Saturday, May 30, 2015

Google Photos: The new iOS Photos?

I've dabbled with Google's various attempts at building photo management solutions for a while now, going back to Picasa and through the Google+ Photos era. Much of what Google did with Google+ Photos impressed me, but the Google+ implementation still felt too much like a silo for my photos, rather than a complete solution. To be clear, it wasn't the social layer that bothered me, as I've generally been pretty happy to use Google+, but rather just the fact that there didn't seem to be any tight integration with anything else, bearing in mind that Google Drive integration with G+ Photos wasn't really available to me as a Google Apps user, and I didn't really like the idea of everything living only in the cloud, particularly with G+ Photos not feeling like a "core" service.

That said, I really did like the "auto-awesome" features that Google+ Photos brought to the table, and so even though I didn't want to use G+ Photos as a primary repository, the auto-backup feature in the iOS G+ app and the OS X Autobackup tool stayed in place just to provide an extra backup and get those neat results that would show up every so often when Google decided to do something creative with my photos.

As a result, my interest was definitely piqued when Google announced Google Photos earlier this week, and I jumped on board as soon as the app showed up on the App Store. In addition to all of the great stuff that Google had baked into Google+ Photos, this new Google Photos app actually ties in pretty deeply into the core iOS Photos experience. After a bit of playing, I've discovered that this is the first app I've seen that could actually be a viable replacement for the core iOS Photos app. Previous cloud photo solutions (Dropbox/Carousel, Lightroom Mobile, etc) have done a good job of selectively backing up and syncing photos, but those were always copies of what was in the Photos app, and with those solutions I found myself basically managing two sets of photos -- the iOS Camera Roll through the core Photos app, and my cloud-based library through whichever other app I was using. I liked much of what those other services offered, but it became somewhat cumbersome always feeling like I was working with two different libraries that weren't really in sync. For instance, if I wanted to delete a series of photos from Carousel, or make edits in Lightroom, those changes weren't replicated in the core Camera Roll, requiring a visit back there to clear out the photos a second time.

Google Photos actually solves this problem by essentially working with the Camera Roll directly, presumably taking full advantage of all of the photo management APIs that Apple introduced in iOS 8. Delete a photo in Google Photos that's also in your camera roll, and that photo will be removed in both places; edit a picture in Google Photos that's also in your camera roll, and those edits will be applied -- non-destructively -- to the photo that's in your Camera Roll as well as the one stored in Google Photos. If you're also still using iCloud Photo Library1, those non-destructive edits will sync to your other libraries as well. Google Photos will need to ask for permission when you do this, which is good news in that it lowers the risk inadvertently doing things with your "original" photos in your camera roll, but it's a simple additional tap to apply those changes back.

What Google has done here is nothing short of brilliant. I can't overstate how much of a difference this makes to allowing Google Photos to be used as a primary photo management app on iOS. Since Google Photos manages my camera roll for me, I can tuck the original iOS Photos app away in a folder somewhere and pretty much ignore it during normal use. New photos taken with the Camera will show up in Google Photos directly, and with auto-backup enabled will be sent to the Google cloud pretty much immediately. Like most other third-party apps, Google also doesn't choose to be a bandwidth nanny – if you want your photos and videos uploaded using your cellular data plan, you're more than welcome to turn on the options to do so. By comparison, Apple provides no such options for iCloud Photo Library or Photo Stream; you're stuck with Wi-Fi only on these services (call me paranoid, but I've always been a bit nervous about something happening to my iPhone after I've shot a bunch of irreplaceable photos but haven't gotten to a Wi-Fi access point to back them up).

Of course, for some this may still beg the question as to why you would want to use Google Photos in place of the iOS Photos app, especially now that Apple provides iCloud Photo Library with a Mac-based photo management solution. Obviously, while everybody's reasons are their own, for me the discussion comes down to a few key points.

The new "Assistant" feature in Google Photos is a brilliant way to do creative things with your photos without having to spend a lot of time messing around with editors and filters. Google called this "auto-awesome" in the Google+ days, and it's still here in Google Photos, and looks like it may even be somewhat improved. Apple loves to show all of the cool and creative things that can be done with photos using third-party apps, and they're certainly not wrong, but I imagine I'm not alone among users who really don't have the time to play with collage and photo editing tools to do this stuff, and therefore just leave batches of photos in their original forms. Google's Assistant feature will provide collages, enhancements, animations, movie collages, and even stories, and it does this all automatically when it finds appropriate sets of photos. While the results aren't always completely on the mark, they're definitely a great starting point to inspire you.

