Google looks OK with Glass

Wearable technology is about to hit the streets with the expected arrival of Google’s ‘smart’ spectacles this year.

Applications ranging from simultaneous translation to ensuring drivers stay awake at the wheel are now being made available for wearers of Google Glass.

So far, the search giant's newly-developed computerised spectacles are only being trialled by a few thousand Beta customers and are not due for general release even in developed markets until later this year. But the new technology is already attracting growing numbers of third-party application developers anxious to get in on the ground floor of wearable computing.

“For Google Glass to function well in the marketplace it requires a wide range of amazing apps and we are encouraged by the number of apps already under development,” says the Google spokeswoman Isabel Collinson.

Those currently testing Google Glass can already access applications such as Kitchme, which searches for recipes while leaving the cook’s hands free. Word Lens Glass provides travellers with a simultaneous translation of notices and signs. Google Glass can also connect wirelessly to Google Maps, providing directions that can be displayed on the screen.

Many of the new apps are aimed at road users. DriveSafe for Glass will wake them if they start to fall asleep at the wheel. Another app, Speed Hud, allows drivers to check their speed without taking their eyes off the road. Drivers of the luxury electric Tesla S car even have their own app, Glass Tesla, which allows Google Glass wearers to interact with the car’s on-board IT systems.

When activated, the Google Glass screen is designed to look like a 25-inch colour TV screen floating about eight feet in front of the wearer, making it highly suitable for games, entertainment and news feeds.

Live news feeds, weather reports, games and a host of other Google Apps have already been developed for Google Glass in Beta with more sophisticated versions scheduled to appear before Christmas, when Google Glass is expected to be released to the public in the United States, western Europe and Japan.

Although Google is keeping the details of its global marketing strategy under wraps, sources within the company predict a sustained rollout to other markets such as the Middle East once the product establishes itself in the developed markets.

“The major issue is how Google Glass will fare in the consumer marketplace next Christmas in the US and western Europe,” says Adrian Drury, an analyst at the research firm Ovum.

According to Ovum, professional users are also showing an early interest in Google Glass.

“There is some very specific enterprise interest. Logistics, security and rescue services are prime examples,” says Mr Drury.

But Google Glass will face strong competition not only from other wearable digital devices but also from rival digital glassware products.

“Our thesis is that we should see Google Glass as being in the same category as smart watches and wristbands. And there will be tons of smart watches positioned under Christmas trees this year,” says Mr Drury.

He adds that wearable digital products will bring a wide range of new competitors into the IT market, with Nike already leading the digital wearables market with its Fuelband digital wristband. Mr Drury predicts garment and luxury goods brand will want to co-brand with IT players such as Google.

There are also reports that Chinese manufacturers such as HTC and Lenovo are also working on their own, potentially lower-priced smart glasses.

But there are growing safety and security concerns now surrounding Google Glass that could have the effect of limiting the product’s usefulness to wearers.

A Wyoming state senator has become the latest US legislator to introduce a bill attempting to ban Google Glass from the road.

“No person shall operate a motor vehicle on a public street or highway while using a wearable computer with head mounted display,” states the bill, which is due to be voted on next month.

West Virginian legislators have also proposed similar legislation.

Since Google Glass comprises a highly sophisticated video and stills camera, it is also likely the product will increasingly face a blanket ban in various public areas. In the US, some Seattle-based cafes are already imposing a ban on the wearing of Google Glass, owing to privacy consideration for other patrons who may not wish to be surreptitiously photographed or filmed. This problem will also extend to the workplace and other environments where sensitive or copyrighted data is on display.

In Columbus, Ohio recently, a man was questioned by US federal authorities after being reported for attending a cinema wearing Google Glass. The authorities were concerned he might have been using the device to make a pirate recording of the movie, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

This growing mistrust of Google Glass is likely to be further compounded by the fact that it will soon be harder to recognise Google Glass from more ordinary and less intrusive eye-ware. Google this month revealed it will also be offering Google Glass in the form of prescription lenses and customisable frames. Tinted sunglass lenses will also be made available to Google Glass wearers.

There are also grave privacy problems from the perspective of the wearer now being voiced by digital security experts.

“There are numerous threats from Google Glass,” says Mark Harris, an analyst at digital security research firm Sophos. “For example, simply being able to record someone entering their password by looking over their shoulder.”

According to security experts, as the quality of digital cameras it may also be possible to record confidential material appearing on Google Glass.

“As the quality improves, even standing a reasonable distance away means it would be possible to zoom in at a later stage and work out a password,” says Mr Harris.

According to Alan Brill, the senior managing director of the security firm Kroll Advisory Solutions: “As long as default passwords, or stupid passwords, are acceptable, hackers will have access. If you don’t bake security into the technology, why would you be surprised when it turns out to be insecure?”

But despite the very real challenges facing the rollout of Google Glass, mounting interest from apps developers means early adopters of the technology will be offered a rapidly growing range of new reasons for purchasing the search engine’s smart spectacles.