Just after a 60-second laser light countdown at 12:30 PM local time (9:30 Pacific), Google's Vic Gundotra took the stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California to kick-off the fifth annual Google I/O developers conference keynote.
We had a pretty good idea of what we would see and what would be announced or unveiled at the event weeks ago (except for maybe the Nexus Q) and, for the most part, Google delivered. Android version 4.1, codenamed Jelly Bean, and all its new features were announced; Google Now, Google's artificially intelligent, location- and time-aware voice or text search (a Siri competitor) was unveiled and demoed; the Nexus 7 tablet, made by none other than ASUS, was made official and pre-orders for the device were opened; a new social entertainment hub which is powered by Android and connects to your home entertainment system, the Nexus Q, was unveiled; and (Project) Glass was officially shown off on stage and explained … sort of.
The keynote certainly had its ups and downs, but there was one specific piece of the event that tugged my heart in two completely different directions: Glass.
For months now, we've been hearing about Project Glass intermittently. Of all the different consumer products in the works – new tablets, smartphones, ultrabooks, Leap Motion and everything in between – Google's Project Glass is easily the one I'm looking forward to most. Sure, it looks goofy and awkward, but the premise behind Glass is noble and awe-inspiring. Not to mention, this is both ground-breaking and true innovation.
And Google has been pretty open about teasing the project and sharing pictures to its own Project Glass Google+ page. We've seen first person perspective pictures shared while someone was running, the aftermath of a marathon and even a video of someone jumping on a trampoline.
Today, Google had a team of skydivers in the air over San Francisco, ready to drop in on the keynote. The skydivers jumped from the plane and parachuted onto the roof of the Moscone Center, handed a package to some BMX riders. The bikers did a few crazy tricks across the roof of the building and handed the package off to another team of repellers, who then repelled down the side of the building and handed the package to some couriers. The couriers weaved their bikes in and out of I/O booths and attendees, into the keynote auditorium and onto the stage with Sergey Brin. All of the participants were wearing Glass and all their footage was streamed to a Google+ Hangout.
This was the potentially the most intense, exciting, dangerous and off-the-wall product demonstration … ever. And, as our fearless leader Aaron Baker tweeted, it had an exorbitant air of Tony Stark to it.
To be completely honest, though, the product is both mysterious and straightforward enough that it didn't really need such an extravagant entrance to the keynote. People were already excited about it before, and the innovation and nerdiness alone are enough to sell the product to a room full of 6,000 super nerds.
Why the over the top demonstration then?
The simple answer is: because it's Google and they can practically do whatever they want. If they want a James Bond-like product entrance to top their biggest foe's developer keynote from just two weeks ago, that's exactly what they will get. But the real answer is: the current state of this project and how far Google has to go before Glass can be transformed into a legitimate, affordable consumer product. The extreme nature of the demonstration was meant to drop some jaws and remove the money factor from developers' minds
("Shut up and take my money," as they say. I might have even fallen for it myself had I been at the keynote.)
Shortly after the skydivers touched down, a few people from the Project Glass team detailed their work and vision for the project. But all they really had to say about Glass was a lot of things we already knew. Aside from some hardware details, we were told wearers can take hands-free POV (point-of-view) pictures and videos for sharing to Google+ and that Google wants to keep people connected while getting devices out of the way, etc. It's the same ol' spiel we've been told a thousand times before by other companies.
We weren't given a look into Glass, its interface, how it works, etc. Nothing. It's still just as much of a mystery product now as it was before … for the most part.
We do, however, know a few things that we didn't know this morning. Like, for instance, how far away a consumer Glass product actually is. And that it may be a lot more expensive than we were hoping. Before handing the stage back to Vic to wrap-up the keynote, Sergey Brin detailed a closed beta for U.S.-based I/O attendees. Developers can pre-order a Google Glass Explorer Edition for the grand price of $1,500 and their unit will arrive early next year. Brin also stated that this is by no means a consumer product.
Now, this isn't to say that Glass will cost upwards of $1,000 or $1,500 once it does become available to the public. This technology is in a very early, infant state. These developer units are like a pre-alpha phase. Production costs are abnormally high and once technology advances, the price will undoubtedly drop. But we now have to ask: how low will Google go? How much will Google Glass cost once it's finally available? $300? More? Will they, like with the Nexus Q, decide to make them in America?
And we don't even know when that will actually be. If very early, pre-product units are being sent to developers in 2013, it could be 2014 before we ever see a truly finished product. It could very easily be much later. 2015? 2016? Nobody really knows at this point. We're not even sure Google knows – their beta projects are known for staying in beta for a very long time.
So while Glass was easily one of the most exciting parts of Google's I/O keynote today, it's also the most depressing. One of the coolest tech innovations of the century could be years out yet, and once available, it could cost an arm and a leg to own. Worst of all, we still really don't know much about how it works, what the interface looks like or at what point the project is in the grand scheme of things.
It's been a long time since I've been this excited over any form of technology. But it's depressing to know I may have to wait several years before I can buy one.