Posts tagged wearable technology

Augmented Vs. Virtual Part 2 – Augmented Reality

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Reality is very personalized, it is how we perceive the world around us, and it shapes our existence. And while individual experiences vary widely, for as long as humans have existed, the nature of our realities have been broadly relatable from person to person. My reality is, for the most part, at least explainable in terms of your reality. Yet as technology grows better and more widespread, we are coming closer to an era where my reality, at least for a period of time, may be completely inexplicable in the terms of your reality. There are two main ways to do this: virtual reality and augmented reality. In virtual reality, technology immerses you in a different, separate world. My earlier article on VR was the first of this two-part series, and can be found HERE.

Whereas virtual reality aims to totally replace our reality in a new vision, augmented reality does what the name suggests: it augments, changes, or adds on to our current, natural reality. This can be done in a wide variety of ways, the most popular currently being a close-to-eye translucent screen with projected graphics on top of what you are seeing. This screen can take up your whole field of view, or just in the corner of your vision. Usually, the graphics or words displayed on the screen is not completely opaque, since it would then be blocking your view of your real reality. Augmented reality is intrinsically designed to work in tandem with your current reality, while VR dispenses it in favor of a new one.

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An example of a consumer use case for tablet-based AR.

With this more conservative approach, augmented reality (AR) likely has greater near-term potential. For VR, creating a new world to inhabit limits many of your possibilities to the realm of entertainment and education. AR, however, has a practically unlimited range of use cases, from gaming to IT to cooking to, well, pretty much any activity. Augmented reality is not limited to, but for now works best as a portable heads-up display, a display that shows helpful situational information. For instance, there was a demo at Epson’s booth at Augmented World Expo 2015 where you got to experience a driving assistance app for AR. In my opinion, the hardware held back the software in that case, as the small field of view was distracting and the glasses were bulky, but you could tell the idea has some potential. At AWE, industrial use cases as well as consumer use cases were also prominently displayed, which included instructional IT assistance, such as remotely assisted repair (e.g., in a power plant, using remote visuals and audio to help fix a broken part). 

Before I go on, I have to mention one product: Google Glass. No AR article is complete without mentioning the Google product, the first AR product to make a splash in the popular media. Yet not long after Google Glass was released, it started faded out of the public’s eye. Obvious reasons included the high price, the very odd look, and the social novelty: people couldn’t think of ways they would use it. Plus, with the many legal and trust issues that went along with using the device, it often just didn’t seem worth the trouble. Yet rumor has it that Google is working on a new, upgraded version of the device, and it may make a comeback, but in my opinion it’s too socially intrusive and new to gain significant near-term social traction.

Although many new AR headsets are in the works (most importantly Microsoft’s HoloLens), the development pace is lagging VR, which is already to the stage where developers are focused on enhancing current design models, as I discussed in the previous VR article. For AR, the situation is slightly different. Hardware developers still have to figure out how to create a cheap AR headset, but a headset that also has a full field of view, is relatively small, doesn’t obstruct your view when not in use, and other complications like that. In other words, the hardware of AR occasionally interrupts the consumption of AR content, while for VR hardware, the technology is well on its way to overcoming that particular obstacle.

Beyond these near-term obstacles, if we want to get really speculative, there could be a time when VR will surpass AR even in pure utility. This could occur when we are able to create a whole world, or many worlds, to be experienced in VR, and we decide that we like these worlds better. When the immersion becomes advanced enough to pass for reality, that’s when we will abandon AR, or at least over time use it less and less. Science fiction has pondered this idea, and from what I’ve read, most stories go along the lines of people just spending most of their time in the virtual world and sidelining reality. The possibilities are endless in a world made completely from the fabric of our imagination, whereas in our current reality we have a lot of restrictions to what we can do and achieve. Most likely, this will be in a long, long time, so we have nothing to worry about for now.

Altogether, augmented reality and virtual reality both are innovative and exciting technologies and that have tremendous potential to be useful. On one side, AR will be most likely used more than VR in the coming years for practical purposes, since it’s grounded in reality. On the other hand, VR will be mostly used for entertainment, until we hit a situation like what I mentioned above. It’s hard to pit these two technologies against each other, since they both have their pros and cons, and it really just depends on which tech sounds most exciting to you. Nonetheless, both AR and VR are worth lots of attention and hype, as they will both surely change our world forever, for better or worse.