Google is offering much more generous storage allotments for Google Photos than Apple does. First, there's the fact that you can upload unlimited photos and videos for free – yes, that's right, free – subject to certain very reasonable size restrictions. The free allotment includes photos up to 16 megapixels in size and videos up to 1080p – a very healthy jump from the Google+ Photos limitations of 2048x2048 for photos and 15 minutes length for videos. While the photos and videos are technically recompressed by Google Photos when uploaded, they're not downscaled unless they're larger than these sizes. However, if you're somebody who deals with DSLR-sized resolutions, or are simply a purist who wants to store original photos, Google will still let you do so, and offers that standard free 15GB of Google Drive storage to do so, and additional storage available for purchase at prices half of what Apple charges – $10/month for 1TB versus Apple's $20/month fee for the same capacity. Personally, I'm on a Google Apps Unlimited account, so Google Photos makes even more sense for me, as I've essentially got unlimited storage of originals. By comparison, Apple only gives you 5GB for free, and every photo you upload to your iCloud Photo Library counts against that2

Google's search and categorization is another win in the Google Photos service. Google has long been applying its image search algorithms to photos in Google Drive and its other photo services, and the new Google Photos is not only included in this, but goes so far as to provide automatic tagging of photos based on content.  Give Google Photos a couple of hours to munch through your photo library, and when tapping the search button, you'll eventually be able to access a screen like the one on the right, which groups photos based on identifying the content found within them. Obviously, it's not perfect (Kathryn's bunny is not a "dog", for instance), but it's miles ahead of what most other services can do, and now I can avoid that manual organization of tags that I've been putting off for years.

The search capability itself isn't to be understated here either. Google's image search allows you to enter any number of search terms to help ferret out your photos. You can easily search by location, by type of photo, by date and time (in more flexible ways than iOS Photos allows for), and, in particular, by things like landmarks or other content in your photos. For example, typing "eiffel tower" and you'll see any photos you've taken of the Eiffel tower – Google is smart enough to look at what's IN your photos and allow you to search by that. Text contained in photos is indexed and searchable as well, of course, and I've long kept my library of screenshots for articles and books in Google Drive for that very reason.

Google Drive integration still allows local copies of synced photos to be kept by turning on the option to replicate your photos in a folder structure in Google Drive that can then be synced to your Mac or PC, in case you don't want to trust all of your photos exclusively to the cloud. There's also Google Takeout that will allow you to download everything as one gargantuan zip file should you ever want to do so, so ultimately I'm not worried about losing my photos should some accident befall Google's data centres.

Of course, many will rally with the "What about my privacy?" counter-argument, and it's fair as how much one cares about privacy when working with online services is an entirely personal decision. For my part, however, I consider these nebulous concerns at best. Google doesn't give a flying fornication what photos or other data "Jesse Hollington" stores in the cloud. What Google is looking for is data that can be analyzed algorithmically to generate statistical factors that can drive advertising. Google might care that maybe I'm one of 87,243 people in Toronto who took pictures of hamburgers or flowers in the past month. In short, Google wants to know what people are doing in general, not what I'm doing specifically, and I'm okay with that, especially when these algorithms drive services back to me like the kind of tagging and analyses that helps me find my own photos as well. As for other three-letter organizations that could potentially take a more specific interest in me personally? Well, I'm under no illusion that it's going to matter what cloud service I'm using if I'm being targeted by those folks.

Either way, for the time being this is a grand experiment to see how it plays out. I haven't abandoned my iCloud Photo Library, and I'm not removing anything from my actual Camera Roll, so going back would really be a matter or flipping a couple of switches and moving around some home screen icons. For the time being, however, I'm definitely finding what Google has to offer compelling right now, and it will be interesting to see if Apple does anything to follow suit in the short term.

1 As a footnote, using iCloud Photo Library and Google Photos auto-backup is generally a bad idea if you have a large photo library in iCloud. Due to the way iOS works, Google's attempt to backup everything in your "Camera Roll" will result in iOS trying to download full-resolution copies of those photos in order to send them up to Google Photos. Not only will this take a while, but you could find yourself running out of space on your device. This is an iOS problem rather than a Google Problem -- apps like Dropbox/Carousel and Lightroom have the exact same issue, so unless you've got a relatively small iCloud Photo Library, you really are stuck using one or the other. Keep in mind, however, that you can still use iCloud Photo Stream if you simply want to ensure you have an extra backup copy of your photos sent to your Mac or PC, but you won't get any kind of synchronization in this case.

