"I think the consumer is going to be driving this train for quite a long time."
-- Casey Rae, deputy director, Future of Music Coalition
In 2003, the iTunes Music Store established an environment for downloadable music at exactly the time when consumers needed a safe and stable online music store. iTunes sold a million songs in the first week, 10 million in five months and 25 million songs after eight months.
But the consumer demands of one era do not necessarily hold sway in a different cycle. iTunes is facing powerful competition from Amazon, Google and Microsoft in the pay-per-download business. Meanwhile, streaming platforms like Spotify, Rdio and YouTube are establishing a widespread attitude that music is free, and that downloading from a store isn't as compelling as accessing a service. Apple is still making plenty of sales in the music store (15,000 downloads per minute), but users are also flocking in different directions.
With the state of music industry still in flux, 2013 could be as pivotal as 2003, and the next 10 years could be as eventful as the last 10.
In the five years before iTunes opened, it was widely assumed that consumers were driven to Napster by greed for free music. The wounded war cry of the major labels that had lost control of their product was, "We can't compete with free!"
Everyone loves a free buffet. But freeloading is not necessarily the most obvious conclusion when it comes to file-sharing. This was especially true 15 years ago when Napster offered a new kind of music experience that many users would have been glad to pay for. P2P wasn't just a watering hole for broke college students; there was strong appeal for older demographics that had money for music and a history of buying it.
For many users, the most galvanizing appeal of Napster was not free music, but freed music.
For many users, the most galvanizing appeal of Napster was not free music, but freed music. Freed music is liberated from artificial lock-ups. The two chief lock-ups of the Napster years were back catalogs of out-of-print recordings, and individual tracks of CD albums. As Napster became widely used, its tremendous user-supplied inventory of songs, spanning decades, became normal and expected. Labels didn't accept the new normal quickly. They failed to adjust the packaging and availability of their recordings, and their resistance drove millions of users to clandestine P2P sites.
When locked-up music prevents people from finding what they want to buy, they find another way to get it. I saw this effect played out when I attended a high school reunion during Napster's heyday. The classmate in charge of music brought a long MP3 playlist of period songs scoured from Napster. Other options, like amassing a hundred songs from original vinyl borrowed from friends, or buying CD retrospectives filled with bad tracks, were not feasible. It was as if the industry was intentionally blocking payment for a specialized music collection. Today, of course, building a legal reunion playlist from any era would cost a few bucks for a subscription service, and could be brought to the event in a carry-on bag holding a smartphone and portable speakers.
What People Will Pay For
"You don't have many excuses anymore," Casey Rae, deputy director of the Future of Music Coalition told me. "For 10 dollars a month, you can have access to all the recorded music in the world, on the go, stored in a cache on your phone and synchronized. It's pretty amazing. That's a powerful consumer-focused music marketplace."
Rae's observation speaks to consumer expectations of sound tracking one's life at an extremely low cost. In addition to cheap music, people want tremendous variety (the long tail of unlocked music). Between the listening platforms and musician hangouts like SoundCloud, there is a consumer presumption that the entire library of recorded music should be accessible.
Customization is important to users who are deep into creating playlists. Not everyone is -- Pandora is popular because it effectively curates playlists for you. Spotify, by contrast, is an uncurated catalog of music through which the user is free to prowl, building lists and sharing them. In Spotify and Rdio, listening to music has become entwined with social sharing and lifecasting. Playing a song, for example, can trigger an automatic tweet. Another aspect of social streaming -- shared playlists -- is an effective music-discovery feature.
Mobile music has been important to consumers since the Sony Walkman. Some digital services charge for mobile as a premium service. Michael Robertson, founder of MP3.com and current CEO of DAR.fm, criticized the industry's separation of mobile and desktop services: "One of the big hurdles has been the industry's view that mobile is different than desktop. Spotify, Rdio, Xbox Music -- these have most every song in the modern library. On the PC, it's free with ads, but when it comes to mobile, you've got to get out your credit card. That has stunted access."
If there was a digital music manifesto for consumers in 2013, it would be: everything, cheap, customizable, everywhere. A full realization of these priorities would be what Jim Griffin, a former executive at Geffen Records and Warner Music, called "the just-in-time delivery of customized digits." If music is a liquefied stream of bits, the user should be able to shape its stream in any way.
Some People Will Never Pay for Music
"I hate to say it, but iTunes is a very elegant tip jar."
That's Griffin, pointing out that even now, 10 years into the iTunes era, any connected consumer can enjoy a world of music without paying a cent.
If music is a liquefied stream of bits, the user should be able to shape its stream in any way.
"It has been voluntary to pay for a while now -- I don't mean legally or morally, but practically," Griffin said. "You make a choice when you decide to pay for a song. That's simply the way it is. That choice becomes more attractive every year, roughly twice as attractive at half the price every year. Moore's law drives this equation."
What stops people from paying for music (besides lack of cash)? I surveyed online forums and social media comments to find many shades of anti-payment sentiment, expressed in several common themes:
- Label hate: "I don't think that it's people not wanting to support the artist; I think it's more that people don't want to support the record companies anymore. They are killing good music and replacing it with crap."