What To Expect In 2015 For Wearables

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2014 finished with a bang, at least if you call USA and North Korea bickering over a Seth Rogen satire movie a bang. Besides that, 2014 was a year of smartwatches, bigger phones, and flat design at its finest. The new line of iPhones was released, with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus making headlines for their giant size (by Apple’s standards).  iOS 8 was released on September 17th, and Android even hopped on the software wave when they announced Android Lollipop at their recent Google I/O conference. The internet suffered many different hacks, leaks and viruses starting with Heartbleed and the NSA leak, and finishing with the Sony Playstation and Xbox hacks.  And offsetting the ever-growing smartphone size, smaller smartwatches are starting to take off in popularity, with Android Wear OS released alongside many new Android smartwatches from a variety of manufacturers.

The Smartwatches Of 2015

And that leads me to the biggest smartwatch announcement: Apple Watch. Last year I said Apple Watch would be a big highlight for this year, and it was. Well, at least the announcement was. Set to be designed in three styles, Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, and Apple Watch Edition, the Apple Watch wasn’t actually released, despite all the press and hype even from a year back. The only promise Apple gave us was a public release of “Early 2015”, which promises to be a big event whenever it happens. As great as the release of the smartwatch will be, the first time Apple will be branching into a new vertical since Steve Jobs’ death, there will be some unavoidable consequences. For instance, there have been many smaller smartwatches makers, most prominently the “Kickstarted” Pebble, along Samsung and the Android gang’s watches. Some of the less well-funded makers will likely need to sell or potentially go out of business.

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The fact is that consumers tend to favor sticking with their native tech ecosystem, , just as the product companies desire. It’s just easier. But also, with so much more money and development resources, Apple is hard to beat in terms of quality of hardware and software. It’s a little sad, as some of these startups and smaller watches were actually not that bad, but will still likely fall prey to Apple’s enormity.

More Wearables

So far in the progression of wearables, smartwatches have been the only successful niche. Smart glasses, such as Google Glass, were a lot like the segway. There was a lot of hype, but no actual use in daily life. For instance, Google Glass was a highlight of Google’s I/O conference, a special restricted public testing called the Explorer Program. With the I/O announcement, and the Explorer Program, the excitement level was high for the public release in the beginning of 2014. Unfortunately, when the public release did come, nothing really happened. Partly, this was because of all the controversy of Glass’ pretty much secret filming capability, leading to it being banned in many places. But also, the whole concept was to make a device that can seamlessly let you access the internet without pulling out your phone, but the execution of that idea lacked. First of all, the glasses looked geeky. I can’t lie, when you wear something like that you’re kind of throwing your  style out the window for technology. Also, the main control of the device is speaking, which doesn’t really work when in public, not because of the sound quality, but because you just look weird talking to no one, while staring blankly into space.

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So, what comes next? As I’ve argued, smartwatches will become big whether the product is significantly useful out of the gate or not.  As the line of products grows, just as it did with iPhones way back when, their usefulness and quality will increase dramatically.  The key to a successful wearable is that it’s both novel and useful. Most wearables that have failed to succeed lost their battles because they weren’t useful enough, such as (most notably) Google Glass, some Kickstarter gadgets, and early smartwatches. Many concepts simply didn’t have enough features and interaction with the outside world to make a dent in our daily lives.  So it’s pretty hard to predict exactly what type of wearable will find the most success this year, though CES featured a few “out of the box” products that start to hint at what types of products might come out of blue in 2015: for example, mind reading.