2 iCloud Photo Stream and Shared Photo Streams provide free storage, but are not practical for long-term storage of original photos. Photo Stream uploads originals, but has the same 30-day/1000-photos limit that it always has, doesn't include videos, and only transfers over Wi-Fi. Shared Photo Streams downscale photos to less than 3.5MP, depending on original aspect ratio, although you can upload to them over a cellular data connection.

Friday, June 27, 2014

So long Aperture: A major shift in Apple's Photo Strategy

The just-announced demise of Aperture may not really surprise anybody who has been paying attention -- a good number of serious photographers switched to Lightroom long ago, many citing Aperture's stagnation as a primary factor in that decision. However this not only marks a big disappointment for those who held on thinking Apple might still have an Aperture 4.0 up its sleeve, but actually marks a major shift in Apple's photo management strategy.

The message is this: Going forward, it's iCloud Photos. Apple's new "Photos" app in Yosemite and iOS 8 is going to be the de facto and probably only option available, with development of the company's two long-standing consumer and "pro" photo apps effectively ceasing. Of course, hopefully the apps won't unceremoniously stop working the day Yosemite lands, so many users may hold on for quite some time before giving in to the new world order or simply leaving Apple's photo garden to look at alternatives.

It will be interesting to see exactly how "all-in" Apple goes with this new approach. Will iTunes Photo sync be phased out by the time iTunes 12 lands? Will photos still easily be importable into a Mac from an iOS device, or will iCloud gradually (or suddenly) become the only game in town.

I've been back and forth between Aperture and Lightroom myself several times in the past couple of years, and generally kept coming back to Aperture simply because it offered tighter integration with the iOS world -- syncing photos via iTunes, automatically having them land on my computer via Photo Stream, and so forth. However, Adobe not only closed some of that gap recently with its new Lightroom Mobile apps, but actually pulled far ahead with a solution that actually lets you non-destructively edit your photos on your iOS device and have those seamlessly synced back to your master library -- exactly what I wish Adobe had done two years ago instead of releasing the much more limited Adobe Revel.

Meanwhile, however, the pace of development in Aperture continued to crawl along; many hoped that Aperture 4.0 would show up with the Mac Pro last year, but instead we got 3.5, adding nothing more than some minor cloud-facing features to bring it in line with iOS 7. In fact, in the time it took Apple to go from Aperture 3.0 (February 2010) to Aperture 3.5 (October 2013), Adobe has released Lightroom 3.0 (June 2010), 4.0 (March 2012), and 5.0 (June 2013). While version numbers don't always tell the full story, in this case the difference in development between the two platforms is significant. The last major Aperture update came two years ago, and it has only been coasting just above the line of "abandonware" ever since.

With the release of Lightroom 5.5 and Lightroom for iPhone, I decided to transfer my library over and give it another spin, since the new mobile apps make for a very compelling solution. Although iCloud Photos promises some of the same capabilities, it strikes me as considerably more "Revel" than "Lightroom." Further, even if Apple's development with Aperture had continued, I suspected even a basic integration with iOS 8 would likely be farther off on the horizon, much less full support for more advanced photo editing and management features.

Now, it looks like it's not on the horizon at all. The average consumer who uses their iPhone as their primary camera will probably be pretty satisfied with what "Photos" has to offer in terms of basic editing features, but in the grander scheme of things, it looks like this may be a downgrade even from iPhoto, much less the rich feature set that Aperture offered, and it's likely that's where it will stay. A fair call, considering the average user in the smartphone era rarely does any serious photo curation and editing any more, but something that definitely moves Apple one notch further out of the "pro" market essentially ceding that world to Adobe -- which, arguably, is exactly where it belongs.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The venerable iPod classic lives on...

Photo credit:
Every year around this time my colleagues and I at  discuss whether this will be the year that Apple discontinues the iPod classic. Although the old hard-drive based model continues to be the only truly high-capacity device in Apple's lineup, it also ends up looking more and more like a dinosaur next to every other new model. 

