TEN THINGS Google believes you believe about Glassholes and wishes you didn't
El Reg debunks web kingpin's debunking exercise
Analysis Google Glass wearers, or Explorers as Google likes to call them, have been getting some bad press of late, and the company has been moved to defend the headsets against the rise of rumor and speculation.
"Mr. Rogers was a Navy SEAL. A tooth placed in soda will dissolve in 24 hours. Gators roam the sewers of big cities and Walt Disney is cryogenically frozen. These are just some of the most common and – let's admit it – awesome urban myths out there," the team behind the wearable computer goggles said on its Google+ page today.
"In its relatively short existence, Glass has seen some myths develop around it. While we're flattered by the attention, we thought it might make sense to tackle them, just to clear the air. And besides, everyone loves a good list."
This isn't the first time Google has used this debunking tactic. Five years ago it published a similar myth-busting list for YouTube, pointing out (correctly) that the service wasn't limited to short, low-quality content that advertisers were afraid of.
You can read Google's full Glass myth list here, and we've gone through it to check facts from urban myths on both sides of the equation.
Myth 1: Glass is the ultimate distraction from the real world
A bit of a straw man – we've never seen Glass described this way, but Google makes a reasonable point.
Google says Glass is simply a tool for viewing or capturing small bursts of information as you need it, and isn't designed to be a platform for constant viewing, just as you don’t check out your holiday snaps on the camera screen, but on a laptop or tablet.
With its tiny viewing screen and limited capabilities, Glass isn’t going to be as distracting as a phablet screen, TV or computer game, or even a really good book.
Myth 2: Glass is always on and recording everything
Glass can only record video for 45 minutes before depleting the battery, Google says, and is designed to take 10 second bursts of video to record those special moments, although a tweak using the software development kit can change that.
What Google doesn’t mention is that audio recording will take a lot less battery power and Glass could be very useful for recording meetings, and possibly settling arguments later on with conversations recorded on the fly.
The caveat to all that is Glass is also designed to display a light when recording, so the subject knows what's going on, so if you are worried about being recorded keep an eye out for that. Even if a developer does turn off the recording light, they'll still have to activate a recording by voice or touch command.
Myth 3: Glass Explorers are technology-worshipping geeks
Google says Glass users include "parents, firefighters, zookeepers, brewmasters, film students, reporters, and doctors." This is, no doubt, true. But you've got to be a little bit of a geek to want to hang a computer off your ears.
No geeks here, nosireebob
Google has about 10,000 Glass headsets are out there, either purchased, won in competitions, or given away by the company as it tests out vertical markets and seeks publicity opportunities. But the majority of users are US-based technology developers, workers, or enthusiasts who want access to the internet anytime, anyplace, anywhere, any eyeball.
There's nothing wrong with being a geek, anyway – geeks make markets happen. Geeks have been the early adopters that help products cross the chasm into market acceptance for as long as there has been a technology industry. It's barely a couple of decades since using the internet was thought of as a thing only geeks did.
Myth 4: Glass is ready for prime time
Google makes the very good point that this first generation of Glass is a prototype, the equivalent of a 1980s-era mobile phone. The company says the device has had three hardware upgrades and nine major OS updates so far and that there will be more to come.
New hardware is never pretty and usually not small. The first commercial magnetic hard drive, IBM's Model 350 disk storage system, could save a whopping 5MB of data on a unit that weighed a little under a ton. The first mobile phone was a barely usable brick with a battery life measured in minutes.
Try getting that on one of Amazon's drones
Glass isn’t remotely close to a commercial system, it's a test-bed prototype that has the basics in place. It's in about the same place as the Apple Newton was to the original Palm Pilot, and if/when Glass is sold to the public it will be a lot more polished.
Myth 5: Glass does facial recognition (and other dodgy things)
This is not going to happen even if it were possible, Google says. All the applications in the MyGlass store are going to be vetted on privacy grounds and Google has already moved to kick at least one Glass porn developer off its rolls.
