Should Indians look out for Google Glass?

New technologies like wearables, Google Glass just being a case in point, will continue to raise concerns


Weighing a little over 40 grams, Google Glass is a wearable computer that can surf the Internet, record audio, shoot video, perform searches, give directions using maps, check emails and appointments. Photo: AP
Weighing a little over 40 grams, Google Glass is a wearable computer that can surf the Internet, record audio, shoot video, perform searches, give directions using maps, check emails and appointments. Photo: AP

Mumbai: Google Glass is not coming to India—at least not on 15 April. If you’re visiting, or are in, the US, you can go to the Google site and purchase Glass in any shade or frame for $1,500 plus taxes, subject to availability.

According to Accenture’s digital consumer tech survey 2014, consumers in India ranked highest among six countries (Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, the UK, and the US) in the percentages that plan to buy consumer electronics products during 2015, and were most interested in buying fitness monitors, smart watches and Internet-enabled eyeglasses.

But why should Indians, or for that matter anyone, be so interested?

It’s because Google Glass is no ordinary eyewear (though you may be happy if the Indian customs department thinks so if you do manage to wrangle one in India on 15 April).

Weighing a little over 40 grams, it is a wearable computer that can surf the Internet, record audio, shoot video, perform searches, give directions using maps, check emails and appointments.

It can also SMS and make phone calls by using Glass as a Bluetooth headset with any Bluetooth-compatible phone.

The Glass screen is positioned just above the right eye to ensure eye contact with other people and keep distractions at a minimum—the screen is off by default. But when activated, it “looks a lot like a 25-inch color TV floating about 8 feet in front of you”, according to the Google Inc. website.

Glass has adjustable nosepads, a 5 megapixel camera, Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity, 12 gigabytes (GB) of usable memory synced with Google cloud storage (16 GB Flash total). It has a battery and includes a micro USB cable and charger.

The MyGlass companion app lets you set up contacts, Glassware, and other features. MyGlass for Android requires Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or higher. For iOS, it requires iOS 7 or later.

Google Glass may also get more appealing. On 24 March, Google struck a deal with Luxottica (LUX), the maker of eyeglasses like Ray-Ban, Oakley, Persol, and Oliver Peoples to integrate Glass into its products and sell the device through its wholesale and retail outlets.

But if Glass has so many positives, why are its users being called ‘Glassholes’?

Google Glass’ feature list is impressive, yet those who sport Google Glasses have been looked upon suspiciously for invading privacy, been banned from bars and restaurants and given tickets for distracted driving.

Privacy concerns, most importantly, may abound with consumer wearables becoming more sophisticated, capturing what the user sees, hears or even feels through biorhythmic responses.

By 2020, consumer data collected from wearable devices will drive 5% of sales from the Global 1000 companies, according to research firm Gartner Inc. The number of smartphone apps requesting to share consumer data will increase two-fold by 2015, indicating a rise in the number of marketers or proprietors who seek access to customer profile data.

The technical hurdles that have stalled the adoption of wearables (battery life, augmented reality, chip evolution and bandwidth) are quickly eroding, “opening doors to creative minds determined to exploit this technology for commercial gain as evidenced by sizeable investments in wearable technology from Samsung (smartwatch Galaxy Gear), Google (Google Glass, Android Wear), Apple (rumoured iWatch) and Microsoft (rumoured Surface watch)”, according to Gartner.

Google also says that it does not use Augmented Reality, or AR, which is defined as the overlay of graphics onto a video stream or other real-time display. However, Amsterdam-headquartered Layar—a company that brings AR to smartphone users—,according to an official company blog post on 18 March, said it can now be installed on Google Glass.

According to a 6 February report in the New York Post, “the NYPD (New York Police Department) is taking a page out of the RoboCop playbook—outfitting cops with Google Glass so a suspect’s life story can flash right before their eyes...”