The iPod classic saw its last update in 2009 -- now four years ago -- and even that was a relatively minor update, little more than a capacity bump over the 120GB 2008 model, and no real physical design changes from the original 2007 classic. 

Over the first couple of years, the reasons why it survived seemed pretty obvious. Not only was it representative of Apple's roots -- the original, iconic, iPod -- but there were a lot of music fans out there who still wanted a way to carry around a relatively large music library. When the iPod classic was last updated, the highest-capacity Apple offered in any other device was the 32GB iPhone 3GS and iPod touch, and even the iPad was nothing more than a rumour. It also debuted alongside a fifth-generation iPod nano with the same general design, so it really continued to feel like part of the iPod family, in a lineup where the iPod touch was still finding its place.

Even as Apple's iOS devices jumped to 64GB capacities the following year, an obvious place remained for a 160GB device that could store and access all of your music without relying on wireless networks. Wireless data plans could still be slow and expensive, and on-demand music streaming services such as Spotify and Rdio hadn't really caught on, providing few options for cloud-based music.

With the debut of iTunes Match the following year, however, it seemed that this might finally be the nail in the coffin for the iPod classic. The limited capacity of an iPhone or iPod touch was no longer an issue when you could access your entire music collection from iTunes in the Cloud anywhere that a data connection was available. Combined with automatic caching of played tracks and the ability to download entire playlists for offline use, it really seemed that the iPod classic was no longer nearly as relevant. Even for the cost-conscious consumer, $25/year seemed like an incredibly reasonable price to pay for access to your entire  music library from anywhere.

In fact, it was iTunes Match that made me finally retire my iPod classic for once and for all. Prior to that, I had kept my classic around for things like road trips, where I might want to pull up a song that wouldn't otherwise be on my iPhone. This was often mostly a "safety blanket" however, and the advent of iTunes Match gave me enough of a comfort zone in that regard that the iPhone was suddenly the only device I needed to carry with me.

Now two years after the debut of iTunes Match, the iPod classic lives on, unchanged in the past four years, but still sold. Granted, even 128GB iPhone and iPod touch options have still not surfaced, and again not everyone wants to rely on a data plan. Plus, maybe Apple really doesn't want to retire the iconic, original "iPod" design.

Still, I continue to be surprised every time that the iPod classic hangs on for yet another year. Do you still think there's a place for the iPod classic in Apple's lineup, or is it just a dinosaur waiting to be put out of its misery?

Monday, September 02, 2013

A cool slice of Raspberry Pi

It may not look like much, but this little gizmo is actually now powering my entire home phone system, courtesy of Freeswitch and

The device in question is a Raspberry Pi -- a small, $35 ARM-based GNU/Linux box, essentially a credit-card sized computer. I ordered one last week, partly with the interest in turning it into a phone server, but mostly just to play around with. The unit itself is about as basic as it comes -- 512MB of RAM, an SD card slot, two USB ports, composite video + HDMI output, and a single Ethernet jack -- but it's actually more capable than one would expect for $35. No internal storage is provided -- you basically supply your own SD card -- and it's powered over a micro-USB connection using a 5V adapter. By the time the dust settled, the whole package ran me about $75, including shipping, for which I received the unit itself, a case, power adapter, and small micro-USB cable (I probably could have supplied my own power adapter, but the voltage requirements are very precise, so for the extra $10 I opted to go for the one sold with the unit, just to be safe).

My interest in setting up a telephony server stemmed from having switched over to about a month ago, having previously been on Vonage for several years. Since my wife and I both have cell phones, we don't really use our home number for much other than as a common "household" point-of-contact, and $1/month is pretty hard to beat for a basic number. also provides a number of call routing and phone management features well beyond what I could do with Vonage, such as routing based on caller ID, DISA, ring groups,  and time of day routing, just to name a few. 

This of course whet my appetite for doing other, even cooler stuff that was a bit beyond what could easily provide, and since the service is quite capable of routing any (or all) of your DIDs to a telephony server, it can also work as a great and inexpensive way for providing PSTN access without having to mess with additional analog line hardware. One of the initial incentives to set up my own server was support for ZRTP encryption, which is something that sadly does not provide any support for. I also liked the idea of being able to craft more sophisticated call routing plans for various special use cases -- situations I'd never expect a third-party service to actually handle.