- Musical class warfare: "If stealing their music keeps Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj from polluting my ears with their drivel, I'm all for it. Clearly Lady Gaga is living comfortably."
- Music isn't a job: "Play music for love, not for money grabbing." "If nobody wants to buy your song, you'll have to start WORKING!"
- Entertainment industries are bogus: "How very sick the 'intellectual property' fantasies are! People lived very nicely before this show-biz industry took their brain and money."
- Misunderstanding of copyright: "Downloading music from the internet is not stealing. Downloading music is equivalent to having someone let you borrow their CD and you making a copy of it."
- Music isn't important enough to buy: "Music is entertainment; that is all."
- Militant entitlement: "I will never, ever pay for music. Before music was free, I never once in my life bought a CD."
- Occupy the labels: "The music business is like the rest of society: the top 1 percent steals more from the majority than the 'criminals.' Piracy is not what is hurting the artists the most, nor has it ever been. The structure of the music industry is the real culprit."
- All musicians are rich: "I agree we should pay for music, but you should know that the thousand dollars it cost to record a song is nothing compared to the millions of dollars it earns with all the people buying it."
- File-sharing is good: "YouTube and torrents have helped people discover new genres and bands since the day they were invented. Without torrents, the spectrum of commercially viable music wouldn't be what it is today."
Streaming: the New iTunes?
When Apple launched the iTunes Music Store, subscription services were already in motion. I subscribed to Rhapsody when it started in 2001 (and still do). I expected the model to catch on quickly. Was I ever wrong.
Ten years later, I am belatedly right. Streaming services like Pandora, Spotify and Rdio have evolved beyond early music-subscription efforts like Rhapsody. Furthermore, YouTube is increasingly a music powerhouse, used for discovery and general listening. Everyone I spoke to for this series mentioned YouTube.
"YouTube has every song and 37 versions of it," Robertson said. "My kids don't do Spotify, Rdio or Rhapsody. They live on YouTube."
With all these wide-open listening platforms, the definition of music ownership seems to be changing. We are leaning toward a world in which access is the new ownership.
"Whether ownership is even necessary is a deep question," Griffin told me. "It's psychological. Music has always been psychological."
In my personal psychology, the question is whether a service feels like ownership. I have subscribed to Rhapsody for 12 years. Although outright song purchases are available on the platform, I rarely buy anything. But I feel like I own millions of tracks; I can listen to them anytime, anywhere. It's similar to cable TV, but a heck of a lot cheaper and much more customizable.
We are leaning toward a world in which access is the new ownership.
"There are a lot of reasons why subscriptions didn't take off," Matt Graves, a former Rhapsody exec, told me. "It was a new model. Broadband was not available. WiFi was not widely available. You could not put music on a portable device. There were no smartphones. Nobody had apps. Also, the amount of music that is available now, millions of songs [is compelling] ... when Rhapsody was acquired by Real [in 2003], we had 320,000 songs available."
For years, subscription services like Rhapsody were scorned as "music rental" by outspoken critics. They had a point. If your subscription lapsed, you lost access and the money you had spent on it. You didn't wholly own music through subscription streaming services, but it felt like you owned it. Even so, the "celestial jukebox" concept (on-demand streaming of a huge catalog) was a hard sell to the broad market.
Unhinging the subscription piece did the trick. Cash-free, ad-supported music listening was the on-ramp that introduced the pleasure and convenience of the celestial jukebox to millions of new users. It's a new market component for the supply side, too -- the labels and musicians. The flocking of consumers onto new listening platforms encourages music creators to distribute their music on those platforms and enjoy wider exposure.
That might seem to be a win-win situation, and in some ways it is. At the same time, the structure of the music industry has become corrugated in ways that create conundrums for musicians. Access to the market, and exposure to listeners, don't always equate to sustainable income.
"Ultimately, the consumers will get what they want," Robertson said. "They'll get any music they want, any time they want it, on any device."
The question is: Can musicians survive in this universe?
Part 3 of this series will be posted tomorrow. See Part 1 here.
NASA extends contract with Russia for ISS crew transportation, doesn’t see domestic flights until 2017
NASA Extends Crew Flight Contract With Russian Space Agency
WASHINGTON, April 30, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- NASA has signed a $424 million modification to its contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) for full crew transportation services to the International Space Station in 2016 with return and rescue services extending through June 2017.
NASA is facilitating development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the space station and low-Earth orbit beginning in 2017. This modification to the Roscosmos contract will ensure continued U.S. presence aboard the space station as NASA prepares for commercial crew providers to begin those transportation operations.
NASA is committed to launching U.S. astronauts aboard domestic spacecraft as soon as possible. Full funding of the administration's Fiscal Year 2014 budget request is critical to making these domestic capabilities possible by 2017.
This firm-fixed price modification covers comprehensive Soyuz support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing and rescue of six space station crew members on long-duration missions. It also includes additional launch site support, which was provided previously under a separate contract. The modification will allow for a lead time of about three years Roscosmos needs to build additional Soyuz vehicles. These services will provide transportation to and from the International Space Station for U.S., and Canadian, European or Japanese astronauts.