Mind Reading

Ok, ok, maybe not exactly mind reading, but products like Thync, a small device you wear on your head that changes your mood using electrical pulses, and Mellow Mind, another headpiece that measures your state of relaxation and with music teaches you to relax, hint at a new branch of technologies working to understand, read, and even manipulate your mind. However whimsical, the popular neural-controlled cat-eared Necomimi may show a direction that consumer and lifestyle products are headed. As much of human existence has been focused on interacting with the world through our fingers, direct interaction via the brain is quite exciting. Not just for consumers, to see what will be made from them to use and marvel over, but also for entrepreneurs, companies and scientists, as a world of possibilities opens up. We often see technologies interacting with brains in sci-fi, whether it’s operating your home, high-tech simulated worlds, or much more, it really is amazing that we are already staring to go in that direction with CES 2015.  As scientists and engineers become more adept in their understanding of direct interaction via neurons and electrical pulses, we will hopefully reach a stage where all this practical interaction with technology will be possible, and sci-fi will become real once again.

Apple September Conference Part 1 – Apple Watch

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Every year, Apple always says that this new upgrade and this new release is the most significant since the release of the first iPhone. Everybody has heard it. Every year, you’re like, “Yeah, sure.” But this year, Apple may not be lying. At their annual September conference today, Apple released one off the biggest new hardware releases ever, apart from the release of the first iPad. Even though the iWatch (actually the Apple Watch, as it’s really called) was widely known to come out at this event, and very highly anticipated, Apple’s main tactic of somehow surprising everyone with their new features and technologies. Along with the Watch, two new iPhones were showed off, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the predicted bigger “phablet”, a 5.5 inch iPhone. All these hardware upgrades, and still Apple managed to release iOS 8, although they had already released it back in the WWDC. But, to start off, I decided that it’s only fair to satisfy your curiosity and get going with the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch

There’s so much to say here. To start though: the hardware. In essence, the Watch is a Apple-like version of most of the smartwatches already out there on the market. A upward facing rectangular screen is the main show of the Watch. As with all their other devices released today, the Watch has a curved body coming off of the screen, and coming back around to the flip-side of the wearable. Unlike other smartwatches out there, the Apple Watch implements a new technology as the main notification output, rather than the extremely popular vibration technique. The Watch has Apple’s new Taptic Engine, which allows the user to get notified by a literal tap on the wrist. On the bottom of the device, there is a little pad, also containing a GPS, Accelerometer and Heart Rate sensor, that can tap you on the wrist, and even tap you differently for different activities. For instance, it can tap you on the right side of your wrist to go left for walking directions, and on the left side of your wrist to go left.

On the right side of the watch, there’s two different manual buttons, both very important. The first button, located below the other one, is just a rounded off rectangular button that when clicked, brings up a page filled with little thumbnails of all your contact, which from there you can call and text.  The second button is really one of the things that sets Apple’s Watch from any other watch on the market. This button also influences the whole OS for the watch. And quite frankly, this button is a brilliant design element to add onto what is already there. This button is the Digital Crown. All watches have crowns, so Apple decided to add one in theirs. Except on the Watch, the crown does two things. It acts as the home button, so you just push it to go home. But second of all, the button acts a zoom. Practically the whole OS is based off of this capability, as that way more info can be put on the screen since no fingers are obstructing it. And this leads us to the OS.

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From what we can tell from the Keynote and videos released afterwards, the OS is built into “neighborhoods” of apps, which you and scroll and pan through using your fingers. Each app is a little circle, and the circles are arranged in a shapeless blob. Wether you can customize the placement of the circular apps on the black background hasn’t been released yet, but I’m assuming you can, as you are able to on any other Apple OS. To go to a specific app, you pan the screen so the chosen app is in the obvious center of the screen, and zoom using the crown. The screen zooms in, showing you the app’s page. Developers will have to use this feature of zooming in and out to travel between pages inside the app, as the photos apps does that Apple showed off in the Keynote. When you zoom in on the app, a collage of all your photos will appear, from which you can zoom in again to look at specific pictures, and swipe to go between individual pictures as the info is now big enough to have a finger in the way and not totally be obstructed.

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The screen of the watch is small, and that makes a problem to both the software and hardware designers at Apple. How to make an easy way give input or control without obstructing the screen. The first way is the crown, but there needs to be one more way, as it’s to hard to ask developers to use the zoom feature all the time. So they made a special technology only for the Watch that has to do with touch. Since your fingers are so big compared to the screen, the tapping interface can really only apply when there is only one big button on the screen, (no typing, all communications are done with voice dictation and word recommendation) and the info takes up the whole page. But, that may be hard to implement, so the technology they invented allows the device to differentiate a tap, a short touch on the screen, from a press, a longer, harder touch. That way, one virtual button can be used for two purposes.

