Last Jan. 20, I spotted a guy on the New York City subway wearing what looked like Google Glass, which at the time was a mysterious new augmented-reality gadget that looked like a pair of glasses and supposedly put hands-free smartphone tech literally in front of your eyes.
Being a typical New Yorker, I barely took notice and continued reading on my iPad.
A couple of hours later, via Twitter and Facebook, I discovered that the man I saw was Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and I had indeed caught an early glimpse of Google Glass, the hottest fashion-tech accessory.
Rumor has it that by the 2013 holiday season, Google will be selling their eyewear-smartphone extension in retail stores. At the moment, however, Google is permitting only a limited number of consumers to purchase their buzzy new item, for a cool $1,500. (Want a shot at them? Tweet your reason using the hashtag #ifIhadglass before Feb. 27. It hasn’t been announced when the winners will be picked.)
Google Glass (note, not glasses) looks like a fairly normal pair of eyewear. But that’s where the similarity ends. The frames are connected by Bluetooth to an iPhone or Android phone and enables wearers to activate technology with eye and hand motions that lets them read a text message, snap a photo or get directions right in front of their eyes, all while walking down the street or sitting in a café (though Glass works only where smartphones would).
It can translate what a person is saying into a number of languages, share what she sees with her friends, and use voice commands to look up information, like the elevation of Mt. Fuji or Aunt Sophie’s birthday. (How Google Glass will work with prescription lenses isn’t something I have seen addressed yet.)
While the idea of being able to do this stuff without pulling out a handheld device is kind of appealing, I, for one, won’t be tweeting Mr. Brin for a chance to wear his specs. Nor, apparently, will Levar Burton, who played the blind, visor-wearing Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Last week he tweeted, “#ifIhadglass it would be a downgrade.”
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Fine Line Between Cutting-Edge and Ridiculous
As a tech-minded person and writer, I see new products all the time. Sometimes they’re exciting, but more often than not I find them borderline ridiculous. But don’t take my word for it. Decide for yourself what you think about this sampling of new gizmos that I came across at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas last January.
- GameCube Exergaming is hot, especially for 50-plussers who want to Zumba in the privacy of their living rooms. But with all its harness and pulleys, GameCube looks like something the Marquis de Sade would have designed if he were alive today.
- The iPotty The premise: Bribe the kid to go on the potty with iPad time instead of candy. I doubted anyone would get on board with this — until a young friend hoping to send her toddler to a preschool that accepts only toilet-trained kids told me this is her last resort.
- Jeans with built-in keyboard, mouse and speakers Who. Would. Want. These? They've got to be horrible for every joint in a boomer’s hips, neck, back, arms and hands. (Plus they'd make us look fat.) Right now there’s only one prototype pair. Let’s hope it stays that way.
- The HAPIfork It beeps and vibrates if you're eating too fast. Yeah, that would make me real happy. Waiter, another glass of wine, please.
- Ultra HD 4K TV These 84-inch displays boast a resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels. That would be awesome — except that even with 20/20 vision, the human eye can't discern the difference. And for the price (about $12,000), you could buy a 2013 Nissan Versa.
- Bluetooth Toothbrush This latest in dental technology tells you how long and often you've been brushing and will share the info with your dentist. The gizmo will set you back $50, and replaceable heads are $3 (though the smartphone app is free). Aside from the name's cute wordplay, I see absolutely zero value in this.
- The Steady Snake I do love the idea of a hands-free contraption that securely props up my iPad on my lap or a desk. But I can't think of anyone who relishes the thought of a snake coiled around her neck.
- High-tech vibrators — excuse me, “sexual health devices” I have never seen so many sex toys, except for the time I accidentally wandered into the Pleasure Chest. At last January's Consumer Electronics Show, Trojan (yes, that Trojan) gave away more than 9,000 of these devices. At least one company, Standard Innovation, is hyping its WeVibe product to baby boomers. Memo to the twentysomething design/marketing team: We've been getting by just fine on our own.
I have no idea if any of these things will ever catch on. But I can tell you one gadget that would: something to automatically upload what I type into my fingers so I don’t have to worry about transferring my words from one device to another. I even have a name for it: the opposable-thumb drive.