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David Shellabarger wakes up his Google Glass by tapping on its side.From a thin semicircle clasped around his forehead hangs a curved prism that projects menus and images on a tiny screen that seem to float just above the wearer's right eye. The wearer can take still or video images using voice commands or a button on the frame. It connects wirelessly to the user's phone for web browsing. Glass transmits sound using a little panel that rests against the user's temple and sends vibrations through the bones of the head.
Shellabarger is a freelance app developer for the Android platform. He is one of 10,000 people in the U.S.—and three people he knows of in Chattanooga—who paid $1,500 for the Google Glass's post-beta, pre-launch Explorer edition.
It's not sold commercially yet, and he says the smart money is on a 2014 introduction. The capabilities of this early version are limited, but that's OK for extreme early adopters like him.
"I can only justify buying the thing because I'm a developer, to be honest," he says. "It doesn't actually provide $1,500 of value to anyone."
He plays a video to show me what bystanders will see when someone wearing a Glass is recording. He sees a full-color screen that looks about the size of a smart phone display, but translucent with the real world showing through. I see what he sees, only backwards, looking through the back of his clear plastic screen, and to me it's about a quarter-inch square.
He says it's Richard Branson, but all I can see is movement. I'm not sure I can see enough detail to know if he were violating community standards by watching a porn movie in public. I sure couldn't tell the difference between watching "Sharknado" or "Holy Motors."
He lets me test Glass out for myself, and the basic capabilities, though not worth the current price tag, are pretty cool.
The floating screen, up there where there's usually not much going on, sort of makes me want to duck my chin to bring the screen down closer to eye level.
I can scroll through menu options by brushing the side of the frame like you do to a laptop's track pad. Glass responds to voice commands, even when I think I'm only conversing. After I say "take a picture" and Glass does, I'm thinking out loud about the interface and start saying to Shellabarger, "So when I say 'take a picture' it gives me..."
"You just took a picture," he interrupts. "You say 'take a picture' and away it goes. It's super fast."
He thinks it's tough to predict how big Glass will take off without knowing what apps will eventually be developed for it.
Privacy concerns have already led Google to ban facial recognition software, but Shellabarger thinks a more interesting app for Glass—which he's interested in building —could be object recognition, programs that identify that wedge on your plate as a slice of pizza and estimate calories. Or "find my car" apps, which are already available for smart phones, but could be so much more convenient if all you had to do was tell your Glass to remember where your car is.
If the price is $200, he thinks you'll see Glass everywhere you go within two years. At $400, he sees low acceptance, partly because Glass doesn't really replace any devices, like smart phones and tablets can. No matter what it can do, Glass remains an accessory to a smart phone.
But it does some things better. He uses it for hands-free email checking while he's walking his dog. And Glass was his primary camera during a vacation in Italy.
"I take a lot more pictures," he says. "I have video of my dog running up at me and jumping into my lap. You can't get a picture of that with your phone."
OK, I'm going out on a limb to predict a new category of Glass-enabled cat videos on the web. You heard it here first.
"Sometimes you get mobbed when you're wearing them," he says, showing me the nonprescription lenses that attach to the Glass. "Putting in these shades reduces that because it looks more like normal sunglasses. A couple weeks ago, I went to the library to get something 3D printed and totally got mobbed."
The dark lenses attach to the Glass frame with a little plastic piece that twists into place between the vertical struts that hold the nose pads.
"I want to 3D print this little plastic piece and put a magnet in it, decouple this from the Glass and put a separate magnet on the Glass, so I can just snap the shades on," he says. "Right now you have to take the Glass off to attach the shades."
And that will be the killer app for me: when one of Chattanooga's Google Glass testers tricks out his unit with a part that's 3D printed on The Public Library's Fourth Floor.