Thursday 28 June 2012

Glass to the Future

Having to wear glasses most of the time doesn't seem quite so irksome after the launch of Google Glass yesterday. Watch the promo skydiver video if you've not already seen it, or the concept video of day-to-day life with the glasses.

While the skydiving is a bit like a streaming helmet cam, the concept video is particularly important as it represents a different way of doing stuff that we actually do today by taking out our phones, unlocking them and then interacting. Not sure about muttering at your glasses to make them do things, but we've already seen a huge transformation in people's public interaction with technology.

I'm sure there will be a wave of lookalike social products for sharing, photos, location and the like, but frankly those are going to be covered by Google in the base product. That leaves a huge open space for some really exciting new stuff to happen, things we've not even thought of yet. 

In Neal Stephenson's highly entertaining book Snow Crash there are a group of people who are permanently wired up to stream information into the US Library of Congress. This is exactly what Glass can do - constantly stream all environmental data to the grid. This raises the interesting question of what you can do with it all. After all, I'm sure that it is possible to piece together people's lives from Instagram uploads but I suspect that the result is dull and useless.

Exciting as the Glass platform unquestionable is, the real excitement will come from the new apps that can make sense of the flood of data. Or stop the flood: even current camera phones cause infosec experts nightmares. It's one thing to ask people to leave their phones at the door of secure areas, but glasses are pretty fundamental. 

PS Snow Crash inspired me to write my own cyberpunk novel Network Sleeper.

PPS While it is annoying that Glass preorder is only available to US-Based developers, at least this was stated clearly up front. Far too many new products from Google and others have been launched to a global fanfare only to find out that they only work in the US, or in extreme cases, just the Bay Area.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Location Still Off The Mark

Location continues to roll into more and more services. Perhaps people are getting used to it, or maybe it's just that there are more and more back-end systems that deliver location information. However there's a problem: the location is all too often annoyingly wrong. 

Let me site a few examples. I live on the edge of Edinburgh city center, yet Facebook systematically puts posts entered at home as being in Granton, which is the docks area and not particularly close. I have found no way to override this setting to something meaningful, like jumping up to city level and simply putting Edinburgh.

I love Path as a means of sharing considered photos with a small circle of friends and family. However it occasionally shows me arriving into completely random places, including Las Vegas and some strange place in rural China. I'm mystified where those came from.

And then there is MapMyRun which is supposed to track where you run. Normally I don't carry any tech with me when I run as I like the escape, but I thought it would be interesting to see what the result was. I was initially pleased to see that I had run much further than I'd expected. The pleasure turned to perplexment when I checked times, and then to irritation when I looked at the map. The tracked waypoints jumped around like crazy beans, as you may be able to see in the screen shot. Surely the coders of this app could work out that I could not have suddenly jumped 700m out and back in a few seconds. I can understand that they can't tell that I would have had to swim a river to achieve it, but even Usain Bolt couldn't have made that detour in the available time.

I've previously talked about the pointlessness of most location systems. Since then things have progressed and there are far more people using location regularly in the UK to make it more valuable. However it's got to be accurate. The quoted examples are just some of the issues I've seen recently. I still often find that the location I'm in does not show up at all or only on searching from it. 

Often the list of locations presented in mobile apps is cached from last use which is at best desperate and at worst deeply stupid. But I can understand why, as acquiring location is still very slow. So I think we need to invent a location-based equivalent of cache time-to-live, perhaps distance-to-live. Any significant movement will wipe the cache content.

And I'd like need an equivalent of the Google Maps zoom control: I can scroll out from the name of a café up to country level depending on what I'm doing.

Location has clearly a long way yet to go yet.