If you've just acquired a Google Glass headset for £1,000, don't show it off at the movies. UK cinemas are to ban the headsets over fears that the gadgets can be used to make pirate copies of Hollywood blockbusters.
Two years after its US release, Google finally made a prototype of its hi-tech eyewear available in Britain last week. The spectacles, which allow the wearer to read emails, take videos, and access the internet via a display fixed above the right eye, are being offered to "Explorers" for £1,000.
However, the ability to record people without their knowledge, with the stroke of a finger over the spectacle frame or a voice command, has prompted privacy concerns. And cinemas are alarmed that criminal gangs could use Glass to distribute pirate copies of blockbusters movies – recording in cinemas is the source of more than 90 per cent of all illegally copied films in their release form.
Phil Clapp, chief executive of the Cinema Exhibitors' Association, said: "Customers will be requested not to wear these into cinema auditoriums, whether the film is playing or not."
The Vue cinema chain said it would ask guests to remove the eyewear "as soon as the lights dim".
Although Google Glass lights up when it is capturing images, one early adopter has already been asked to remove his headset at a Leicester Square cinema as staff could not monitor whether it was recording.
Google Glass: Everything you need to know
Google Glass: Everything you need to know
Think of Glass as having a smartphone on your face. You control it either using voice commands (eg, 'Okay Glass, directions to British Museum') or the touch panel on the right arm (eg, swipe down to go back in any menu). It can shoot video and photos without connecting to the internet but you need to connect to the web via a smartphone or Wi-Fi to use apps (dubbed 'Glassware). Google hopes it's the future (ie you'll be using Google all the time), others think it's just too geeky or creepy to ever take off.
Glass is about as powerful as a mid-range smartphone with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of memory slotted into the right arm of the frame. The prism-style screen has a resolution of 640 by 360 and sound is conveyed either by a bone conduction speaker (using vibrations into your skull) or using an earphone. The camera has a five-megapixel resolution and can shoot video at 720p. There's also a proximity sensor to turn it on automatically when picked up. Engineers have estimated that the innards cost around £100 with Google's R&D accounting for the rest of the cost.
3/6 Glass in the UK
Anyone in the UK over 18 and with £1000 burning a hole in their pocket can buy Glass. It's available online or through Google's London 'Basecamp' - essentially a fitting station to give you an introduction to the technology (that's the LA one on the left, expect London's to be less sunny). Glass has launched with five apps (known as 'Glasware' in the UK) including a running 'audio game', a star map and a news app from The Guardian.
The location of Glass's screen in the top right of users' vision has led to complaints of headaches. Experts say that the display is in one of the least comfortable areas of humans' field of vision (early prototypes put the screen directly in front of the ye but was too obstructive), although Google says that its only a problem for a small number of users: “Glass is designed for micro-interactions, not for staring into the screen, watching Friday night movie marathons or reading War and Peace.”
Google has been keen to market Glass as a fashionable product, placing the device on catwalks and between the covers of Vogue. The company has partnered with Luxottica (owner of the Ray-Ban brand) as well as designer Diane von Fürstenberg to make special frames. Google's own designs are known as the Titanium Series (left) with perscription lenses costing extra. However, this association with the catwalk has done nothing to shake the criticism that Glass - and its price tag - are elitist.
6/6 Using Glass
Google has partnered with everyone from doctors to engineers to show how Glass can be useful - essentially by helping people in high-pressure professions who need hands-free access to information on the spot. However, this isn't an argument for Glass becoming a consumer product. Advocates of Glass say that it takes away a layer between technology and peoples' lives - and while this may be useful some of the time it's hardly a killer application. Besides, having to make a conscious decision to look at our smartphones may actually help us look at them less. If there's no separation between reality and tech, why would ever put the latter away?
Google Glass batteries power down after 45 minutes of continuous recording, making it unlikely anyone could capture an entire film. But gangs now have the ability to combine video sourced from one cinema with images and sound from another to produce counterfeit discs, mass-produced for sale or upload.
Cinema staff have been given a guide to spotting pirates. Illegal recorders often sit in the centre of the cinema and shield themselves by having accomplices sit on either side of them. Some have even used small children to disguise their intent.
Other entertainment venues are considering their responses. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group, which runs six theatres in London, said it planned to "evaluate the implications, especially with regard to the effect on the cast, creative team and members of the public."
Hospitals are also expected to ask visitors to remove the wearable computers to protect patient privacy.
The Transport Department has asked Google to look at ways to allow drivers to legally use Glass, possibly by restricting information displays mid-journey. Virgin Active allows members to wear Glass in gyms, but forbids use of the gadget to capture images.
Google has issued an etiquette guide to prevent wearers becoming "glassholes". It reads: "If you're asked to turn your phone off, turn Glass off as well."
A Google spokesperson said: “We recommend any cinemas concerned about Glass to treat the device as they treat similar devices like mobile phones: simply ask wearers to turn it off before the film starts. Broadly speaking, we also think it’s best to have direct and first-hand experience with Glass before creating policies around it. The fact that Glass is worn above the eyes and the screen lights up whenever it’s activated makes it a fairly lousy device for recording things secretly.”
* Two years after launch, Google Glass finally went on sale in the UK last week. It predicts sales of nearly a million of the £1,000 gadgets by the end of the year, but rumours persist that sales are slow. While the number of Glass users will remain unknown until the company releases precise figures, analysts say Google still regard it as "in development".