During I/O, my colleague Joshua Vergara and I were lucky enough to have the chance to try on and demo Google Glass for you. A friend of mine, Peter Schmitz of Arke Inc., was kind enough to walk us through the Glass experience. After that video, and interesting thing happened. A journey began, taking me through a night I’ll not soon forget.
As I was doing the video with Joshua, I noticed a friend in the distance. A developer, Glass Explorer, and smirking at me. A little later on, he approached me with an offer I couldn’t refuse. “Want to wear Glass for the night?” he asked. Only a fool would turn down that opportunity, so I accepted.
No catches, no parameters. We’d go out for dinner and catch up, me wearing his set of Glass all the while. “Don’t get creeped out if a weird message comes up” he’d say. “No judgement” I told him, as we agreed not to put it into guest mode. In regular mode, we agreed I’d get a much more accurate experience. What I ended up getting was different, but expected.
Fit and finish
Glass is a very personal experience, literally fitted to each wearer. Luckily, his cranium was near the same size as mine, so it worked out fairly well. The fit was comfy, but probably more cohesive if I had been fitted myself. After this experience, I paid strict attention to others at I/O, and their Glass. The fit was clearly custom for each user, so I tried to keep that in mind when judging them.
Glass is surprisingly light, though noticeable. I don’t wear glasses out of necessity, so the experience was new. I do wear Gunnar glasses, but that’s more for eye fatigue when working, and they’re exceedingly light. After seeing the prescription Google Glass frames, I feel like I’d prefer them. They also seem more mainstream, and thus acceptable.
Glass may not be intrusive, but they’re noticeable to the user. I found the screen in my line of sight, and had to concentrate to look past it. Perhaps this changes with time, but I never got used to it in the hours I had it on.
While out and about on the streets of San Francisco, I went largely unnoticed wearing Glass. Not surprisingly, our server at the restaurant gave a few curious looks, but never asking what was on my face. I can only assume she found me to be a cyborg, enjoying what humans call “Mexican food”. Aside from that, and a few head-tilting long looks at a bar later on, there was no interest. Big cities have bigger issues than some guy wearing funny head gear, I suppose.
While no odd messages or notifications popped up, the night was absolutely revelatory. First, the screen is really nice, producing bright colors, while being very responsive and accurate. I never strained to read text, or had to guess at what picture I was looking at. It may be small, but that screen is powerful. The touch pad on the side of the unit was responsive, and gestures were always recognized. Google really has built some beautiful, intuitive hardware with Glass.
The apps available are well built, too. CNN and Twitter had been announced at I/O, so I took them for a spin, along with The New York Times. Twitter is a natural fit, as the abbreviated form factor suits the smaller screen well. News sites were a bit different, and seemed to me a bit like an RSS feed. I didn’t really get too in depth, because reading a news story on a small screen didn’t appeal to me. If I were on the go, and wanted to keep abreast of news while I went about my day, the read-aloud function is probably the best bet. The bone conducive speaker is surprisingly crisp and clear. Short videos were fine, but longer ones were tiresome to watch.
The real benefactor of Glass is the tech-centric power user. That person who gets emails every ten minutes, and has Twitter updates nearly constantly. That user who is too busy for a tablet or smartphone, and needs a life assistant. If wearable technology is their desire, Glass will suit them really well.
What’s it like?
In a word: weird. Jerking my head about, swiping the temple — it’s all very strange. I’ve heard many Glass pioneers say it changes the way they do things, and they’re right. If you let it, Glass has the ability to change your methodology. Once I stopped using Glass, I wasn’t yearning for it, nor did I attempt to touch my temple to check a message. I simply let it go once I let it go.
Long term wear really wouldn’t be an issue. Google Glass is light, easy to use, and delightfully comfortable. During the course of a day, I can’t see myself tiring of them physically. Battery life seemed to be fine. I took a few pics and videos during the evening, with no noticeable power drainage. The owner of my Glass loaners is a very busy guy, and many messages popped up throughout the evening. Still, no real issue with power.
Here is the hard truth about Glass privacy concerns: there aren’t any. I’m more adept at taking sly videos and pics with my phone than Google Glass. With a phone, it’s easy to act nonchalant about checking messages or just holding your device loosely, taking photos or video the whole time. I’m sure it’s how we end up with some of the YouTube fodder we have.
With Glass, I have to stare directly at you to video or snap a picture of you. Rather than coyly observe you, I have to gawk. It’s awkward for everyone involved. Those issues of being taped or photographed without consent simply don’t hold water. Even without a light or indicator on the headwear, the best way to know if your privacy is being “violated” is when someone is staring at you for an extended period of time.
During the course of my evening, I found myself feeling a bit out of sorts. While stylish, Glass is also different enough to make you self conscious. Not everyone pays attention to this kind of tech, and it probably looks silly to the non-nerd. Again, I think the prescription style would have been more welcome by myself and others. Even with the actual Glass apparatus on the side, there should be more style options on offer.
There was also a point in which I discussed the pricing, and whether I’d pay what is currently being asked for a pair. Having used them for an evening, I can comfortably say I understand what Glass is about, and how it would fit into my life. I can also say that I’d not soon spend $1,500 for them. I find them interesting, and fun, but not something that (in their current form) would really be useful day-to-day.
At the end of the night…
Glass Explorers and Pioneers should be commended for their efforts as early adopters, but also realize that they’re just that. My good friend the developer was objective enough to hear my points, and passionate enough to argue some others. We had a healthy exchange all evening about Glass, both conceding points and agreeing to disagree on others.
I got exactly what I expected with Glass, really. It’s fun, and exciting, but doesn’t fit into my lifestyle. What Glass offers and what I’d like to see from it are just too disparate right now. Down the road, Glass has the potential to change how we navigate through our day, but not right now. Not for most.
Even though I currently don’t have the slightest desire to own them, these are still early days for the product and program that is Glass. With time, and effort on the part of these early adopters, we could be sitting on the precipice of a radical shift in technology. Then again, Google is hinging that sea change on the very visceral feeling of tech being a part of your physical being. That’s a big bet on the little dynamo that is Glass. Only time will tell us if it’s a smart wager.