Google Glass is the latest hot technology for the bleeding edge crowd. How does the reality stack up against the hype? Here’s what I found.
How I Got My Hands on Google Glass
There are three ways to get your own Google Glass so far.
- Work for Google
- Be one of the favored people that Google likes
- Get selected by Google as a developer and pay $1500 in a limited group of early adopters
As it happens, I know someone in each of these groups, but it was my friend Keith Barrett who lives in Orlando and has Google Glass that invited me to give it a try. We met this weekend at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on an incredibly wet Florida day. I brought my D800 because he would like a portrait. He brought the Google Glass because…well, he’s going to wear it just about everywhere and is nice enough to let others try it out.
Keith didn’t get his portrait because we were both soaked in the rain and it didn’t make for the best look to have in a portrait. We ended up huddling in a bar at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (that’s right, a bar with cocktails inside a Disney park) and he showed me briefly how it works. In fact, I wasn’t the only one who got to try it. Other people were so curious that they bought him drinks to try it out – and Disney drinks aren’t cheap.
Bear in mind that this is not a review based upon an extensive trial of Google Glass. It’s just my first impressions from trying it out in a bar while waiting for the rain to stop.
Note: The rain never stopped.
The Promise of Google Glass
Before you keep reading, take a look at this video. It’s the first thing I ever saw from Google to introduce the experience of Glass.
This was Google’s early concept video. It promises that Google Glass will pop up a number of graphical icons, recognize things that you see and offer helpful information, show you Google Maps, etc.
Although my experience with Google Glass was rather limited, what I experienced was drastically different than the concept video hype. Basically, that video is a bunch of hooey.
The Reality of Google Glass
First, I was afraid that Google Glass would be uncomfortable for me. It’s not. I already wear prescription glasses, but it was able to fit on top of those without too much of an issue. A little wiggling to get the display in the right spot was all the adjustment that it took. Once on, I saw nothing. Then Keith told me about the controls. Two fingers to slide along the bar on the right side, or one finger to tap it awake. I apparently wanted to use two fingers to tap and it didn’t wake up for that, but that’s on me.
You know what struck me most about looking at the menu in Google Glass? It was a pixelated 40 character display, similar to what I had on my old Apple ][+. No high definition fonts and characters, no amazing graphics. Just a menu of some things that you can ask Google Glass to do after you say “OK Glass.” It was hardly the technological breakthrough experience that I anticipated.
Instead of seeing a colorful display like Minority Report or Tony Stark’s Iron Man, I just saw some plain, white characters in a 40-character menu on the upper-right side of my vision. Quite boring, actually. You can take a photo or video. You can get directions with a rather muddled blue line that wanted me to walk through a wall in the bar, initiate a Google Hangout, do a search or check the weather. The weather checking is rather rudimentary. Don’t expect to see RADAR showing you which way the rain is moving. It’s more like knowing the temp is 75 degrees.
Google Glass Photography
This is an aspect of Glass that Google is showing most prominently on its current videos, mostly because of the first-person point of view. There’s nothing exciting or different about a Google Glass photo that just shows the same scene you could capture with your iPhone. That’s why the video likes to show things with the user’s arms outstretched in the scene. Never mind you could do the same thing with a GoPro camera. It’s something that grabs attention. We’re not used to seeing hands in the photo from the photographer since he or she is usually holding the camera. This isn’t the part that got my attention, though.
Keith showed me a group photo he took with Google Glass and asked me to look up and around. It was an aspherical shot, so I could see much more of the environment than if it were taken with a typical camera. I could see above, below and to either side of the group just by moving my head around. That’s kind of cool and I could see how it would have useful applications.
The thing that gets me as a photographer is the lack of immediate control over the shutter. You take a shot by saying “OK Glass, take a photo.” Once it processes that command (very quickly), it takes a photo. For snapshots, that’s fine. If you need to capture the peak moment, you can’t really time the shot. There’s no shutter to press. It seems like you could develop something to let you tap the side of Glass as a shutter release, but maybe that’s something for the future to reveal.
