7 days with Google Glass

How a product that you can't buy now (and most people won't want) can get you thinking about what you want from technology.

Credit: Photo by author

I wore Google Glass daily for a week, and I've worn a Glass headset occasionally since then. I have the dog pictures and bicycle videos to prove it. But I can't get over the impression that Glass is a strange hobby for a company that generally wants its products used by a wide swath of the public, so it might learn what we want to know and show us ads while we look for it.

My week with Glass mostly served as a glimpse into a future where you and the web know each other so well that you only need to occasionally glance at each other to stay plugged in and helpful. There was also a hint that, after some social break-in period, you, as a normal human, could wear them to your niece's birthday party.

[ IN PICTURES: My week with Google Glass ]

Day 1 (at the Glass office in NYC)

To pick up Glass, you have to find Google's special Glass office on the eighth floor of the Chelsea Market, right next to the High Line park. There might be no better place on Earth to try out a data-connected headset with a prominent camera. The floral splendor of the park begs for pictures. The goods on the Market's first floor are eager to be web-shared with friends. Most of all, experienced New Yorkers have long since stopped caring about people making spectacles of themselves. You might feel self-conscious, but that person you're passing by has already summarily dismissed a nearly naked yodeler, a woman in sequined hot pants, and someone screaming about impending doom.

Before you wear a Glass headset, though, you get an hour-long tutorial on the whole Glass process in the office, with a Glass Guide. My Glass Guide was a friendly, eager young woman who was remarkably unshaken by my litany of questions. She made sure the Glass headset fit and displayed properly. I snapped a photo, shot a video, and looked up directions to a nearby burger joint.

Glass guidePhoto by author
My Glass guide, who knew exactly when the first photo was coming.

For a prismatic cube with a resolution of 640x360, Glass' display is surprisingly good at showing text and decent enough with images, though it is very purple where you might expect black. The interface is designed around quick actions and text-to-speech reading, rather than extended staring. The audio comes through a "bone transducer" on the headset, so that people around you cannot (theoretically) hear bleeps and readings. My head has some kind of funny shape, though, because most people can hear that I'm twitching out on the web when they sit nearby.

My Guide went deep into the Glass smartphone app, the Glass web control panel, and the swipe/tap-centered Glass interface. After Glass was connected by Bluetooth to my Android phone (and tethered to its data whenever not on Wi-Fi), I was set free upon the people and streets of Manhattan. I tried to find the quietest voice level one could use to talk to Glass on a crowded city street. I mumbled a lot.

new-york-600x450.jpgPhoto by author
New Yorkers paying me no mind.

And then I entered that burger joint. I thought about Glass privacy concerns, and the common counter-argument: this is nothing you can't already do with a smartphone. I don't buy it. With a smartphone, you must focus your head, hands, and an object on something to take a picture, giving the people around you some cues as to your actions and intent. With Glass on, it feels more like bringing in a digital SLR camera and pointing it everywhere you can in that space, without asking the management or patrons for permission. I snapped a picture of the menu, then stowed Glass in my backback for the remainder of my meal.

I try to power Glass on later that day at the airport and promptly receive a warning about a 6% battery level. I kill that last bit of battery trying to connect to a free Wi-Fi spot that requires a click-to-agree web page visit. I charge Glass on the plane, though, and snag a rather adorable smush-face shot of my dog Howard upon arriving home.

HowardPhoto by author.
My dog Howard, dealing with the future of face-cameras.

Day 2

I work at CoworkBuffalo most weekdays, with a number of programmers, designers, and tech-savvy laptop warriors. I spend most of the morning after my Glass pick-up explaining what Glass does, how it works, and loaning out my headset for test runs, while I write up my first 24-hour impressions.

Glass at workPhoto by the person who had the author's Glass headset at this moment.
The author, at left, and a coworker, captured by someone testing out Google Glass.

Every person who grabs Glass expects, given the videos they have seen, to be able to activate the headset by saying "Okay Glass" at any point. You have to tap the touchpad or raise your head to a noticeable angle to see an "OK, Glass" screen, and then you have to say "Okay, Glass." From there, you can choose from a list of commands, but you have to say them fairly close to Google's writing. You can "send a message to" or "get directions to," or simply "Google" for a web search, among other commands. You can't use Glass as a "virtual assistant," as you might Apple's Siri. And you won't have any web connection if I walk away from you, because Glass requires a Bluetooth tether to connect outside of Wi-Fi networks (which can cost extra on some data plans, and is unavailable on some phones).

I bring Glass over to a friend's house that night. He edits the news for a personal technology site. He is, after about 10 minutes of verbally admonishing the headset, entirely done with it. His wife finds it a bit more intuitive, particularly when she searches for "pictures of cute pugs" and gets exactly that. The look of surprise and appreciation on her face is exactly what Glass' marketing team is looking for.

My friend accidentally shares a photo of himself on Google+ with this caption: "oh crap I think I just shared something with you." The look on his face is exactly what critics of a too-connected society are looking for.

Glass in the mirrorPhoto by author's friend.
A friend who inadvertently took a meta/privacy/sharing/reflection shot.

My friend asks me two versions of the question that is perhaps the hardest to answer: "Would you pay for this if you weren't writing about it?," and "Who is this thing actually for?" The answers are "No" (Note: See footnote at end of piece) and "Give it a little while," which is pretty much still where I stand.

Day 3

Inspired to give Glass some exposure outside my sit-and-talk life, I go running. Running is the closest thing I have to photo-worthy outdoor activity. What's more, if you clip in the sunglasses visor, Glass is much less conspicuous. For 30 minutes on a Saturday, I aim to live like the interesting people in Glass demonstration videos.

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