In Depth

Why would I want Google Glass – and what does it do?

Google pitches new Glass edition for businesses, but a consumer version could be around the corner

Google is pitching a new version of its wearable computer device, Glass, exclusively to businesses, according to the Wall Street Journal. The product will be aimed at firms in industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and energy, say sources.

Although it was named by Time Magazine as one of the Best Inventions of the Year in 2012, the first prototype version of Glass sparked a furore over privacy when it was discovered that users could film in public places without anyone noticing. Some US companies even banned Google Glass from their premises. Mindful of the growing backlash, Google took its product off the shelves in January. The new business Glass model appears to avoid the privacy issue as it will be used mostly in private workplaces – and there are "hundreds" of them already "out in the wild", says 9to5Google. But the tech website also predicts that a new consumer-ready version is around the corner…

So, what does Google Glass actually do?

Glass pulls together Google's arsenal of real-time, mobile, location-aware services – search, navigation, music, and so on – into a pair of Android-based smart-spectacles and presents the information to the user via a small screen at the edge of their field of vision. The user interacts with the device via voice control.

Why would I want Google Glass?

The applications could be endless: putting on your glasses in the morning as you eat breakfast, your map tells you there is heavy traffic on the route to work. On the drive to the office you pass a Starbucks and a Special Offer on coffee pops up on your screen. In the office, you frame people in your screen and Google+ them to see their profiles. All the while the earphones pipe through your favourite music, only pausing to allow a steady stream of phone calls, targeted adverts and sponsored messages.

Any downsides?

Privacy, security, and ethical concerns have all reared their heads. People are uneasy not knowing when they might be filmed or photographed, and there are privacy issues for the wearer too: Google will know where you are and what you are looking at. Back in 2012, Extreme Tech noted: "Google is ultimately an advertising company, where eyeballs directly translate into money – and it's hard to get any closer to your eyes than a pair of augmented reality glasses. When you read a newspaper or book, Google could overlay its own, interactive ads."

When can I buy a pair?

Google put its initial prototype on sale to the public in 2014, charging $1,500 in the US and £1,000 in the UK. The intention was to create a much cheaper consumer-ready version, but in January 2015 the company took the prototype off the shelves. In a Google+ post, the firm announced: "We're closing the Explorer Program so we can focus on what's coming next. January 19 will be the last day to get the Glass Explorer Edition. In the meantime, we're continuing to build for the future, and you'll start to see future versions of Glass when they're ready." According to 9to5Google, a new consumer version is not expected until the summer of 2016.

How do the Google Glass business models differ?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the new product is shaped as a curved rectangle, reminiscent of the first Explorer version. However, rather than including a wire-like frame, it has a button-and-hinge system to attach the mini-computer to different glasses. In contrast to the fanfare surrounding previous versions, Google is not officially launching this product. Instead, it is quietly distributing the new model to software developers, with the aim to have businesses using the device by the autumn. Examples for uses include liver-surgery demonstrations for hospitals, mobile "storytelling experiences" for museums and order-picking apps for warehouses.

So is Google Contact Lens next?

That might not be such a ridiculous suggestion: Google has patented a new camera that fits inside a contact lens, raising the prospect that Glass computer system could be shrunk to fit on the surface of a user's eye.

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