what is on the display by glancing up. The glasses also have an embedded camera, microphone, GPS and, reportedly, use bone induction to give you sound.

Voice control is used to control the device; you say ‘ok glass’ to get a range of options including taking pictures, videos, send messages using speech to text, ‘hang out’ with people or get directions to somewhere. You access these options by saying them out loud.

Most of this functionality is self explanatory; hang out is Google’s video conferencing technology and allows you to talk to a people over web cam, and stream them what you’re seeing and the directions use Google Maps and the inbuilt GPS to help you find your way.

The results are displayed on the prism – essentially putting data into your view like a head up display (HUD). It’s potentially incredibly handy. Also rather nifty is the potential for automatic voice and speech recognition – and Google has given its Glass project a big boost by snapping up specialists DNNresearch.

People are already developing some rather cool/scary apps for Google Glass – including one that allows you to identify your friends in a crowd, and another that allows you to dictate an email.

What are the Google Glass specifications?

An FCC filing in the US revealed many potential details, suggesting that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth would be used to send pictures to the screen, whilst bone-induction may be used for sound, vibrating your skull to communicate the sound into your inner ear. It’s not a new technology, but certainly does have critics who suggest that it falls short of traditional headphones.

We don’t have a lot of the final details on specs just yet – but expect Google Glass to run modified Android, to sport a decent resolution camera with a decent lens and we’d be fairly certain that the microphone needs to be a good quality.

There will be a GPS chip, and the lightweight and flexible glasses design will come in five colours – Charcoal, Tangerine, Shale, Cotton, Sky. That’s black, orange, grey, white and blue for anyone that prefers plain English over marketing speak.

 

project glass

 

I already wear glasses. Will Google Glasses work for me?

Yes. Google is experimenting with designs that will fit over existing glasses so you don’t have to wear two lots of specs.

In fact, you should be able to get them before 2013 ends, according to Google.

 

Google Glasses-glasses

 

Update: Warby Parker, a well-known designer of hip-looking glasses, is rumored to be working with Google to create stylish Google Glass frames. We’ll keep an eye on the developments as the launch date approaches.

What is the Project Glass price?

The NYT again: according to “several Google employees familiar with the project who asked not to be named,” the glasses are expected “to cost around the price of current smartphones.” So that’s around $750/£500, then, possibly with the help of a hefty Google subsidy.

The latest hints definitely suggest a price that will make them attractive to technophiles.

The developer versions – traditionally more expensive that the final consumer units – were made available for pre-order for $1,500 (c£966).

As to WHERE you can buy the specs; online will be a certainty, but don’t rule out Glass making a debut in a all-new Google Store, with the search giant apparently considering actual shops to showcase the tech to those who haven’t been following every development.

Who is providing the competition?

Of course, with something as high profile as Google Glass, every major company has been linked with building a competitor.

Apple and Microsoft are Google’s most obvious rivals – and both are rumoured to be working on their own equivalents, and Sony has gone as far as to patent a Glass-alike offering.

Is Project Glass evil?

It could be. Google’s business is about making money from advertising, and some people worry that Google Glass is its attempt to monetise your eyeballs by blasting you with ads whenever you look at something.

If you think pop-ups are annoying in a web browser, imagine them in front of your face. The ADmented Reality spoof is one of very many parodies that made us laugh.

Some of the parodies actually make a good point by showing people bumping into stuff: heads-up displays can be distracting, and there may be safety issues too. Until Google ships its self-driving car, the thought of drivers being distracted by their glasses is fairly terrifying.

There are privacy implications, too. Never mind your web history: Google Glass might record everything you see and do.

There is a red recording light, but the tech certainly raises some key debates that will become more relevant as this kind of technology surfaces. What are the repercussions from having everything you say potentially taped, turned into text and searchable? What are the repercussions for free speech.

All radically new tech brings new potential for evil. But you have to weigh that against the capacity for good and the progress it brings.

Google Glass pre-order customers will get regular updates

Those people who paid Google $1,500 for the privilege of pre-ordering some Project Glass specs will be receiving “private updates” through Google+.

Will it make me look like a dork?

Er… yes.