I’m sure there are those that think me mad as a hatter for buying into Google Glass so readily and so early in the game. And, to be honest, I’ve never really been an “early adopter.” I’d wait, bide my time, save my money, and get an slightly older model of whatever fancy new tech was out there, even if it was something I truly craved. But with the ever increasing pace of my life and work, and its increasing dependence on mobile technology, I’m branching out little by little into “getting the new thing” territory. Still, when I saw the infamous Google Glass skydive from Google I/O 2012, I never thought I’d actually be one of the first adopters a year later.
What is Glass?
Glass is wearable computing made stylish by Google, or at least the first major attempt at doing so. Google has the marketing, the mobile platform, and the brand recognition to make this wildly popular. The device itself is a titanium and plastic band like the top rim of a pair of glasses with a prism heads-up display, camera, microphone, tiny bone-induction speaker, touchpad, wifi, and bluetooth capabilities. Of course, Google has a simple website that lets you see it, what it does, and what it looks like through Glass.
The Glass Explorers
The first people to get Glass outside of Google were the developers who signed up at Google I/O 2012, and the first shipments started in mid April. Meanwhile, Google had run a contest on Google+ and Twitter called #ifihadglass, asking people how they would use Glass and selecting 8000 recipients to be able to join the Explorer program, for the price of $1500. Pamela Gay and I both entered and were selected, and I’ve been saving my pennies and negotiating ramen-centric dinners with my now live-in significant other ever since. (Thankfully, Tim is a techie, too, so I suspect that getting to play with it is part of the deal!) So here I am, among the first adopters of a brand new technology, acting as a tester and a test-subject in an interesting social experiment.
As I had to choose among New York, LA, and San Francisco to pick up my Glass at a personalized fitting appointment, I chose New York so that I could visit with my mom as well. She had a very vague idea of what Glass actually was, whereas I’ve been reading up on many of the other Explorers’ experiences in my anticipation, so her reactions to it were quite valuable. (For reference, my mom will take the time to learn new technology if she absolutely has to, or if it improves communication with her long-distance children, but isn’t the type to seek it out. She’s probably representative of many tech consumers in that way, not of the techie crowd that I tend to associate with.)
As my guide went through the various features, I struggled a bit to finesse my touchpad tapping and swiping skills. Once I had a sense of the spatial setup of the menu, it was a breeze to navigate, though I suspect that people who struggle with spatial skills would take a bit more time to get used to it. I also, comically, kept pointing my head down to look at the prism. I’m sure that’s a newbie thing, and I’m getting much better with use at looking up to see the screen as opposed to trying to finagle it in front of my face, especially for pictures and video.
There was quite a bit of information to process, but I had the basics and knew I’d do more exploring on my own later that night. So, after my tutorial, a mimosa, and getting to see a very awesome knighting ceremony, I was off with my Glass to have lunch with mom downstairs at Chelsea Market. I was a bit nervous to be “out in the wild” with it, though I suspect that the people who work the shops in that building are getting used to seeing the Glass newbies out and about. The throng of visitors, customers, and tourists were not.
My mother was watching people’s reactions much more closely than I was. “That person is staring. Oh that person is looking at you, too!” It was something to be expected, especially since I’d chosen the sky blue frames and my hair wasn’t covering it. As my mother said, “If people are stopping to stare at you in MANHATTAN, you know there’s something going on.” Finally, when we were waiting for the car in the parking garage, a woman came up to me and asked about it. I had her try it on, we chatted, and the little group waiting for cars had a nice little social interaction talking about Glass, about where we were all from, what we did for a living… Glass really is a conversation starter. I’m curious, though a bit socially anxious, about how this will fare in smaller Staten Island today, and in the Midwest when I get back home in a few days. However, if I can be a science communicator, surely I can work this little tech marvel into my repertoire.
Like I said, I’ve been taking some time to play with it and use it rather than reaching for my smartphone. I set it up for the wifi in my mom’s house, got bluetooth tethering to work with my phone (though the latter is a bit sluggish), have tested text and email and sharing pictures.
As a very new user of a very new tech, there are a few things I’d like to figure out and/or see implemented. I’ve turned on the Evernote app, for example, but haven’t figured out how to use it. (UPDATE: Okay, that was easy.) The home screen displays the time in 12-hour format, but all my other devices are set to 24-hour format so I’m a bit thrown off and haven’t found if it’s possible to change it yet. I’ve not even begun to explore all the capabilities of all the apps, or figured out how to best sync the device on the go (it needs to be on wifi and charging) or manage which notifications come through for apps like Gmail (thankfully, it doesn’t send them ALL through, or else I’d never get anywhere.) I did, however, answer my mom’s question about what time a nearby store was open in just a few seconds without having to reach for a device. I expect to explore NY a bit more with Glass to play with pictures, video, and sharing while keeping up with messages over the next couple of days, and I’m especially eager to try walking and public transit directions.
My mom’s reaction is particularly interesting because, again, she’s more representative of a broader potential customer base. And she thinks it’s really, really cool. She’s particularly excited about the fact that text messages from her will actually show up IN MY FACE so there’s no missing them. She really loves the language translation capability and would find it extremely helpful on her job. If she had her way, though, she’d change the design to make it more symmetric, though I personally think it would then look more bulky. The applications for people with disabilities are particularly fascinating to her, but along those lines, she’d want the volume a bit louder for those with hearing that is not optimal. I have trouble hearing it when there’s loud background, just as it’s a bit difficult to see the prism display against a bright background, but it’s not perfect for all situations yet. (For now, you can put your hand in front of the prism or cup over your ear to deal with those circumstances.)
Other interesting bits? My head moves a lot when I talk, so I had to increase the head tilt angle to 40 degrees so it didn’t turn on and off randomly. Also, I tilt my head a bit to the side at random, so some of my pictures come out crooked, especially the “mirror selfie.” The USB cord for charging is striped white on one side and black on the other on both ends, so you know which way to plug it in. I don’t know why every USB cord ever made has not been designed this way!
What would I like to see on Glass? Google Sky, of course. Yes, I cheat when giving sky tours, so sue me? Hangouts on Air so I could broadcast from fun and interesting places. For now, we can only do the regular, private Hangouts. I’m not sure if you can log into multiple pages on Google+ or multiple accounts on Twitter, but that would be very helpful for letting me manage CosmoQuest as well as my personal accounts on the go.
What about in social interactions? Can you see when someone is taking video? YES. You can see the person’s prism light up anytime the screen is on for them, so you know that something is going on. It’s also quite obvious when someone is looking up at their screen and not at you, though it’s a bit less distracting than if they pull out their phone to look at it.
Google Glass is slick, useful, and fun, but I’m not a fully integrated cyborg just yet. It will garner attention when you are out and about, so be prepared for lots of questions! There is definitely a great potential for this to become as ubiquitous as smartphones in time, given a substantial price drop, expanded features, and some social norming. I’m going to devote some extra brain cycles for coming up with as many uses as I can think of for current capabilities, as well as ways that I could contribute to creating new ones.
Pamela is getting hers this week as well, so we’ll be cooking up some Glass-created video-content for the 24-hour Hangout-A-Thon happening next weekend! I really hope you’ll join us.