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Glass: The new calculator watch from Google

If you’re a gadget fan, you might have noticed a growing interest in recent years towards wearable technology. The concept itself isn’t new, some argue the original manifestation of this idea has already been present in our lives since the seventies in the form of calculator watches, and more recently in the much-hated Bluetooth headsets. But in the past year or so we’ve seen a rapid rise in popularity of a hybrid between wearable technology and the idea of the ‘quantified self’.

The concept of quantified self also isn’t new. Running watches with GPS and heart rate monitors have been used by runners for over a decade. Similar devices are used in other sports for things like fitness monitoring, tracking your calorie intake, and sleep analysis. There’s also new pedometer-like devices such as the Fuel Band or Fitbit, or even apps that take advantage of the functionality of your smartphone, track your every step and send data back to the mothership in the form of cloud services bundled in with the product, for further analysis of your state and performance. Standalone gadgets such as these are slowly penetrating to the mainstream, but there wasn’t really a proper wearable “computer” on the horizon until now.

Earlier this year Google announced its new project – Google Glass, a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display, photo and video camera, controlled by voice commands. What’s important to keep in mind is that the device is an early edition (“Explorer Edition”) and by no means a final product.

So far the product has only been made available to a limited number of testers, who were carefully selected based on the applications. Interested individuals had to apply by entries on social media tagged with #ifihadglass, to demonstrate that they fit the criteria of “bold, creative individuals”. Mountain View has announced that a consumer-ready version of the device should become available in late 2013.

The announcement attracted the attention not only the tech press, but also the mainstream media, with a plethora of opinion pieces, speculations, and privacy concerns being voiced. The moral and techno panic even lead to the White House being petitioned, asking for the device to be banned in the States “until clear limitations are placed to prevent indecent public surveillance…of our friends, children and families”. Since then the outcry has been trumped by similar, government directed fears sparked by the disclosure of details of the NSA’s PRISM programme, which is a story that resonates with the wider public.

We’ve been keeping an eye on Glass ourselves, and became intrigued in how the interest in the product has been harnessed by marketing creatives.

Almost immediately after the announcement a bar in Seattle banned the use of Glass on their premises in advance, officially calling the place a “No Google Glass zone”. Later the owner admitted in the interview that it was partially a “joke, to be funny on Facebook, and get a reaction”. And they definitely did get a reaction, their stunt was mentioned in almost every subsequent article about the new device, alongside with almost one hundred links from news sites and tech blogs. The owner 5 Point Cafe also explained that his statement was also partially serious when announcing the ban as he didn’t want to “let people film other people or take photos unwanted of other people in the bar because it’s [the bar] kind of a private place people go”.

JetBlue, an American airline, also decided to take part in conversation but took a different, more Glass-friendly approach. When applying to take part in the products testing programme with their Google+ post, they provided a link to a blog post which contained creative mock-ups of possible Google Glass applications (yes, it had apps) which could change the way we think about air travel. If implemented these proposed Google Glass features would allow to easily find a parking space, get live flight updates, and estimate taxi fares from the airport to your destination. This sparked a quite interesting conversation on the company’s Google+ Page, and demonstrated an tech awareness and thought leadership from the airline.

It isn’t currently known whether the airline received a pair of Google Glasses for their promotional efforts.

On the other side of the Ocean, Anglian, a UK home improvement company boldly announced the “world’s first Google Glass prize draw”. In a blog post the company draws a clumsy parallel between Google’s prototype and their “windows, conservatories, verandahs and orangeries” by explaining that both of the companies shape how the one “sees the world”.

It’s unclear if the prize is the current version of Google Glass or a future, consumer ready one, as the competition closes at the end of this year. In the prize draws terms and conditions page, the company carefully states that if for “some reason” the product is unavailable, the winner will be provided with an alternative. Google Glass’s terms of sale specified in the Explorer Edition Addendum, that the company prohibits “transferring” the device to any other person.

It looks like Anglian is either giving away a product that doesn’t even exist, or they haven’t understood the TOS and the competition might result in one very disappointed winner. Either-or, it’s a clever competition which has already gained some traction on social media.

We’re also curious as to how Google Glass will continue to shape the technological landscape; we can already see interesting and important discussions about privacy, technology and social norms being reopened. On the other hand some speculate that Glass is a symptom of Google’s spotty record on issues such as censorship, working with oppressive governments, and other data privacy concerns. Could they be attempting to divert attention by waving a shiny new toy in front of us? If so, they’ve chosen rather a controversial one…

So, is Glass just a glorified smartphone accessory or an early version of the future of computing? Time will tell, but one thing’s for certain – it’s going to be one of the biggest industry talking points of the next 12 months.

Sav Szymura is member of the twentysix search team. He can also be found on Twitter, where he rants and raves about technology, politics and long distance running. 

The fabulous image that accompanies this blog post is an original creation by our designer Gavin Cannon

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