It looks likely that Google might be making the MyGlass apps store resemble Apple's business model rather than Android's. Google will still be committed to open access as far as we're aware, but it's being much more rigorous checking what software is available.
That wouldn't stop a smart developer from trying to write a facial recognition app. But even with the limited processor in the headset working in conjunction with a linked smartphone and the greater cloud, you're not going to get Glass capable of the kind of real-time facial recognition portrayed on popular TV shows.
Myth 6: Glass covers your eyes
Not quite sure how this comes as a myth, since one look at the hardware in action shows you this isn’t so. Google says you can always tell if a Glass wearer is online because they'll be looking up to view the screen.
That said, we'd be willing to bet that eye-covering versions of wearable headsets are coming down the line. In a few years' time there will undoubtedly be full face glasses that will either display information in a display or even augment reality so the user can see what they want to.
You know you want glasses that do this
Such devices are already being worked on by companies other than Google and, even if ultimately unsuccessful, are certainly coming once we have the hardware and software capable of running them.
Myth 7: Glass is the perfect surveillance device
Google correctly points out that the perfect surveillance device is rather more discrete than Glass, and there's better, cheaper and more subtle tech out there that can be used to spy on people without their knowledge.
Most of us are already carrying around better surveillance devices that Glass, namely mobile phones. Cops and the feds can already use a mobile as a tracking device, voice recorder and video camera without the owner being aware of what is going on, even if the handset is apparently switched off.
Glass has been used as surveillance device, just not a very good one. Last month a Glass Explorer claimed she had been the victim of a "hate crime" after being attacked when using Glass to record bar patrons. It later emerged she reportedly had a restraining order taken out against her for allegedly recording people's conversations through a window with her smartphone.
Myth 8: Glass is only for those privileged enough to afford it
Google says it appreciates the first headset's price of $1,500 is too much for some people, but says some have been given away by private individuals, bought by employers for staff, or bought using crowd-sourced cash. The web giant has also given some away.
But $1,500 is a fair chunk of change to spend on Glass, and the very first buyers also had to shell out nearly a thousand dollars in admission fees to the Google I/O developer conference to get one, and be very quick on their feet. Other users, who now make up the majority of Glass wearers, won’t have borne that cost, but you've got to have a fair amount of liquid income to get a set.
This hack nearly bought a set himself at the 2012 Google I/O conference, but couldn't get it past expenses and was not going to tell his wife-to-be that he'd blown most of the honeymoon budget on a piece of gadgetry for fear the wedding might not happen.
Myth 9: Glass is banned... EVERYWHERE
Google points out that the etiquette of Glass use is still being sorted out, just as the social rules governing acceptable smartphone use have evolved. It also asks those considering a ban to remember that later models of Glass allow for prescription lenses to be added and may be needed by people to actually see.
A Seattle bar was one of the first places to issue a ban, threatening "ass kickings" for Glass wearers, although the owner later admitted it was a publicity stunt. US and UK regulators are also mulling a ban on Glass wearing while driving, although the courts have so far sided with users.
However, more than a few places are welcoming Glass users. Visitors to San Francisco's Aurea Lounge bar in the Stanford Hotel get a free drink if they are using Glass, since the owners no doubt recognize that people who can afford a set are worth cultivating.
Myth 10: Glass marks the end of privacy
Ever since their invention, cameras have been touted as privacy killers, Google says, especially since the addition of cameras to mobile phones.
As it turns out, in some ways they have been, but the benefits have outweighed the negative influences. Some people have had their privacy invaded, but at the same time important moments have been captured for posterity, crimes by members and the guardians of society have been documented, and important information has been shared.
If you're really that concerned about privacy ending then Glass isn't the cause. Instead, speak to your elected representatives about mass surveillance by law enforcement, make sure your computer security systems are topped up and ready for action, and stop posting so many revealing drunk tweets. ®