Google wants developers to take a leap with Project Glass

Sergey Brin’s extreme sports demonstration of Project Glass at Google I/O(s goog) will likely go down in history as one of the most daring tech conference stunts of all time: The Google co-founder stormed on stage Wednesday, interrupting the regular keynote to show off Google’s wearable computing project by joining a live Hangout session with a bunch of skydivers, who proceeded to jump out of a plane.
Their descent was streamed in real time and culminated in them landing on the roof of the Moscone center, where they handed off a package to some mountain bikers, only to have it handed to guys climbing down the face of the building. Words don’t really do it justice, so you might want to check the video out yourself. However, the big show couldn’t really conceal that Google had little news to offer about the actual glasses.
Check out the Project Glass demo from Google I/O:
Google did start taking pre-orders on site, offering developers in attendance of the conference a chance to put their name down on a priority list for the device. But even those pre-orders won’t likely ship till early next year. Brin said that the version they’re going to make available to developers will be rough around the edges, but that the company is trying to get it into the hands of developers as early as possible. Developers that are willing to pay a premium, one should add: The first version of Glass, called “Explorer Edition”, will cost a whopping $1500. There’s no word on how much glass will set back the average consumer when it becomes more widely available, or when this will happen.
But the biggest omission during Wednesday’s Glass presentation was any peek at the current Glass UI, or any of the features it will offer end users, save for one or two: Glass will be able to record photos and video, and users will be able to share these via Google+ and also join Google+ Hangouts.
That’s remarkably less than what the company shared when it first publicly unveiled Glass in April. Back then, Google released a conceptual video that was meant to show off some of the ideas behind Glass. The video featured an augmented reality experience, letting the wearer of Glass know about interesting spaces he was visiting, notifying him of the location of his friends and allowing him to answer phone calls without distracting too much from the real world.
But ever since this first glimpse, Google has only been showing off the device’s photo and video capture capability. Brin joked on stage Wednesday that it would be hard to show off the Glass UI because it might require him to wear two glasses at the same time. Of course, the Glass experience is far from ready – and that goes far beyond the UI.
Even with as little as Google has shared so far about the project, it’s becoming obvious that Glass will offer a completely different computing experience. It’s taking computing away from the screen, and into the real world. That poses numerous challenges, as it requires Google to completely rethink the way it has been presenting information. Its new Google Now mobile search takes a first step into this direction, away from making information searchable, to more instinctively surfacing things you want to know in any given situation. Of course, there are also privacy and basic safety implications – things Google apparently wants to work out before giving us a closer look at Glass.
It makes perfect sense for the company to involve developers in this process – but it’s less certain what developers who commit to pre-order are getting out of it. Will they be able to run their own apps on Glass? Will Glass work in concert with other Android devices? Will it lead to the birth of a new generation of online services that combine location with image recognition and other types of sensory input? We just don’t know yet, and Google won’t tell.
But judging from the lines at the pre-order table, this doesn’t seem to stop developers. We’ve heard that people pre-ordering the device now won’t have to pay until it actually ships next year – but nonetheless, Google is asking developers to take a leap of faith for Project Glass. Maybe the whole jumping out of the airplane was more than just a stunt, after all.