Unfortunately, the watch won’t be available until early 2015, but as a teaser for what will come next year, Apple released the three different styles of the Watch that they have meticulously designed: Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, and Apple Watch Edition. The regular Apple Watch is the standard design, made from a stainless steel or a black stainless steel material. Another great aspect of the Watch in terms of customizability is the ability to easily remove one band and replace it with another. Since there are many different bands, if you buy, say, a sport fluoroelastomer neon green band, and that isn’t really appropriate for a meeting with the CEO of your company, you could exchange it with a silver chain Apple Watch band. Of course, the material of your watch will stay the same, but that wouldn’t change how you use it very significantly.

Overview

There is a lot of new and exciting technology packed into this relatively tiny device. The Taptic Engine, the touch/tap differentiator, the Digital Crown, and more. As has been widely discussed through the tech world, everybody knows the consequences of this release: the closing of many small tech companies. Start-ups like Pebble will fail, as all the money coming to them will immediately go to the Apple Watch. But for the consumers, the question is, is the $400 worth it?

The watch is meant to be a segway between your phone and everyday life. Many people have the unfortunate addiction of constantly checking their phones because of practically meaningless notifications from a variety of social networks and games. The way I see it, the watch would make you able to live you life without having to take your phone out of your pocket. Sure, you need to have your phone with you for GPS and Wifi, but other than that you can do pretty much everything else right on your watch without much effort.

Apple iWatch_interface_1

Now that’s great. But what’s the difference between the Apple Watch, and say, Android Wear’s line and OS? Well, for starters, the aesthetics are different. In my opinion, Apple software makes it easier for third party apps to be easily incorporated, as the Android Wear software doesn’t have an recognizable home screen. Also, Apple’s design is just more appealing to me, but that differs from person to person. But, the main reason why Apple is so successful, and can attract so many die-hard fans is that their devices work so well together, something that companies like Samsung and Google haven’t mastered yet. If you have a Mac, an iPad will work much better than a Nexus tablet for you. And if you have an iPad, a iPhone will benefit you greatly over a galaxy S4, especially with the new continuity feature in iOS 8. And if you have an iPhone, the Apple Watch is your best option.

Wether you get an Apple Watch or a Android Wear watch depends on one thing: wether you like Apple or Android software. The design, the features, the specs. If you have on product in the line, you will most likely get the other. Altogether though, the Apple Watch is a cumulation of many great design features and new technologies, and will certainly live on in the history of Apple as a great invention.

 

FastNews: Anyone Can Now Buy Google Glass

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Google Glass has been the talk of the town in the technology world since the announcement of it way back in June of 2013 at the Google I/O. Google Glass pretty much started the wearable wave, and was the inspiration for many smaller startups such as Recon Jet and others. Just the idea of having a always accessible computer on your face was astonishing in itself, not even taking into account the drawbacks. For instance, one of the biggest setbacks for many people is the design itself. Many internet-goers have maing to very clear how nerdy and uncool Glass looked. It was rumored that Google were designing complimentary regular glasses that were custom made to fit Glass, and that would be the logical thing to do. That turned out to be true, as we learned today.

Google has come out with 6 different pairs of glasses: 3 frames, 3 shades. The three come in slightly different variations to the main category, and overall this is a big improvement from the geeky design they had previously. But don’t get me wrong, the geeky design is still in the top left corner of the glasses, but the well designed pair of regular glasses certainly dilutes the nerdiness.

One more big change has been made to Google’s Glass project. As of today, you can officially buy Google Glass, if you live in the US. It is still in beta, but they have released the Explorer Program to anyone who wants it. For $1,500. The price is also a setback, and many people will wait until it goes down, which it will eventually. Google hinted at this when they released a one day sale to get into the program a couple months back. The program is still held only in the US, and will undoubtable be later released into other countries. It will be interesting to see what changes they make from now to the final version, and also what the feedback will be from the many new Explorers that will join.

