Google Glass is a new technology that could revolutionize several industries. It looks like an ordinary pair of glasses. But it’s really a video headset that allows you to record and broadcast what you see, as you see it. Even though it has many other features, the fact that you can now become your own broadcast station has much appeal for users and has some industry experts nervous. Google Glass is a disrupter, there is no doubt, but what industry is it disrupting? And what are the long-term effects it could have — both positive and negative?
Google Glass is a personal display that houses a lot of the information you currently get from your smartphone. You can ask it (it’s voice activated) to search the Web for you, get directions, either walking or driving, and see the map in front of you, send a text message, translate your voice, get airline information and much more. A lot of the technology pivots around search, as does a lot of Google, meaning you can ask the glasses to find you stuff and it dutifully finds it and displays it right in front of your eyes.
We’ve become a head-down civilization, walking around slurping up info from a digital device. Walk down any sidewalk in any major city and you’ll see a majority getting info from their smartphone while trying to maneuver a straight line. Many feel like it’s the ultimate distraction, but the truth is we’ve never had more access to this much information, and have been connected in as wide a way to the people we care about. Not to mention our social circles have exploded exponentially.
Where does it all end? Or rather, when does it all begin? Part of social media allows everyone to broadcast, for better or for worse, just about anything. Google’s YouTube and Vimeo has become places where anyone can become a broadcaster. Vimeo has positioned itself as the upper realm of creative media artist broadcasting, and indeed, some of the best videos you will see can be explored tooling around Vimeo’s many channels. YouTube is pretty much for, well, everyone else. YouTube in the past year has debuted live streaming, and along with Google+’s live Hangouts and old standbys such as Ustream.tv, it’s easier than ever for anyone to become a broadcaster.
Google Glass takes it to the next level. Now with the very minimum of equipment, a pair of glasses, you can record a video as well as stream it live to others. Content producers have always had to keep a paywall in front of a production, especially something that is being broadcast live. Pay per view, on set-top boxes and on mobile-TV devices, require a transaction to access premium content. But could someone be sitting in a top-tier Vegas boxing match with Google Glasses and broadcast the action live to a TV? What about opening night of a hard-to-get-into Broadway play? What about the new Star Wars movie (coming in a few short years), or any new movie? Can that be broadcast elsewhere or recorded? And how will the bathroom breaks be handled?
Content producers in broadcast are asking a lot of these questions. Remember when you went to a concert and you could not bring in a camera or camcorder? Often you would have it confiscated and left at the front desk. Now, remember when your phone suddenly became your photo and video device? That is about the time when event promoters gave up. The genie was out of the bottle and now when you see a major live event, even one that could cost $100 to get into to, a sea of people are holding up a sea of glowing white recording devices.
Mobile TV for years in the U.S has been struggling to capture the same magic we have experienced sitting in our living room. Dyle is a branding initiative developed by a consortium of broadcasters and providers to help gain acceptance of live programming on mobile devices. Currently there are more than 120 stations in the United States broadcasting and using the ATSC DTV standard, many of them major markets, and the Dyle branding is geared toward letting consumers know that the device they are purchasing can accept live TV transmissions. The problem is acceptance. When a global newsworthy event transpires, such as the election of a new Pope, people still gravitate toward a standard television, rather than pull up live TV on their mobile device. It’s worth noting that this challenge is more prevalent in the United States, where true mobile television watching has yet to truly take off. Most of what we consume is on demand and streaming. Granted a lot of content, but not as much live broadcast.
Now Google Glass could be the paradigm shift that is needed for mobile TV. Not only is it convenient to watch live TV without pulling out a separate device, but now anyone can record and broadcast a live event to dozens, hundreds or millions. Althougth the technology may seem futuristic, the glasses still tie into your smart device, such as an Apple iPhone or a Google- or Samsung-branded Android phone. Supporting the major hardware developers and transferring info back and forth, leverages the glasses into an accessory for your mobile device, as opposed to a replacement.
Smartphones tie into fast 4G LTE networks, and transmitting that pipe from the phone to the glasses and back again makes perfect sense. A few years ago, standard 3G networks would have make HD transmission impossible to conceive of. But these days many people’s phones have faster broadband than they have at home. Now with this new technology you can say “take picture” to snap an image, say “record” to start an HD recording and then tell the glasses you want to stream it live. Watching live television could also become part of the equation, and I am sure Dyle would love to have its logo as part of this new Google product down the line.
The most amazing part of Google Glasses is that it will be shipping, this year. This is not a beta, or a proof of concept, but an actual product that is heading to market. Privacy groups have already started reacting, no one seems to be sure in what ways Google Glasses will impact people’s privacy, both in public and inside of venues. Content producers and creative broadcast producers are also questioning the legality of “televising” copyrighted content.
The actual hardware is pretty easy to spot. It will be abundantly clear when someone approaches you with Google Glasses, the first generation does look a little Star Trek-like. However future incarnations will no doubt look like regular glasses. While the ability to speak to your glasses in public (ok, this could get weird too) and gain a lot of the Google information stream is certainly a huge bonus, the real impact will be a personal broadcast studio sitting right on your head. Transparency and privacy issues aside, a mobile TV recorder and broadcaster that runs in HD via voice almost sounds too good to be true.
But it does seem to be very true indeed. And, while there is little doubt that the surge of smartphones and smart devices has rocked the technology and information world for all of us in the past half a decade or so, the newest incarnation of mobile television coming out later this year could make everything preceding it simply pale in comparison.
Google Glass is coming. We just have to figure out if we’re ready for it.