Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Traveling with Google Glass. By Carolyn Nave

A traveler boards an airplane to Paris - Charles de Gaulle for the weekend. His bags are packed, his mobile devices are charged and ready for use, and he knows that his train to Amsterdam is on time thanks to an app that sends him push notifications. Mobile technologies, particularly those with cellular data connectivity, have tremendous potential for all sorts of people, but travelers in particular know the importance of having vast stores of information at their fingertips at any given moment. Where would we be without Google, without turn-by-turn directions, multi-platform sync calendars, even mobile access to e-mail?

Meanwhile, the American traveler in Paris is lost. Reaching into his briefcase, he pulls out what look like glasses without lenses, hooks them over his ears and sets them on the bridge of his nose. Google Glass is another sort of mobile device with a screen only a few centimeters in size that sits in the corner of his field of view. Although it is so new that there are relatively few applications available for it, he could connect it to WiFi and do a Google search just by speaking.

“Okay, Glass. Google: Paris Gare de l’Est.”

Other Glass applications that might be useful for travelers include e-mail, turn-by-turn directions and a real-time translating application. The catch with many of these applications in particular is that they require that the Glass be connected to WiFi, which if secured, requires using an app for Android or iOS to generate a QR code readable by Glass’s camera with the password encrypted. Turn-by-turn directions requires a bluetooth connection to an Android or iOS phone which in turn must have some sort of data connectivity (be it WiFi or cellular).

So far, the Achilles heel of using Glass while traveling appears to be internet connectivity. When there isn’t WiFi within range, its potential is limited. In our traveler’s home country, perhaps he could have used his cellular data plan to generate a WiFi hotspot, but crossing the border into another country tends to jack up data pricing to extraordinary costs. Luckily, functions like photography, video and even the augmented reality translation application do not require any connection. Sharing media, however, must be done while connected to WiFi.

Battery life is also a concern. Glass, when in use, only lasts a few hours. Of course, this depends on how often it is used and for what, but a smaller battery is one of the trade-offs for a light, reasonably slim frame. At present, Glass is only available to those individuals living in the United States who have access to an invitation, which are at this point still limited in number. At the cost of a high-end laptop, it’s no wonder there are so few people who have taken the plunge.

The bottom line is that, while there are a few really cool features that Glass offers, unless you happen to have hotspot capability in your cellular data plan and little or no concern about cost or restrictions, the usefulness of your Glass will be limited to those times that you have access to free WiFi. Applications are being developed for Glass at a rapid pace, so expect new functionality within the coming months. When it is available to the public, Glass will be available with more storage, a smaller price tag, and potentially even cellular data connectivity with national carriers.

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