TechSpot: Recon Jet – Augmented Reality For Athletes

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Recon Jet. Sounds futuristic, huh? Well, it is. Augmented reality used to be a figment of sci-fi writers imaginations, until Google gave tech companies everywhere hope that wearable technology and augmented reality is possible, and more importantly, will sell. A lot. More and more innovators and startups are diving into the ocean of possibilities with augmented reality, and more specifically, augmented reality glasses. Of course, Google Glass is just for the average Joe, not really developed for any certain profession or hobby. Recon Jet, on the other hand is. It’s developed for those of you out there who are healthily obsessed with sports.

There are many smartphone apps and watches that can help with the two sports Recon Jet specializes in: running and cycling. But Recon Instruments, the makers of Recon Jet said “Pfft, we can do better!” And, truthfully, they did. They blew away those petty apps and watches. And here’s why. Recon’s augmented reality glasses Recon Jet has everything an athlete could want. Starting with, of course, a map. When you are exercising, instead of going only where you know how to get back, you could potentially just go wherever you fancy and use Recon Jet to get back. If you bike to work, and you don’t pay attention and get lost, Recon’s got you covered.

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All the helpful stats and information that the other exercising apps and watches are all built in the Recon Jet, such as heart rate, time, distance, social rankings, social networks, vertical ascent, elevation and much more. Plus, more, all accessible right at the touch of the touchpad. While in the middle of an exercise or a race, knowing if you are slowing down or being able to see the exact race course so you don’t accidentally turn early and have to turn around is sometimes key.

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The Recon Jet

The Recon Jet’s hardware is a pair fancy polarized sports glasses with a small curving rectangle with a high resolution display screen. Unlike Google Glass, the screen is not opaque, though it is pretty small so it is not very annoying and doesn’t block your view. In the rectangle, there is a dual core CPU, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, altimeter, thermometer. So basically, it can track and tell you a LOT of stats.

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A Concept Of What Recon Jet Would Show When Playing Golf

Overall, these glasses are exactly what every serious athlete was hoping for. They are an athletes best friend. Ok, that might be going a little to far. But Recon Jet can also be used for other practices, such as surgery and as Recon CMO Tom Fowler said,

“I showed this to a U.S. Army doctor who had done a couple of tours in Afghanistan, and he said that if he’d had one in Afghanistan, people would have made it who, sadly, did not.”

These glasses make running and biking a better experience for the serious athletes all around. And if you are thinking about integrating technology in your daily workout by buying a fancy expensive watch or such devices, and are willing to cough up a couple hundred more dollars, the $600 Recon Jet is for you.

TOTW: Smarty Ring, Bringing Technology To More Unnecessary Things

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With all the recent talk about Google Glass, and the releasing of Galaxy Gear and Pebble, it was inevitable that someone would eventually say “What if we put all the useful things from your phone on a ring to!”  Sure, a ring is something small and not noticeable, but really, taking out your phone doesn’t take that long. Still, it’s not like it wouldn’t be helpful. So now that everyone is putting technology on every wearable item there is, the creators of Smarty Ring jumped right ahead and made a, you guessed it, smart ring.

Ok, so maybe watches, especially smart watches, are not for everyone. The Smarty Ring is a good alternative, unless of course you don’t like rings either. Then you would go for the more expensive Google Glass, but for the sake of this article, lets just say you do. The Smarty Ring, based off of their Indiegogo campaign and conceptual designs, is a stainless steel ring, with a curved screen on one side and some media (play, pause, ect.) controls on the side. It’s very sleek, and a cool ring by itself even if it just showed the time, but lets see what how useful it is with the other functions added in to.

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The Conceptual Smarty Rings

Smarty Ring can handle anything a normal smart accessory would. Of course, it can show the time, but it also has a stopwatch (or stopring), a timer and an alarm. It notifies you when you have a email, text, call (which you can pick up on your phone as usual), or updates from Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Google Hangouts. Smarty Ring claims that it could reduce the times you check your phone a day by 60%, but when it notifies you that you have a call or a text, you just take out your phone and answer. They say that it stops you from digging around to find your phone just to have no notifications, and I admit, that has happened, but maybe 60% is a bit much.

