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Quick Thoughts on Google Glass

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terence_glass2lockup

Well, I’ve had Google Glass for all of 30 minutes – so I thought I’d give you my first impressions. No, I haven’t read the manual.

The first thing to note is that it is really well packaged. Everything from the USB cable to the bundled sunglasses are held together beautifully.

As someone who doesn’t wear glasses, I found them fairly light and not too intrusive. The screen sits slightly above my line of site but – even when it’s off – it is a distraction. It has a tendency to display light refracted from screens and lightbulbs. I almost wish it was larger so the edges were less noticeable.

When the screen is displaying white text on a transparent background, there is a noticeable “rainbow effect”. As my eye darts around, there are little spectrum trails ghosting behind the text. I’ve previously experienced this on cheap DLP projectors – I’ve no idea why it’s present on the Glass.

Compared to something like the Oculus Rift, the screen is great. There’s no noticeable “screen door” effect (where you can see the gap between the pixels). That said, it’s quite hard to get the focus of the screen perfect – either one side of the other seems permanently…. it’s hard to describe… smeary?

The interface is a mixture of simple and maddening. Swiping forward moves you right – which just feel wrong to me. I get that it’s moving right through a stack of cards – but it feels like it should be moving me right. Hard to describe – but certainly something which should be user customisable.

terence_glass

Everything is heavily tied into Google’s ecosystem. I get that – but it’s annoying to find yet another product which forces the beleaguered Google+ upon users. For example it seems to be impossible to share stuff with contacts unless they’re on G+.
I’ve got hundreds of contacts in my phone – which is paired via Bluetooth – yet Glass will only send to the half-dozen people who use G+. There just didn’t seem to be any obvious way to send a picture to a work contact.

This also causes a problem with Caller ID. My mother called me and all Glass displayed was her number! My Android phone (in my pocket) was displaying her name and photo – and it was paired via BlueTooth – but nothing like that came up on glass.

Call quality was mixed. In an absolutely silent environment, the bone conduction technology works really well with voice calls. As soon as there’s a bit of background noise, the quality drops and I had to stick a finger in my ear (literally!) in order to hear anything. Callers weren’t overly impressed with the microphone quality from my end.

The various beeps and boops of the operating system work very well – even in a loud environment. I guess the pure tones work better than a human voice.

Finally, the voice interface. There’s no doubt about it – you look like a muppet when you suddenly blurt out “OK Glass …. …. OK Glass …. Read aloud …. Read aloud…. cancel.”

Voice interfaces haven’t become socially acceptable yet. They’re loud, crass, and rarely work first time. It’s well supplemented by the wink gesture (takes a photo after a 3 second delay – which is just long enough to be irritatingly slow) and swiping at the arm. Tipping one’s head to wake the unit looks like you’re having a minor tic.

Overall, is this the future? Yeah, probably. But it’s easy to see why these aren’t on sale to the general public yet. The cost’ll come down with mass production – but the user interface is far too alien. The mixture of swipes, dodgy vocal recognition, winking, violently swinging your head, and then sticking your finger in your ear make you look like an idiot. Mind you, I’m sure that people looked weird when the first walkman came out!

The real problem with Glass (after a few hours of playing with it) is that it is intentional crippled by Google. Everything goes via the moribund Google+. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get it to integrate with your phone’s contacts – or send videos and images to non-Google services.

Google have taken a brave step by releasing this as a technology preview to the wider community. It shows their strengths and the technology’s extreme weaknesses.

O2 Matchday wins ‘Best Use of Technology by a Sponsor’ award

Last week we received some fantastic news related to the O2 Matchday app, developed and supported by The Lab in conjunction with our friends in the O2 Brand team and VCCP.

The app won the top award for the ‘Best Use of Technology by a Sponsor‘ at the inaugural Telegraph ‘Sports Technology Awards‘. We were in the same category as some significant names so it’s a big achievement and a great reward for a lot of hard work and dedication by everyone involved.