So, after a weekend of Geeking Out™I managed to successfully get Freeswitch up and running on the Raspberry Pi with a surprisingly minimal amount of effort. The procedure for compiling Freeswitch was surprisingly straightforward, and the standard Raspbian Linux distribution has all of the necessarily tools readily available. The only downside is that since the Raspberry Pi doesn't have the fastest CPU on the block by a long shot, the build process will take several hours -- a problem I was sadly reminded of when I discovered that I had forgotten to compile in ZRTP support the first time around, and therefore had to basically start over.

When the dust settled, however, I was pleasantly surprised how capable of a little device the Raspberry Pi is for this purpose, while also being the kind of unobtrusive little thing you could hide away anywhere that has a power source and an Ethernet connection available (in stark contrast to something like this). While I don't need it to handle more than two or three simultaneous calls, I actually tested it with up to about a dozen connections -- both separate calls and conference calls -- which it handled without skipping a beat. My home phones are connected through the same Linksys SPA2012 ATA that I was using for directly -- I simply logged into the box and changed the credentials to point to my Freeswitch server instead and they just happily carried on from there, and each of the two ports can also now act as a separate "extension" allowing me to basically have a separate "line" for each phone.  I use Groundwire on my iOS and Android devices, which works quite well and optionally supports ZRTP encryption, albeit with an additional in-app purchase. 

To give you an idea, here are just a couple of the cool things I've been able to do courtesy of running my own Freeswitch server:

My building lobby intercom works by dialling my home phone number, and therefore travels over the standard PSTN. The door is activated simply by pressing "9" on my phone keypad when I receive a call. These calls carry a unique Caller ID, however, and I can therefore treat incoming lobby calls differently from any other calls to my home phone number. Firstly, I don't let them go to voicemail -- there's really no point. I can also forward these calls to additional numbers, such as my cell phone, allowing me to let myself in if I forget my keys, or let somebody else in for things like deliveries when I'm out.

The really cool trick here, however, is setting up my system to allow me to use a secret passcode to let myself in. I basically programmed Freeswitch to pre-answer calls from the lobby with a "fake" first ring. To the person on the other end, it simply sounds like the line has started ringing, however it's actually reading in DTMF touchtones. If the correct sequence is entered, Freeswitch sends out a DTMF "9" tone, opening the door. Otherwise, the call simply transfers to the normal home phones to be dealt with normally.

I've used the same trick to setup a "stealth" DISA feature. DISA, or Direct Inward System Access, is a feature whereby you can dial in from any external line and get an "internal" dialtone to do with as you please, allowing you to place calls as if you're on one of your own phones. This can be useful in situations where you only have a payphone or somebody else's phone available and want to make calls from your own number for either caller ID or billing purposes. Most DISA solutions simply answer the phone and prompt the user for a password in much the same way as a voicemail system would. The "fake first ring" trick, however, can be used on my normal inbound line to allow me to get DISA access by calling my own number and simply knowing to enter the appropriate PIN code during the first ring. If the incorrect code is entered -- or nothing at all -- the call simply proceeds as it normally would.

One of the other cool tricks that running your own telephony system allows for is fun and games with Caller ID, however I'll save that one for a future post...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Milk in Bags?

Photo credit: The Canadian Design Resource
Yup. Here in this part of Canada we have been buying our milk in large plastic bags since the early 80s. It either never occurred to me or I'd simply forgotten that this is something unique up here, and many of my friends south of the border have probably never seen such a thing.

While traditional cardboard cartons are still used for the 250ml/500ml/1L/2L sizes, if your family drinks a reasonable amount of milk (and who doesn't if you have kids?) the 4L size is definitely the most economical. You'll pay around $5.50-$6 for a 4L sack that contains three individual 1.33L bags, as compared to around $4.50-$5 for a 2L cardboard carton.

Photo credit: The Canadian Design Resource
A plastic milk pitcher is used to hold the bags, and these are generally so durable that most families only ever need to buy one -- I'm still using the one I bought about 20 years ago when I first moved out on my own.

Basically you just drop the bag into the pitcher, shake it a couple of times to make sure it's in properly, then snip the corner of the bag to pour. When you're done, you pull the bag out, drain out the last few drops and then toss it in your household trash.

While this may seem a bit more cumbersome than simply opening a cardboard carton, if it's what you've been used to for your entire life, it actually seems quite straightforward. It also has the added advantage of reducing waste.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Physical Cards, eCards, and Apple Cards

+Jesse Wojdylo asked an interesting question on Google+ this morning that I really hadn't given much thought to previously: How do people prefer to send out Mother's Day cards?