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The Conceptual Smarty Ring Charger

And that’s pretty much it. You can control music and other media on your phone through the Bluetooth controls, but if you take away the phone it’s connected to it’s just a fancy watch ring. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be helpful, but unless you spend every second of your free time checking Facebook or Twitter, the Smarty Ring isn’t really necessary. Though it pretty cool.

TOTW: Samsung’s First Wearable, Galaxy Gear

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Wearable tech is the latest fad in the tech industry. The 2 biggest product types that have been thought of, prototyped, and in Samsung’s case, released, are smart glasses and smart watches. Of course, you have probably (hopefully, or you are not worthy of this information) heard of Google Glasses, Google’s very publicized smart Glasses, supposedly coming out in the spring 2014 Apple conference. As far as the smartwatch group, nothing has really happened except iWatch concepts and Apple keeping to themselves like they do. Until now. Samsung has released their out of the blue smartwatch, Galaxy Gear, at their recent event.

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The Galaxy Gear Hardware

 

For starters, the Galaxy Gear, like other Samsung devices, is semi-ugly. People really only wear watches for style nowadays. They use their smartphones for checking the time, which is more convenient, considering they are probably on it at the time. So if you wanted to change that, you would make a snazzy looking watch that has the capabilities of GG. What Samsung came up with is not that bad looking, but again, like most Samsung devices, they messed up on some crucial points of the hardware. For instance, on the right side of the elastic-rubbery band, there is this giant volcano-camera. I mean, having a camera is very good for such a small and new device, but couldn’t they make it more subtle? Also, I don’t know what they were thinking when they added the four visible screws on the steel edges. Other than those semi-big design flaws, the Galaxy Gear isn’t half bad, with a good screen and slick clasp/speaker. Really, design is Apples thing, so lets give Samsung a break.

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Different Colored Systems

As for the software, it’s pretty good. For a watch. It is the classic swipe menu system, a lot like what Google Glasses are using. There is a lot of options, including Notifications, Voice Memos, Photos, and more. Of course, developers are working to make their own apps for the GG that they can add on through their other Samsung device. One of the more special features is the Pedometer, even though it is on most kind of smart watches, and S Voice. S Voice is basically Samsung’s version of Siri. You can tell it to make phone calls, text messages, and probably later on, Tweet or post to Facebook. Unfortunately, when you swipe, the reaction time is not on the dot like on phones. Still, it shows a lot of promise for later year to build off of. Plus, hopefully by then they have hired someone who knows a little bit about design. If you are interested, or is that kind of person who need everything to be the latest thing possible. It will be coming out in October, for a price of $300.

TechSpot: Google Glasses

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Just as they have been planning, Google finally introduced their augmented reallity glasses, Google Glasses.

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Google Glasses have many features, including a camera, speaker and mini screen that is placed in front of your right eye. The camera is used more for social purposes. You can quickly take a picture, and upload it to google+(not that anybody uses it). The speaker, which is hanging down in front of your ear, is used as a Siri type app to tell the glasses what to do. The glasses also double as a phone and a FaceTime monitor, which will eliminate holding your phone up to your ear. If you want directions, don’t take out your iPhone, Google Glasses have it. You just tell it where you want to go, and it gives you walking or driving directions. The directions show up on your screen, but it also says it in your ear. You can even get direction around a store, in case you can’t find your way around.

Here is a video that shows what it is like wearing Google Glasses on a regular day.

When Google had their I/O, not everyone could go. Only developers could go, and they could even BUY it for $1,500 before it comes out for the public in late 2013 early 2014. Google Glasses are also developer friendly, so they can make more apps, or even design mini add-ons.

Even though Google Glasses are very unique, they are DEFINITELY not the ultimate augmented reality glasses. Ultimate augmented reality glasses will completely erase the IPhone, having even better apps and utilities. Gaming in augmented reality glasses (something Google Glasses doesn’t have) will be the total experience. You would actually be seeing yourself race in a car alongside Mario, pulling back the slingshot in Angry Birds and slicing the rope in Cut The Rope.

There still might be some problems with Google Glasses. For instance, if the Siri app stops working, you can’t tell it to do anything. Plus, there is no manual way to type anything in. Still, it is very cool and I want one ( I don’t know about you).

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