Using Google Glass
Keith tells me that he gets about eight hours of use doing normal things like search and sending text messages. More intensive applications like video or hangouts can drop that battery life to about an hour. The device has 16GB for storage and tethers with his smart phone. From what I gather, it’s essentially an I/O device to use with your smart phone, not a stand-alone device that connects to the Internet itself.
The voice recognition works very well. I didn’t have any problems with it recognizing my commands. Keith sent some text messages to me earlier in the day as we were trying to figure out how to find each other in the park. It seemed mostly accurate, though it made one mistake and substituted “loans” for “lounge.” Certainly didn’t seem any worse than Siri on iOS.
When asked by some of the bar patrons, Keith describes it as “the Internet.” If you need hands-free Internet access and don’t mind paying a $1500 premium over the cost of your smart phone and monthly bill, it works well for the things it does. It does not, however, do everything.
That’s one of the reasons that Google seeded developers with these copies. A couple of things that Keith mentioned he wished it did was provide better weather reporting and perform check-in services such as FourSquare. I’m not surprised that it doesn’t have a check-in app for FourSquare yet, but I was surprised that it didn’t integrate with Google+ location service. Keith has over half a million people following him on Google+ and he enjoys meeting those folks, so announcing his presence on a check-in service is part of how he connects with people. Right now, Google Glass doesn’t help him on that score.
The Google Glass Value Assessment
Here’s where Google Glass has its make or break moment. Does it provide enough value with the things it does to warrant the cost – both financially and fashionably. Let’s face it, the thing is pretty damn dorky in appearance. Technology will surely advance to create even smaller components. but can anyone provide Google employees with a sense of fashion?
Although I’m very grateful to Keith for giving me the change to try it out, I find that my initial skepticism wasn’t skeptical enough. I can do most everything it does with my iPhone, and often do it better. There are exceptions. iPhones won’t do POV or aspherical photography. I’m not really chomping at the bit for either of those features, though.
Another issue that I discussed with Keith is public acceptance. There are plenty of folks who don’t want to be potentially on-camera during a conversion with someone. Keith makes the valid point that we’re already on-camera all the time. Security and surveillance cameras abound. That’s true, but there’s a difference in what we perceive when someone is pointing the camera at us. If I walked around with iPhone at my face ready to capture an image or video all the time, I’d receive the same negative perception as folks with Google Glass are getting now. It may not be logical, but it’s a reality. People don’t want a camera in their face.
A number of facilities don’t want patrons using Google Glass. -Movie theaters worry about someone capturing the film. Casinos have long worried about technology that could offer an advantage over the house. How long before someone builds a card-counting app? Some states are already considering banning Google Glass for navigation. Keith made the point that it’s not distracting, but I disagree with him. When I used the directions on Glass, my attention was on the blue line and not what was right in front of me. I saw it as a clear distraction from where I was going. When you use Glass, paying attention to the prompts overrides the rest of the world around you. That’s definitely a distraction.
One of the things that got this little visit started was a comment I made in reply to Keith’s comment about this article. He said, “Hard To Believe Glass Has Been Out “In The Wild” For A Month Already.” Wild? There’s nothing wild about Google’s distribution strategy. If anything, Google has gone out of its way to ensure that Glass only went to die-hard fans. Even the author of the post I just referenced declared herself as being enthusiastic about getting it. Google isn’t providing evaluation units to skeptical journalists or neutral observers. It’s sharing with a selected group of people who will say positive things about Glass.
There are some positive things about Glass, but it’s just not ready for a mass market. People are certainly curious about it – curious enough to buy cocktails just to try it out. After that, the curiosity fades and you’re left with another hands-free device. An expensive hands-free device at $1500. My guess is this is the reason that Google needs enthusiastic early adopters to act as ambassadors while they continue to tweak this new toy.
While wearing Google Glass, I also felt a bit disconnected from the world around me. Earlier in the day, a few people in the park nearly ran into me because they were furiously typing on their iPhone while walking. Google Glass is no different. When you’re interacting with the menu or twisting your head around to wake it up, you’re distracted from your environment. It takes your attention, just the same as the screen on your iPhone. The difference is that you don’t have to hold it in your hand.
My thanks to Keith for letting me have the experience of trying Google Glass.