In response to the report, which cited unnamed law enforcement sources, a Google spokesman said it is not working directly with law enforcement agencies to test Google Glass’ crime fighting potential, the NYPD “did not respond to a request for comment on its use of the device..”, according to New York Post.

Google, on its website, has attempted to debunk some myths around Glass.

For instance, when you take a photo or video with Glass, it will be added to your private Instant Upload album on Google+ (Plus) but won’t be shared with anyone until you choose to do so.

The default video recording on Glass is set to 10 seconds. While you can record for longer, the battery life won’t allow for more than about 45 minutes of straight recording.

The device’s screen is illuminated whenever it’s in use, and that applies to taking a picture or recording a video. Glass also requires the user to either speak a command—“OK Glass, take a picture” or “OK Glass, record a video”, or take an explicit action by pressing the button on the top of Glass’s frame.

Google also expects Glass users to observe etiquette, similar to that of movie theaters that don’t allow viewers to talk on phones, and casinos that don’t let players take photos with their phones.

“Glass doesn’t do facial recognition, and we have no plans to add it. What’s more, our Developer Terms of Service don’t allow Glassware that does facial recognition or voice print,” says Google.

Before you add Glassware, you’ll see the device-level permissions that Glassware obtains when used with Glass. “If you don’t feel comfortable with the permissions it requests, you can simply cancel installation,” says Google.

Google Glass has many benefits too...

According to Jayanth Kolla, partner and founder of research firm Convergence Catalyst, the launch of Android Wear—a project that extends Android to wearables—on 18 March, will speed up the consumption of wearables, especially with “...with key Google services (Maps, Now, etc) being integrated (with Android Wear), and most importantly with Google’s experience and might in expediting the ecosystem development...”

According to a 6 November report by Gartner, Smartglasses, such as Google Glass, are also causing CIOs (chief information officers) to take a fresh look at the impact wearable electronics will have on the enterprise since the use of smartglasses has the potential to improve worker efficiency in vertical markets such as manufacturing, field service, retail and healthcare.

Smartglasses still remain an emerging technology in the enterprise and less than 1% of companies in the US have implemented smartglasses, although Gartner predicts that may increase to 10% during the next five years for companies with offsite workers, such as field service personnel and inspectors.

Smartglasses are expected to have the most impact on heavy industry, such as manufacturing, and oil and gas, because the AR (augmented reality) glasses enable on-the-job training of workers in how to fix equipment and perform manufacturing tasks. The impact is likely to be medium for mixed industries, such as retail, consumer packaged goods and healthcare, where the benefits may mostly be looking for information via a visual search.

Can technology be neutral?

In sum, it’s too simplistic to say that technology is neutral or amoral and that it’s simply the use of it for good or bad purposes that leads to problems.

Take, for instance, the technology used to make firearms. Now whether you use it for self-defence or otherwise, a gun is designed to kill. When anti-social elements use it for a pogrom, it’s defined as a “terrorist” attack. But in both cases, one fact remains—-a gun kills. Period.

However, when technology is used to harness nuclear energy, the debate gets a bit trickier. Nuclear energy is capable of solving the world’s energy problems. However, it can kill too if improperly used or if the radiation goes unchecked and contaminates the air and soil in neighbouring areas. Who can forget how atomic bombs destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and more lately, the nuclear reactor meltdown in Japan?

Biotechnology has applications in areas such as healthcare, crop production and agriculture and genetically-modified (GM) crops claim to be helping in solving the world’s food crisis but there is a cloud over the use of GM crops and biotechnology itself can be used to develop weapons to contaminate fresh water reservoirs.

Even the humble cellphone—that can help fishermen get weather reports and cyclone warnings; and help farmers dispense with middlemen when selling their produce—can emit radiation.

New technologies like wearables, Google Glass just being a case in point, will continue to raise concerns. Policy makers will have to draft new legislations to account for these developments.

There is no point in getting irate over such technologies and throwing out the baby with the bath water.

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