Google Glass Evolution: From AR to POV Cameraphone?

Google’s been promoting its forthcoming computerized specs, Google Glass, more fervently lately.

But there appears to be some confusion over just how much augmented reality (AR) the glasses will contain when they’re eventually released to the public (the first developer version, “Google Glass: Explorer Edition” is due to ship to a lucky few in early 2013, for $1,500 a pair).

The truth is Google itself probably isn’t sure yet. Still, people working on Glass and those who’ve tried it on have made a number of revealing statements, indicating Google’s moving away from an immersive AR  experience toward something more like a cameraphone with information and imagery display capabilities.

To help keep the record straight, I’ve rounded up Google’s public statements on Glass capabilities since they were first announced in April 2012 (emphasis added).

First, from Glass product lead Steve Lee, in comments to Fast Company in a May 2012 interview

In terms of what’s running on the device right now, several of those things that you see in the video, we do have prototype versions of those. So Maps is one example: You can see a Map of where you’re at, and search for a nearby restaurant. That certainly exists on the device, and it’s my hope that we’ll be able to deliver on several or many of the other things that are in that video—possibly some other things as well.

Personally, I view Glass as more than just a geo-product. The photo-taking experience, we think, is really a key aspect to this. But also the mapping and navigation and location services will really bring a new type of experience on this device.

From Glass project head Babak Parviz, in a June 2012 interview with Wired's Steven Levy

"We did look at many, many different possibilities early on. One of the things that we looked at was very immersive AR [Augmented Reality] environments — how much that would allow people to do, how much could come between you and the physical world, and how much that can be distractive. Over time we really found that particular picture less and less compelling. As we used the device ourselves, what became more compelling to use was a type of technology that doesn’t come between you and the physical world. So you do what you normally do but when you want to access it, it’s immediately relevant — it can help you do something, it would help you connect to other people with images or video, or it would help you get a snippet of information very quickly. So we decided that having the technology out of the way is much, much more compelling than immersive AR, at least at this time.”

From Sergey Brin to The Wall Street Journal in a September 2012 interview:

Mr. Brin said his favorite feature is the time-lapse capability that lets him snap photos of his kids every 10 seconds when he is playing with them. “I never think about taking out my phone,” he said. “That would really be disruptive to my play time.”

"I have always disliked the feeling that with technology I am spending a lot of my time and attention managing it," added Mr. Brin, dressed casually in a white T-shirt and jeans. "The notion of seamlessly having access to your digital world without disrupting the real world is very important."

The Wall Street Journal's Spencer Ante, after testing Glass for himself:

The glasses were ultimately disappointing because the software isn’t finished. Much of the basic functionality that Google is building toward for the first commercial release later next year wasn’t working. And we’re just beginning to grapple with the privacy issues raised by such pervasive technology.

When I asked to use the navigation feature that would show me maps of places I want to go, Mr. Brin said it is prototyped but not in the version he showed me. The calling and messaging capability that would allow me to phone someone one or see and respond to a text message also wasn’t functional.

The New York Times' David Pogue, who also tested Glass, in a September column: 

And yet when you do focus on the screen, shifting your gaze up and to the right, that tiny half-inch display is surprisingly immersive. It’s as though you’re looking at a big laptop screen or something…

To illustrate how Glass might change the game for sharing your life with others, I tried a demo in which a photo appeared — a jungly scene with a wooden footbridge just in front of me. The theme from “Jurassic Park” played crisply in my right ear. (Cute, real cute.)

But as I looked left, right, up or down, my view changed accordingly, as though I were wearing one of those old virtual-reality headsets. The tracking of my head angle and the response to the immersive photo was incredibly crisp and accurate. By swiping my finger on the touchpad, I could change to other scenes.

What the final build of Glass contains remains to be seen, but I think Glass naysayers, and those who think the devices look stupid on people’s faces, will be wearing something like this before they know it.