While the usual question centers around physical cards vs eCards, I actually realized that I've been getting the best of both worlds ever since Apple came out with its "Cards" app for iOS a couple of years ago.

As a technology person, physical cards have not only always seemed a bit "low-tech" for me, but also require me to actually do things in the real world such as going to a store and buying one, and then finding a postage stamp and actually getting it into a mailbox. For somebody who rarely has to deal with sending out physical mail, this is actually a more complicated process than it sounds -- there have been times in the past that a card has actually sat on my desk for a week simply waiting for me to go to the post office to buy a stamp.

Further, physical cards have an impersonal component to them. You're basically going to the Hallmark store and trying to choose from among a series of trite sayings written by some team of folks at a card company. It's rare that I find a card that precisely expresses what I want to actually say, so I usually end up buying either a blank card or something very basic and then chicken-scratching my own thoughts in penmanship that only my mother can read.

eCards of course solve much of these issues, especially those you can customize. However, they lack much of the traditional sentiment associated with sending out an actual physical card that can be displayed on the mantle or hung on the Christmas tree.

Enter the Apple Cards app. This provides an elegant "hybrid" solution that provides the best of both worlds. I can choose from several general design templates and get a professional looking Letterpress card that I'm able to customize with my own photos and text. I then supply a mailing address and pay $5 to have the card printed and mailed directly to the recipient. In the end, my mother gets a very nice physical card that she can display and keep and I get to say exactly what I want to say while avoiding the logistical hassle of shopping for, deciding upon, and mailing out a physical card. The only slight downside is that delivery outside of the U.S. can take a couple of weeks, so a bit of advance planning is required if you want the card to arrive on time.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

So, what is the point of Google Glass again?

Jolie O'Dell, VentureBeat:
In my moral universe, Google Glass for consumers can only serve to distract us, not truly help us any more, better, or faster than the other tools we already use. For example, you already have Google Maps to guide you around your city with turn-by-turn audio navigation. That tool doesn’t get any better when it’s smack-dab against your eyeball. Neither does your email or your Instagram feed or your Facebook account.

While Jolie O'Dell's full article is definitely worth a read as one of the first interesting counterpoints to all of the hype around Google Glass, I felt this one quote was a particularly good point that many in the tech blogosphere have missed in their effort to sing the praises of Google Glass and dream up real-world consumer uses for it. While the potential for practical professional uses are myriad, as a consumer product Google Glass seems like the proverbial solution in desperate search of solving some real-world problem that average people are actually having.

I can't think of a single instance where I've ever thought, "Gee, pulling out my iPhone is far too inconvenient. I wish I could just have my Facebook feed or e-mail right in my eyeball." In fact, for me the opposite is far more true -- I actually like the fact that my iPhone is in my pocket when I don't want to be distracted by whatever may be happening on the Internet.  Such as when I'm playing with my daughter, or having dinner out with my wife or friends, or perhaps just doing something like watching a movie.

In fact, one could argue that this is the same design logic that goes into things like Google TV. Some tech enthusiasts may love the idea of being able to access their social media stream or look something up on Wikipedia or IMDb during their favourite movie. However, from my own -- admittedly anecdotal -- sample of friends and family I suspect that these folks are in the minority.  In my world I generally prefer to actually watch the movie without distractions. On rare occasions I may want to look something up, such as an actor's bio, but my smartphone is usually within reach and provides a more appropriate context by allowing me to pick it up, find what I need, and then put it away and return to the movie. Having that information available "in my face" might be more convenient in that particular moment, but ultimately it becomes too accessible and takes me away from what I'm actually doing.

Pulling out your smartphone is an important contextual shift, both psychologically and as a social signal to others. It clearly communicates both to your own mind and to others around you that you're going into a different "mode" allowing you to effectively separate your interaction with the real world from your interaction with your mobile device. The same applies with most other physical items such as reading a book or newspaper or simply looking at photographs. Google Glass promises -- or threatens, depending on your point of view -- to remove that contextual distinction, blending the real world and the virtual world into a single, unified consciousness. There are definitely those who see this as a good thing, but ultimately I believe that it will create a newer and more dangerous kind of distraction -- people being distracted without even realizing that they're being distracted.