SportsTechnologyAwardTrophyWe are now owners of an impressively heavy trophy that will sit proudly in The Lab office.

Just How Bright Are Our Neighbours?

Whilst The Lab spends most of it’s time here in Slough, we occasionally work from Telefonica’s office just behind the world famous Piccadilly Circus. Last year we noticed that the iconic screens had all been upgraded to new LED displays, which from the ground look fantastic.

But during a recent night flight back into Heathrow, we couldn’t help notice just how bright they are from 10,000ft, so we snapped this photo.

Piccadilly Circus from above

While the photo isn’t to clear, even from the plane you can easily make out the advertisements with the human eye which is pretty impressive.

Control Chromecast from your SmartWatch

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We recently held one of our regular hackdays in The Lab. James and me teamed up to do something Android related.

After the recent release of the Android Wear SDK and the general buzz around smart wearables this year, we decided to play around with it and build a remote control app to control Google’s Chromecast.

1. Setting up the environment

In order to access the Android Wear emulator, first you need to register yourself. Then wait for about half a day to get an email from Google approving your application. You will then be sent a link to the Android Wear Preview app which you could install on your device.

Up to this point everything seemed to be quite easy, but we were not able to install the app on our Nexus 7 (there seemed to be a bug with the application manifest). Fortunately, I knew someone in another team, who kindly loaned us a Nexus 5.

We then followed the rest of the instructions and managed to pair up the emulator and the device.

Next was the turn of Chromecast. Setting it up was very easy and straightforward. We just had to follow several easy steps on our TV.

2. Playing with samples

We started playing with the sample app provided for Android Wear.It did not take long to understand how it worked, since it was all based on creating notifications. At least this was the case at the time that we did the hack day.

It was a different story on Chromecast. We started with samples provides in CastVideos-android  . When I followed the instructions on the  Chromecast Developers website I was led to believe that I had to register in order to test a new app on Chromecast, so I paid $5 fee to register our new application; However, after I paid the fee I read the following line on their website:

“Note: A third type of receiver app, the Default Media Receiver, does not require you to register in the Google Cast SDK Developer Console. It uses an API constant as the app ID and does not allow you to provide any styling to the media player UI.”

Arrghhhhhhh!!!!!

After calming myself down :) , I tried to use the app ID that I received after I registered our new app but I was not able to connect to the Chromecast with that app ID; however, when I tried with the default app ID it worked right away. 

3. Getting our hands dirty

We added play and volume control functions to the application as well.After playing with the sample apps, we created our own application and integrated the bits necessary for both Chromecast and Android Wear to work alongside each other. It was not long before we had our first interaction with Chromecast through the Android Wear Emulator. We were able to pause a video from the emulator…Yay!!!

Here are the screenshots of how the app looks on the emulator.

Android Wear Preview 1 Android Wear Preview 2 Android Wear Preview 3 Android Wear Preview 4

4. Lets add Sony SmartWatch Support too

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As I had a little experience with developing for the Sony SmartWatch before, I was able to add the framework quickly to the application.

James then set to work on the UI. He used standard button images but had to take the small screen size into consideration. For this hack he just included up and down buttons for volume control and a play/pause button. The SmartWatch only has a resolution of 220 x 176 pixels so it’s difficult t fit too many features on it without causing too much disruption to the UX. One thing to note here is that the SmartWatch isn’t very touch sensitive near the edges so it’s best to place the buttons as centrally as possible.

James Controlling Chrome cast

What is Next?

As this was a hack day project we didn’t really have enough time to build out anymore features other than the ones mentioned although we would like to develop further with both the Android Wear SDK and the Sony SmartWatch Add-on SDK. During our demo we were only able to control a sample video which we had linked to the app. What we would like to do next however is develop the features to enable the watch to control YouTube videos or your favourite TV shows and films on Netflix. 

Credits

Team members: James Callender, Hooman Ostovari