Comments about the contract from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden are available on the agency's administrator blog page at:
For more information about the International Space Station, visit:
For information about other NASA programs and missions, visit:
Netflix Original Series "Orange is the New Black" Premieres Thursday, July 11
Taylor Schilling Stars in Series Created by Jenji Kohan, Based on Piper Kerman's Best-Selling Memoir
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., April 30, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Netflix will premiere its upcoming original series "Orange is the New Black" on Thursday, July 11, 2013. Created by Jenji Kohan ("Weeds"), the comedic drama starring Taylor Schilling is set in a women's prison and is based on the U.S. best-selling memoir by Piper Kerman. All thirteen one-hour episodes in the series from Lionsgate Television will be available at launch.
Netflix members will have access to "Orange is the New Black" at 12:01 AM PDT in all territories where Netflix is available – U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Latin America, Brazil and the Nordics.
"With 'Orange is the New Black,' Jenji Kohan has created a dramatic yet deeply funny world populated with unforgettable characters and no-holds-barred humor set against the backdrop of a women's prison," said Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer for Netflix. "Jenji is one of the most fearless voices in television and we are proud to share her uncompromising vision with Netflix members."
"Orange is the New Black" follows engaged Brooklynite Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), whose decade-old relationship with drug-runner Alex (Laura Prepon) results in her arrest and year-long detention in a federal penitentiary. To pay her debt to society, Piper must trade her comfortable New York life with fiance Larry (Jason Biggs) for an orange prison jumpsuit and a baffling prison culture where she is forced to question everything she believes and form unexpected new alliances with a group of eccentric and outspoken inmates. The series' diverse ensemble also includes Kate Mulgrew, Natasha Lyonne, Pablo Schreiber, Danielle Brooks, Laverne Cox and Taryn Manning.
"Orange is the New Black" is executive produced by Kohan, who also wrote the first and final episodes of the season. The series is produced by Lionsgate Television for Netflix.
About Netflix, Inc.
Netflix is the world's leading Internet television network with more than 36 million members in 40 countries enjoying more than one billion hours of TV shows and movies per month, including original series. For one low monthly price, Netflix members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on nearly any Internet-connected screen. Members can play, pause and resume watching, all without commercials or commitments. Learn more about how Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) is pioneering Internet television at www.netflix.com or follow Netflix on Facebook and Twitter. Netflix's original series include the political drama "House of Cards," which stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright; "Hemlock Grove," Eli Roth's murder mystery series based on Brian McGreevy's gripping novel of the same name; the fourth season of the critically-acclaimed comedy "Arrested Development;" and the second season of "Lilyhammer," which stars Steven Van Zandt, and "Sense8" the upcoming global tale of minds linked and souls hunted from the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski.
Well, it looks like you can soon expect to see yet more information to the right of your Google search results. The company's announced today that it has begun integrating activity from certain apps into its results, with a number of music and movie services the first in line. Expectedly, the common denominator among them is that they all use Google+ as a sign-in option, which lets Mountain View pull together things like aggregate user activity and the most popular movies and music from Fandango, Deezer, Flixster, SoundCloud and a handful of others. As usual, those features are getting rolled out gradually, with the initial batch of app results said to be rolling out to desktop search over the next few weeks, and additional apps and improvements promised over time.
Stand in a line of people in just about any major metropolitan area in the world and you'll see the same thing: slouched shoulders and down-turned faces staring glumly at smartphone screens. Some people never look away, completely immersed in whatever is happening in the palm of their hands, while others get stuck in a loop of pulling phones from pockets or purses and popping on the screens for just a moment before putting them away again for just a minute or two.
Smartphones are amazing things, but for those who have become addicted to messaging instant gratification, they are a bit unwieldy. This annoyance gets even worse as these devices grow larger and larger. One approach would be to relax a little and stop feeling so compelled to check for Facebook notifications every 30 seconds. Those fully immersed in the information age, however, will be more inclined to fix the physical inconveniences presented by the problem. A heads-up display seems like a natural fit, and thus we have Google Glass. It's a headset with a projected display, a camera and a data connection that could revolutionize the mobile device industry. It could also cause a public uproar over privacy concerns. Is the potential worth the risk? Join us after the break to see.
Wearing Google Glass
See all photos
First, a bit of grammatical clarification is needed. While we of the English language typically (and confusingly) refer to eyeglasses as a "pair" despite actually being one thing, here we'll be referring to Google Glass as a singular item. So, it's not a pair of Google Glasses, but a single Google Glass headset.
Glass has a very simple, clean design that, in some regards, is beautiful and elegant; in others, crude and clumsy. We'll start with the elegant bits, most compelling being the plastic-backed titanium band that sweeps around and forms the frame. It's a single piece that grows very subtly thinner in the middle and thicker on the edges, deceptively simple from a distance and strongly defining the overall look.
From here, two nose grippers (also titanium) arc down, each one terminating with a clear silicone pad. These pads are replaceable and tacky enough to keep the whole assembly from immediately sliding down your nose. That's not to say they stay completely in place -- in fact they will slowly, but surely migrate lower, particularly if your nose is anything but perfectly dry.
