Google Project Glass: exponential smartphone streamlining

Jun 5, 2012

Google's Project Glass will distill the sort of smartphone tasks that might take a minute into 2-4 second simplicity, lead project manager Steve Lee claims, sharing snippets on prototyping as he outlines the wearable display. "People clearly have a desire to be connected to the Internet" Lee told Fast Company Design. "We thought that was a really interesting problem to solve: trying to get technology out of the way while allowing people to still be connected out in the real world."

To figure out the best way to do that, Lee and his X Lab colleagues experimented with dozens of prototypes, ranging from simple headsets powered by a laptop in a rucksack, to the relatively self-contained display device shown above. Along the way, they've been playing with different methods of control: as well as voice recognition, they've also introduced the touchpad on the side - as demonstrated by Sergey Brin recently - and even head-tracking.

"A design goal for Project Glass is to make that much faster and much easier. What may take 30 to 60 seconds on a phone will instead take two to four seconds on Glass. Making that substantial of an improvement on speed and access will hopefully prove to be a game changer. I mean, you can capture moments with something like our Project Glass prototype that are impossible or just inconvenient or awkward with camera phone. If you can do those things in a few seconds, that’s going to be really meaningful to people" Steve Lee, Lead Product Manager, Project Glass, Google

The exact way wearers will utilize commercial Project Glass hardware is yet to be decided, but one thing that seems unlikely to change is the positioning of the eyepiece itself: suspended up above the eye, rather than directly in the line of sight as previous augmented reality systems have pushed.

"Past wearable computer projects that people have seen likely conjure up something that gets in your way and blocks your vision or senses" Lee says. "That’s actually counter to our project goal. Everything around our design is exactly the opposite of that." Instead, pertinent information will float around the periphery of the wearer's vision, allowing them to dip into the mediated reality but not be unduly distracted by it.

As for fashionistas unconvinced by the latest-gen prototypes, there's the possibility that Google could enlist some well-known names for their design skills. The company is open to the idea of "partnering with various folks" to "accelerate" the acceptance-factor of wearable displays, such as fashion designers, but key to those decisions will be issues of comfort: how heavy Project Glass ends up on your face, for instance.

"You care about how it looks on your face" Lee concludes. "Unlike software or even hardware like a phone which you can sort of sneak into your pocket, this is quite visible - you can’t hide it."

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