When TechRepublic first got its hands on Google Glass in May, the world's most famous wearable computer didn't impress me very much. The interface was confusing, the glasses looked dorky, and, most of all, the product just didn't do very much.
Six months later, I'm more optimistic about the progress Google is making. Today, I picked up the new Glass 2.0 hardware at Google's San Francisco office. I found more to like this time.
In fact, the product has enough going for it now that I'm going to start using Glass regularly over the coming months. It still looks pretty dorky and the interface remains a work-in-progress, but there's no doubt that you can do a lot more with Glass than you could when the original Explorer Edition debuted in May.
Here's a quick rundown of the some of the most interesting new features that Google has rolled into Glass since it first launched:
- Pull up detailed contact information on a person
- Personalized calendar search
- Use Evernote integration to make a voice note
- View a web page from a search
- Play a video from a search
- Control maps navigation hands-free with only voice commands
- Deeper Google Now integration includes cards for news, mass transit info, public emergency updates, nearby attractions, events, movies, and nearby photo spots.
- Set a Reminder with voice commands
- Use "Vignettes" screenshot feature to superimpose a photo of your Glass display over a photo of what you see
- Use MyGlass app on Android to do a screencast
Those last two features will be especially helpful for journalists like myself who are writing about Google Glass and sharing what we learn with the public.
Glass also now has the benefit of some third party apps (like the ones on this list) including Twitter, Facebook, The New York Times, CNN, and more. And, this is barely the beginning. Look for third party "Glassware," as Google calls it, to explode in the months ahead. Next week, on November 19-20, Google is releasing its Glassware Development Kit (GDK) at a hackathon in San Francisco.
In announcing the event, Google stated, "We'd like to give you a first look at the next phase of the Glass Developer Platform."
Google has previously allowed developers to have limited access to the underlying Glass platform, but it's greatly expanding the possibilities for developers with the launch of the GDK. With all the buzz surrounding Glass we should look for plenty of creative developers to take the platform in interesting new directions.
While the software is by far the most important thing to get excited about, Google Glass 2.0 does have a few interesting hardware tweaks as well. It might be more accurate to call the new hardware "Glass 1.1", but there are two things worth paying attention to.
Google has added a new mono earbud that plugs into the MicroUSB port. Previously, the only audio Glass offered was bone conduction that magically delivered sound into your skull. While that option is technically impressive, it's not loud enough in many cases, especially in noisy environments. The new earbud delivers sound much more clearly. In addition to the new mono earbud, Google announced on Tuesday that will soon offer stereo earbuds as well, especially for enjoying the new music features in Glass.
Google also called the new hardware "more structurally sound" (durable) and more adaptable. The new hardware opens the way for custom prescription lenses to be integrated into Glass so that people who already wear glasses can take advantage of the product. At its simplest, that means prescription versions of the new "Shade" that clips into Glass 2.0. However, there will be more stylish alternatives as well. The screw that connects the main Glass computer to the current metal band will soon be able to be removable so that you can detach the metal band and attach the main unit to more traditional glasses that will be designed to integrate with Glass.
When I visited the Glass facility at Google's San Francisco headquarters today, it was packed. Every Google representative was occupied with a new Glass Explorer who had plunked down $1500 to take part in the beta program. A Google employee told me that demand has exploded in the last two weeks since they opened up the program by giving all of the original Glass Explorers two invites to send to their friends to join the program.Beyond just Google Glass, I expect 2014 will be the breakout year for wearable technology. Businesses are destined to co-opt wearables to improve customer experiences, streamline operations, and drive innovation (for example, see what GE is doing with Glass in its facilities and how doctors are using Glass as a diagnostics tool). With that in mind, in the months ahead TechRepublic will be covering the business impact of wearables and looking at the stories of companies that are already using wearables or are planning to take advantage of them in 2014.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).