The continuous titanium band plus the two arcing grippers provide a beautifully simple, basic shape, an innate symmetry that is wholly ruined by the plastic assembly that looks crudely slung from the right side. Admittedly, this is a huge step forward from the original "Android smartphone duct-taped to Sergey's sunglasses" concept, and in many ways its functional styling has its own techy appeal. But, in the grand scheme of consumer electronics design, the overall aesthetic here leans far closer to prototype than polished.
All the circuitry for the device lies in two plastic housings, one that rests behind your ear (containing the battery and bone conductive speaker) and a second that's up front (with the processor, camera and display assembly). The side of the forward portion is also touch-sensitive, forming a bit of a slender trackpad. This division does a good job of hiding the bulky battery from sight and ostensibly balances the whole contraption evenly, with the battery mass offsetting that of everything on the front.
Google Glass unboxing
See all photos
In practice, though, this editor had a hard time getting Glass to sit evenly for long periods of time. The right side (with all the equipment) tended to shift lower than the left. That does pose a bit of a problem, as Glass is supposed to be positioned such that the display is arranged high enough above your right eye that it isn't a distraction. Google's (incredibly helpful) Glass trainers will ensure you've got it perfectly positioned before you walk out the door, but keeping it there required constant fiddling.
Google Glass can and will fit over most eyeglasses, but rarely will it do so comfortably.
Overall, though, Google Glass is no more or less uncomfortable to wear than your average pair of glasses. The overly flexible nature of the band means it can be a bit tricky to put on without using both hands, but once positioned properly, it manages to be quite comfortable on both large and small heads. Those not used to wearing non-Google glasses will probably find the nose grippers uncomfortable at first, but those who are used to wearing glasses have their own sets of troubles ahead.
Google Glass can and will fit over most eyeglasses, but rarely will it do so comfortably. And, depending on the size and shape of those glasses, the eyepiece may be partially blocked by the frame. Finally, after letting dozens of people briefly try these on, a few with eyesight difficulties were simply unable to focus on the display at all. Before Glass goes mainstream, it will require an adjustable focal depth.
In fact, very little is adjustable in Glass. You can modify the wake angle (how far back you must tilt your head for the display to pop on) and enable or disable head detection, which automatically turns off the headset if you remove it. That's about it. You can't adjust volume levels or display brightness, can't disable WiFi or Bluetooth (both appear to be always on), can't re-arrange the application cards in the interface or set their priority, can't modify the default screen timeout length and you can't enable a silent or do not disturb mode -- though it could be argued that simply taking Glass off serves the same purpose.
Unfortunately, that act of taking off the headset can be rather inconvenient. That unbroken titanium band looks nice and provides flexibility, but it also means that Glass doesn't fold up like a traditional pair of glasses, so it won't dangle from the front of a shirt or slide easily into a pocket. That's made worse by the seeming fragility of the exposed refractive display, which we were told shouldn't be touched. Google thoughtfully includes a microfiber carrying case with a hard plastic insert to protect everything sensitive, but the resulting package is hugely bulky. Better bring your big purse.
Battery size is unknown, but battery life is known: it's poor.
Crack the case open (which we do not recommend) and you will find an aging TI OMAP 4430 processor, paired with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage (12GB available). Content will push to your Google+ account wirelessly by default, but you can pull it off through the micro-USB port if you like -- which is also how Glass charges. Battery size is unknown, but battery life is: it's poor. In what we'd consider average usage, reading emails and taking short pictures and videos, we got about five hours before the headset unceremoniously shut itself down. With lengthier filming of videos, which can be demanding enough to make your temple warm, we're sure you could deplete the headset's power reserves in a couple of hours. For a device that you'd want to set on your face and forget about, having to remember to charge it in the middle of the day is a definite disappointment.
Wireless and connectivity
When Glass was first introduced, many made the assumption that it would be wholly dependent on a smartphone (particularly, one of the Android variety) to function at all. As it turns out, that's not the case. The thing can function quite happily with a WiFi (802.11b/g) or Bluetooth data connection -- yes, even if that data is coming through an iPhone.
Glass is a fully independent device. This means you can leave your phone behind and walk around anywhere with WiFi without losing connection. But, that poses an unfortunate problem. Since Glass is independent, not pulling data through a dedicated app or the like, your wireless carrier will treat it just like any other tablet or laptop. If your current plan doesn't include Bluetooth data tethering, there's a good chance you'll have to pay to add it. That could make an already pricey device even more expensive to run.
The display in Glass is an interesting one. When wearing the headset, you can look straight through the transparent part and barely even see it. It only minimally refracts the light that's beaming toward your eye. But, if you look at it from above, you can clearly see the reflective surface embedded inside at a 45-degree angle, forming the display your eyes see.
The panel itself is off to the right, built into the headset and beaming light into the clear piece from the side, which then hits that sliver of material and reflects into your eye. It's an interesting arrangement and the net result is, indeed, a glowing image that appears to be floating in space. Google says it's "the equivalent of a 25 inch high definition screen from eight feet away" and that sounds about right -- except that we're not sure about the high-definition part.
