Google Glass to gain local apps, but not cellular connection

Google Glass will eventually gain the ability to run local apps from the device itself, Glass creator Babak Parviz told a conference audience on Monday.

Parviz, speaking at the Hot Chips conference at Stanford University, charted the evolution of Glass as packing more computer power into progressively small former factors, from mainframes to PCs to smartphones, and on to wearables.

Google has a “few thousand” of Glass devices available in the wild, through its Explorer program, Parviz said. The glasses use either a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection to pull in data, which is projected onto the surface of the clear plastic of the Glass lens. So far, Google Glass wearers can record video, take pictures, launch Hangouts, navigate, and search for information. However, Google continues to add new features to Glass via periodic updates; some recent additions include the ability to view YouTube videos, pausing playback while orienting a “cursor” over the appropriate button.

Third-party apps for Glass are also beginning to take shape, with The New York Times, among others, rolling out services for what Google hopes is a new platform, Parviz said. “We still have a lot of data centers, a lot of computers, a lot of smartphones, and a lot of notebooks,” he said. “So even though these new platforms appear, the previous platforms don’t totally disappear.”

For now, however, those services run in the cloud. In fact, everything runs in the cloud, Parviz said. “In the next generation of the platform, we may allow people to run things from here,” he said, gesturing to the Glass itself.

The problem, of course, is that adding anything to the Glass device—whether it be more storage, a faster processor, or other capabilities, may have implications on the device itself. The majority of power consumed by smartphones is due to both the display and the cellular radio; while Parviz did not explicitly connect the two, Glass lacks a cellular radio, and “there is no plan to put a cellular radio immediately in Glass right now,” Parviz said. The assumption, of course, is that doing so would pare down the Glass battery life.

A version of Glass for prescription lenses is also on the way, as Google executives have said before, “In the next few months we’ll integrate it into glasses,” Parviz said.

But don’t expect it to go much farther than that. Parviz said that his work at the University of Washington involved trying to project images onto the curved surface of a contact lens—a project that proved incredibly difficult for even a single pixel.

Numerous audience members asked Parviz about the societal elements of Glass, from its impact on security to just wondering whether they could avoid being recorded by Glass. Parviz slid by the question, noting that in the late 1880s the rise of portable cameras prompted concerns that anyone would take a picture of another person in a public place, something that is legal under U.S. law. “The user will have to have some judgement,” he said.

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