Google isn't talking specifics about resolution, but we do know that developers are advised to work with an array of 640 x 360 pixels. Individual pixels aren't immediately apparent, but the level of detail of the display doesn't come anywhere near your average, high-PPI smartphone display these days. You'll rarely see more than six rows of text at a time.
Colors, too, aren't exactly consistent and the whole thing similarly lacks the accuracy of a modern LCD or OLED panel. It almost has the look of an old-school, passive-matrix LCD, with its occasionally murky hues. And there's another problem, too: rainbowing. If you had the misfortune of owning a DLP television a few years back, you'll be familiar with the rainbow effect caused by the spinning color wheel. Moving your eyes side-to-side quickly on those sets created a dazzling, chromatic demonstration that would make a unicorn dizzy. The problem is less problematic here, but it is immediately apparent.
Finally, while contrast is reasonably good, seeing the display in bright sunlight can be a problem. That's doubly true if you use the included sunglasses attachment, which slots in between your eyes and the Glass display. In this way, Glass actually makes for nice sunglasses, but the insert has the effect of further reducing brightness and contrast of the display.
Setup and user interface
Setting up a Google Glass headset is trivially easy. Install the MyGlass app (which requires Android 4.0.3 or above) on your phone and tap a few choices to pair a new headset. Bluetooth will be enabled and a massive QR code appears. Hold that code in front of your face (while wearing Glass, of course) and, hey presto, Glass is now signed into your account.
It takes a few minutes to learn the basics, but once you do, it's easy to get around.
Once that's done you can use the app or go to Google.com/MyGlass to configure your headset. As mentioned above, setup is limited, but through a big, tiled interface you can select which contacts are accessible by name (only 10 are possible now), which of your Google+ circles you'd like to have the option of sharing content with, which Glass apps are enabled (Google+, Gmail, Google Now and Path are there by default) and which WiFi networks you want your headset to connect to.
Through here you can also bring up a Google Maps display of the current location of the headset, useful if it should be unwittingly removed from your face. That is disappointingly about the limit of the security features of Glass. You can also remotely wipe it, but there's no way of setting any kind of protection on the thing itself, meaning if you should set it on your desk and walk away, anybody can pick it up, put it on and start sending uncouth emails and pictures to your contacts.
Once you throw Glass on your face the interface is actually much the same, just flattened down to two dimensions. It's a bit like Sony's XrossMediaBar, in that you move left and right across a grid of options. Unlike XMB, you can't travel up and down. Instead, each icon in the row represents something and you tap to dive into it. Swipe downward to exit and jump back up a level, or to turn off the Glass display if you're already at the top.
You can activate the display in two ways: tilting your head up or tapping the capacitive touch portion on the side. The default display is a clock with "ok glass" written below. This is actually quite useful, as tipping your head up is a quick and easy way to check the time, though it'd be nice if you could turn off the "ok glass" bit. It's not that hard to remember.
If using the touch controls, you can swipe forward or backward. Swiping forward takes you back in time, with all recently captured photos and videos mixed in chronologically with emails, messages and notifications from apps. Swipe backward from the start screen and you'll get Google Now cards and, ultimately, a screen showing connection status and battery life. Flick your finger and you'll move one screen at a time, but slide it more quickly along the length of Glass and you'll cycle across multiple.
Tap on any of these options to bring up a context menu. For example, tapping on a photo or video lets you share or delete it. Tapping on an email lets you read more of it or reply. It takes a few minutes to learn the basics, but once you do, it's easy to get around.
If you're trying to operate in a hands-free mode, your key is "Okay, Glass." This initiating command must come before any other command, but it's worth noting that Glass itself must be enabled first. So, you can't just say "Okay, Glass." You have to tilt your head up or tap the side first. Only then is it willing to obey your commands.
What sort of commands? The most basic ones are "take a picture" or "record a video." Googling is also a very handy one, where you can say "Google, what's 20 percent of 30" to calculate a tip at dinner, or "what year was Brave New World published?" If you ask a simple question like the above, you're likely to get a result you can read on Glass. If you ask for something more detailed, like "Google a list of Tom Cruise movies," you'll only be able to read the first few results.
Hangouts are of course a big part of Glass, and you can start one by saying "start a hangout with" followed by the individual or Circle. Note that you sadly can't start a public Hangout, so make sure you build those Circles now. You can also call any of your earlier-designated contacts by name, assuming Glass is connected to your phone as a Bluetooth headset.
Glass knows the weather, too, defaulting to your current location, but letting you ask about other places, too. Do this enough and Google Now will thoughtfully include a persistent weather screen, which will slot in to the left. Navigation is also a big feature, with a command like "give directions to 125 State Street." Disappointingly, you can't use commands like "give directions home" and expect Glass to remember where your home is, neither can you get directions to your contacts. You'll have to speak the address, or do a business lookup by name or category. You can, for example, say "find me the closest pizza" and it will bring up a card showing a result, which you can tap on to call or get navigation directions.
There are some other miscellaneous commands, including translation ("say hello in Spanish"), photo search ("Google photos of Ferraris") and flight information ("what time does flight 123 depart from ALB?"). In general, all are received and understood without fault, but the broader voice recognition definitely leaves a bit to be desired, as we'll discuss shortly.
Taking photos and videos
Again, there are two ways to capture imagery with Glass: by voice (as described above) or by hitting the shutter release on the top-right of Glass. Click it once to take a picture, and whether you do it by voice or with the button, there's a momentary delay. This is important, as it gives you time to take your finger off, helping to stabilize things.
For video, hold the button down for a moment. By default, Glass captures 10-second videos, but if you want longer, you can tap on the side twice and it will record until you run out of storage -- or battery. Once captured, you can swipe forward or backward through what you've seen. Videos play automatically in this way, but with a few taps, you can either share them on Google+ (with the public, or with certain Circles) or delete them.
Sadly, though, you can't add any text. Anything shared has the hashtag "#throughglass," but nothing else to describe it. This does add a bit of mystery to your photo stream, but it would be nice if you could optionally speak a caption. Photos are synced with your Google+ account, so you can share them later at your leisure, but photos shared after the fact are rather less fun than those pushed online instantly.
Although, it must be said, the photos we shared often took minutes or sometimes even hours to get online. If your connection is anything less than very solid, you could be looking at a substantial lag. Larger videos will naturally take even longer.
Google Now is an increasingly powerful part of the Android operating system, making recommendations based on where you go and what you do, and it's reasonably well-integrated to Glass. Weather is the easiest demonstration, showing an icon representing the current weather, along with temperature and high / low temps.
Get directions from Penn Station to a location and, once you get there, you're likely to find Now suggesting how to get back to Penn.
Now will also suggest directions based on where it's tracked you going. Get directions from Penn Station to a location and, once you get there, you're likely to find Now suggesting how to get back to Penn. It'll also throw up lists of nearby restaurants at dinnertime and, while suggestions are far from perfect, Now regularly surprises with its almost prescient understanding of what you're up to.
Of course, each of these screens can be interacted with. Tap on the current weather to get the forecast. Tap on a restaurant to call or get directions. Tap on a recommended destination to get navigation. All very helpful stuff, but we do wish we could manually pre-configure a bit more -- namely important locations and flights.
Navigation is one of the best features in Glass. You can speak an address, find a business or tap on a Google Now suggestion and get turn-by-turn directions there. If you have the MyGlass app, it will also configure itself as capable of handling navigation, so you'll get the option of sending directions from your phone to Glass once you select a destination.
Directions look more or less as they do on an Android smartphone using Google Navigation. If you were hoping for a fully augmented reality experience, with a 3D arrow hovering in the distance over your next turn, that is sadly not the reality of the situation. But, it certainly seems like such a thing could be built in, as Glass does offer a degree of head tracking.
As with Google Nav, spoken directions are sent into your ear as you drive. However, unlike Google Nav on the smartphone, you can't disable that audio. Thankfully the voice used here is of the friendly, supportive type -- not the seemingly angry, short-tempered types that come along with some GPS units. Also, you're not able to choose navigation using public transport. It's driving, walking or biking for now.
Messaging is an area of huge promise with Glass, but one that's a bit clumsy right now. When you get an email or a text, you'll hear a chime. To see the message, just tilt your head up. You'll see only the first few lines of the message, which is a bit unfortunate, but it's enough to know if you want to see more. If you do, it's two taps: one to bring up the menu, another to select "Read More." From there, it's another tap and a few swipes if you want to have the email read to you. You can also reply, reply all, archive or star the message.
It would be nice to be able to read an entire email just by tilting your head up and down to scroll.
An ideal use-case for this is getting emails read to you while in the car and then replying back by voice. Unfortunately, as it takes two taps and two swipes just to get to the "Read aloud" option, it's not exactly something you should be doing while driving. Even if you're sitting on the train, it would be nice to be able to read an entire email just by tilting your head up and down to scroll. The technology is in there, and hopefully Google will enable it eventually.
It's also worth noting that you cannot compose a new email. And, all responses must be performed by voice ... and all will have the text "Sent through Glass" inserted on the bottom, whether you like it or not. Speech-to-text is passable, but not good enough for anything other than a quick response. For example, it struggles to differentiate between things like "was" and "wasn't," which can definitely cause some unintended consequences, and complicated place names are a bit hit-or-miss. (Glass got "Schenectady" just fine, but "Azerbaijan" was heard as "our body John.")
If you speak slowly, clearly and avoid grammatical contractions you have a chance of sending a correct email. Should Glass hear you incorrectly, you have to cancel the entire message and start again. All the more reason to keep those responses short.
Google lets you search for lots of things, and indeed you can do the same through Glass. But, with the low-resolution display you're limited in terms of what you can receive. You'll basically get the "I'm feeling lucky" result for any query, which may or may not be what you're looking for and, even if it is, may or may not contain any actual information you want.
Asking "Google how many ounces in a cup" will get the answer spoken to you.
For example, say "Google Engadget" and you'll see the description of Engadget -- but not the page itself or indeed any gadget news. But, say "Google Paul Allen" and you'll get his Wikipedia result. Glass will even thoughtfully read the first sentence for you: "According to Wikipedia, Paul Gardner Allen is an American investor..." After that, you can swipe through a few pages of information about him, including a photo.
So, Googling is of mixed usefulness through Glass. Anything that hits Wikipedia is great, as is asking for simple math and conversions (asking "Google how many ounces in a cup" will get the answer spoken to you), but anything more complex may result in disappointment.
Video calling from a smartphone or tablet, where you need to hold that device up in front of your face, is a far-from-compelling experience that we generally avoid for anything longer than a quick "howdy." With Glass, we actually found it quite compelling. Now you can look straight ahead and see the face of the person (or people) you're talking to hovering out in space.
Of course, they won't see your face, which can be a good or bad thing depending on what you're looking at -- and how you feel about your face. We had a lot of fun trying impromptu Hangouts while walking through busy crowds or riding a motorcycle, and it definitely makes for a great way to show someone something if they're not able to be there in person. It's easy to envision touring a museum with someone who's stuck at home. It's also easy to envision museums not being happy about such a scenario.
However, the usability of this is hugely dependent on connection quality. You'll need to be on a solid LTE signal to have a hope of transmitting decent-quality video and audio without terrible lag. WiFi is obviously the better choice, where available.
The New York Times app is the most notable to be released to the public yet. It is very limited, pushing updates to Glass about every hour, more frequently if there's breaking news. Tap on any and Glass will read the headline and the first sentence of the article to you. And that's it. There's no "Would you like to know more?" prompt or any way to get to the full story.
We're incredibly eager to see what's coming next, as the potential here is, of course, huge. Right now, we'd be happy to post pictures straight to Twitter and Facebook.
The camera pointing out the front of Glass is a 5-megapixel unit capable of recording 720p video. Resulting photos range from very good to very poor, largely depending on the amount of light available. On a bright, sunny day, Glass can capture some genuinely good shots, with bright, accurate colors and good contrast. In mediocre lighting, shots can be acceptable, but they very definitely fall into the "mediocre cameraphone" quality, with murky colors and often subtly blurred results. In low light, photos will likely be a mess. No Ultrapixels here, folks.
One thing that helps is that the camera waits a few seconds after you press the button to capture the shot. This could theoretically mean you miss some incredibly fast-paced moment, but more helpfully, it gives you time to take your hand from the headset and steady yourself before the shutter fires. Annoyingly, though, the way the shutter button pokes out of the top of the frame, you're more likely than not to take a picture when you set Glass down upside-down. We had dozens of unintentional upside-down photos clogging our storage.
After the picture is taken, it's shown to you for a few moments, a useful feature since there's no viewfinder at all and the angle of the picture won't line up exactly with where you're looking. Also, if Glass isn't perched perfectly on your face, there's a good chance the picture will be at an angle, meaning you may need to cock your head one way or the other.
The same can be true for video capture, but here you get a real-time view of what's being recorded. Quality is generally quite good, again largely dependent on the amount of available light. You do have to be careful to be steady while walking, but in general we were able to capture smooth video without too much trouble. The biggest issue? Remembering not to nod when having a conversation with someone.
Google Glass camera samples
See all photos
How does all that come together when the world stops being polite? It's a series of highs and lows. Navigation was an immediate high point, and while not being able to say things like "home" or "work" is a disappointment, we found using Glass for turn-by-turn directions was actually less distracting than looking down at the dash of the car, or a window-mounted smartphone.
Hangouts, when they worked, were a great experience too. Being able to quickly and easily share something you're seeing with friends is an experience that will make you smile. We also enjoyed wowing friends over dinner by looking up the authors of obscure books or doing complex conversions just by asking Glass. And, snapping pictures of impromptu moments is far easier than with a smartphone. Business travelers, you'll enjoy grabbing pictures of receipts and having them all synced (privately) to the cloud.
But, there were plenty of lows, too. We were surprised to find that Glass makes a pretty mediocre Bluetooth headset. One would think calling someone would be an easy thing given everything else that the headset can do, but the audio capture seems far more focused on grabbing audio of the environment than the wearer. People we called constantly had issues understanding us in even mildly noisy environments, like a car on the highway.
The bone-conducting speaker occasionally leaves a bit to be desired as well. In noisy areas, like airports or city streets, you'll struggle to hear anything. Plugging your ears with your fingers helps a lot, but also makes you look a little funny. Thankfully, wearing earbuds is similarly effective. In fact, we'd love to see a 3.5mm headphone jack on a future set of Glass so that you could wear your own earbuds and listen to music -- which, by the way, you can't do on Glass right now.
Additionally, the short battery life means you can't spend a day on the town -- not without a charging pit stop, anyway. The photography in low light is a mess, having emails read to you is far too cumbersome and the general lack of customization options is surprising. There's also another challenge that affects not only those who wear Glass, but everyone else around: privacy.
We can't talk about Glass without addressing the privacy concerns of the thing. There are many, and they are troubling.
We can't talk about Glass without addressing the privacy concerns of the thing. There are many, and they are troubling. The most disconcerting bit is that you can be recording video at anytime and there's really no way for anyone else to tell. Google made the unfortunate decision to not include something like a red LED on the front to indicate when Glass is recording, which would have been a limited (and easily defeated) step -- but it would have been something.
The point can certainly be made that it's possible to take a picture or video of someone these days without their knowledge, but the situation here is a bit reversed: nobody knows if you're not taking a picture or video of them. This will, at first, result in some good-natured "Are you recording this?" comments in conversations but, as time goes on, as a wearer, you'll notice that people will be acting a little more cautiously around you. (As an aside, they'll also struggle to maintain eye contact. One person told us that Glass looked like a "third eye" that he couldn't stop staring at.)
People can and should be a bit concerned about someone walking in a public restroom with Glass on and, since you can't fold them up and stick them in your pocket, finding something to do with them while you do your business is a challenge. You can easily imagine plenty of other situations where Glass owners would innocently wear their headsets much to the discomfort of others and as of now, there's no way to assure them that you aren't recording them.
Right now, the Explorer Edition of Google Glass is very difficult to get. To have a realistic shot of getting one, you had to pre-register at Google I/O last year, and even then, the headsets have been slow to ship. Ignoring that for a moment, if you could buy a pair today, is Google Glass worth $1,500 for casual gadget fans? Absolutely not. Don't even consider it -- unless your pockets are deep enough that you routinely spend that much on watches, sunglasses or jewelry. Future iterations of Glass will have to get far cheaper before we'd begin to consider this good value, although much of that value proposition depends on future developer support.
In reality, this Explorer Edition isn't supposed to be thought of in that way. The current version of Glass is intended for developers and a lucky few others, and as a research project, it is a fascinating one. Developers will want to get their hands on this ASAP and, frankly, we hope that they do because we can't wait to see what they can do with it. The potential here is phenomenal, and while we're looking to Google to drive much of that, the unexpected things that developers do will really move Glass forward as a platform.
However, we're also looking to Google to address the privacy concern. Right now, this issue is largely floating under the radar and will likely continue to do so until Glass headsets start appearing in public in greater numbers. If Google doesn't get ahead of this now, the story of Glass could very quickly become one of fear, uncertainty and doubt by the public at large. The future is incredibly bright for Google's Project Glass and it'd be a damn shame if it were dimmed by public outcry.
[Lead photo credit: Christine Ciszczon, Don Norris Photography]
Although Microsoft's OneNote is virtually tailor-made for pen input, we doubt most Windows fans would splurge on the likes of a Surface Pro just for the sake of a quick doodle or two. With the latest update to OneNote for Windows 8 and RT, they won't have to. The app refresh lets touchscreen PC users draw with their fingers using the same color and thickness options as their stylus-toting counterparts. The new input method won't be as precise as a pen, but it should do the job for simple diagrams or dusting off those kindergarten-era fingerpainting skills. Whether or not you're on a nostalgia kick, you can swing by the Windows Store today for the upgrade.
Last year's revision to Facebook for Windows Phone may have gotten fans closer to the Facebook grail, but it was still lagging behind its iOS and Android siblings. Microsoft is finally catching up though, with the latest beta of the app. This build supports the new Facebook Timeline, higher-quality photos and post sharing. It's currently listed as being compatible with Windows Phone 8 -- which might leave some 7.5 and 7.8 users feeling a bit salty. You'll have to download it straight from the link below if you're up for giving it a whirl, since it can't be directly from your device.
Explorers have the device in hand, early reviews have begun to flow in, and heck, you might have even seen Glass in person by now. Unless you've had a chance to slide the product on your head, however, a comprehensive tour of the near-final user interface has likely remained out of reach. Until now. The team at Project Glass has uploaded a brief (60-second) how-to video, giving you an opportunity to step behind the tiny display for a point-of-view preview. If you have a minute to spare, you can view the clip just after the break. Then, set aside some time for our comprehensive Explorer Edition review, complete with sample pictures, videos and plenty of first-hand impressions.
As Julius Genachowski winds down his five-year term as Chairman of the FCC, rumors of his successor are in full swing. Now, Engadget has confirmed with a White House official that President Obama will nominate industry veteran, Tom Wheeler, for the position, in an announcement that will come tomorrow. According to Wheeler's profile on his personal blog, he currently identifies himself as a venture capitalist and sits on the boards of Roundbox, UpdateLogic, Twisted Pair Solutions, EarthLink and TNS. Wheeler's history in the cable and wireless industry spans decades. He served as president of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) from 1979 to 1984, and later took the helm of the CTIA as its president and CEO from 1992 until 2003. According to Politico, Wheeler shares close ties with the Obama administration, and is said to have raised hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars for the President's two bids at the White House. Pending confirmation, Mignon Clyburn, will serve as interim chairman until a new leader is appointed.
The social messaging app Path recently announced that it's gaining a million users each week, but it may be using some spam-like methods to achieve that growth. Several users -- and several Engadget staffers -- have reported that the app has been sending smartphone contacts unwanted text messages, a problem that was first pinpointed several months ago. Contacts on the receiving end have seen messages stating that a friend wants to share photos with them, with a prompt to sign up for Path's service. According to a source who spoke with The Verge, Path has also triggered robocalls to contact lists -- even after uninstalling the app. Last year, the company came under fire for collecting contact info sans users' consent-- leading to an $800,000 settlement with the FTC -- and we imagine this new privacy snafu won't be without consequences, either.