There are plenty of reviews and op-eds out there on Google Glass by now — even plenty from people who have never even worn them — so I’ll make this succinct, and try to cover observations that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
In general, I really like Google Glass. Once you get used to wearing it — once you’ve found a workflow that makes sense for you, and once you’ve come to rely on some of the functionality Google Glass provides — you don’t like being without it. You even become gradually more willing to endure the ogling, inquisitions, and the embarrassment that inevitably comes of wearing them outside the house.
Those who criticize the form factor, battery life, etc. need to keep in mind that the Explorer Edition of Google Glass is a prototype. It’s designed to introduce the concept of wearing a computer on your face, and to help developers, content creators, and consumers learn about wearable computing. Limitations aside (and there are plenty), I think the concept that Google Glass introduces is solid. I don’t know how successful the first consumer version of Glass will be, but I now believe that there are real benefits to accessing information almost effortlessly, and I think the world is probably very close to being ready for the next wave of personal and portable technology beyond the mobile phone.
Some specific thoughts and observations (in no particular order):
- Navigation is probably my favorite feature. In fact, it might be what made me realize that wearable computing had to become a reality. Glass’s implementation isn’t perfect (it drains the battery quickly and there are still plenty of bugs), but being able to simply glance up and see turn-by-directions in the corner of your vision is extremely effective.
- The camera button should deactivate when you remove Glass from your face. The camera button is on the top and the USB port is on the bottom which means when you turn Glass over to charge it or to connect it to your computer, you frequently take unintentional upside down pictures (which subsequently get uploaded to Google+). Because of where I usually charge Glass, many of these pictures end up being of my crotch. The photos aren’t actually posted publicly, but you still have to go into your photo stream and clean it up from time to time (and if someone is looking over your shoulder, you might have some uncomfortable explaining to do).
- Kids absolutely love Glass. I frequently give new technology to my children — or do my best to get feedback from teenagers — since kids usually approach new concepts without the preconceptions of adults. While I had friends who were quick to laugh at and dismiss Google Glass, my experience is that kids think the concept is amazing, and aren’t remotely ashamed or embarrassed to wear them. My older daughter wore Glass for an entire afternoon at an art festival and got significant use out of them. When she wore them out to dinner the other night, our waitress confessed that she couldn’t wait to get a pair herself. If you think that Glass is too nerdy to be successful, consider early perceptions around things like personal computers in general, mobile phones, and Bluetooth headsets. Even wristwatches were once widely thought to be a threat to masculinity. It wasn’t until soldiers started strapping their pocket watches to their wrists because it was much more practical than having to remove them from a pocket that wristwatches started to gain acceptance beyond frivolous feminine accessories.
- While kids love Glass, the thirty degree activation feature does not work well for them. You can activate Glass by tilting your head up thirty degrees so that you don’t have to reach up and touch the touchpad. It turns out that kids are almost always looking up at roughly thirty degrees which means Glass is constantly activating. I find that when I wear Glass, it activates more frequently than I would like, as well (despite the fact that I’m six feet tall). For instance, they activate during movies, and during the all-important motion of drinking a beer. Rather than lifting your heard thirty degrees to activate Glass, I think a more useful gesture would be to look up with just your eyes — something we do less frequently and that is more deliberate than just lifting your head.
- One of the most frequent criticisms I’ve read about Glass is that you still need your phone. (I’ve heard this about the latest generation of smart watches, as well.) I have no idea where this complaint comes from. I don’t think the goal of wearable computing — whether it be on your face or your wrist — should be to replace other technologies, just like I don’t think phones or tablets replace personal computers. Technology more frequently adds and augments rather than displaces or replaces. The goal of wearable computing is to create new opportunities and interactions rather than render older ones obsolete. Sometimes new technologies are so obviously superior that the old ones are rapidly abandoned, but it’s more common for us to add additional devices and capabilities to our lives — at least during an initial period of transition.
- I’m probably stating the obvious here, but future versions of glass will need to be water resistant. Once you get used to having Glass, you don’t want to take them off just because the forecast calls for showers.
- Glass has a built-in guest mode which is a brilliant idea. Like your phone, Glass becomes a very personal device which you will likely be reluctant to share with everyone who asks to take a peek — especially because it’s so easy to post content publicly. Glass also takes some getting used to so you probably don’t want your friends and family familiarizing themselves with the interaction models while connected to your Google+, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.
- The one big complaint I have about Glass is the viral messaging that gets appended to texts and emails. All messages have the text “Sent through Glass” appended to them, and as far as I can tell, there’s nothing you can do about it. If Glass were free, I wouldn’t complain. But at $1,500 (actually, well over $1,600 with tax), I don’t feel like I should be forced to do viral marketing on Google’s behalf. The ironic thing is that given the option, I would probably still append some kind of a message as I do on my other devices in order to provide some context for brevity, auto-correct errors, etc. However, I really hate not being given the option to at the very least customize the message.
Update (5/26/2013): After receiving a great deal of feedback and several questions, I decided to add a few additional points:
- In my opinion, the camera is not the killer feature. Photos are difficult to compose with Glass, you can’t edit them like you can on a phone, and sharing is much more difficult and limited. (This final point could partially be addressed in software, but it still wouldn’t be as easy as a mobile phone.) The one advantage Glass has over a camera in a phone is that it is more available and accessible. However, that is also perhaps one of Glass’s biggest barriers to adoption. Having a camera constantly pointed at the world prompts all kinds of privacy concerns which bloggers, journalists, and even Congress will not tire of debating anytime soon. Like most things in life, technology is a tradeoff: You measure the good against the bad, and in the end, decide if something is a net gain or a net loss. At least right now, I believe that the camera in Glass is a net loss. The ability to take a picture a few seconds faster than you could with your phone is nice, but it’s probably not worth the accompanying privacy issues (it’s only a matter of time before Glass is banned from my gym, for instance), the additional bulk and weight of the device, and the fact that most pictures simply aren’t all that good. Having gained some experience with Glass now, if I had the option of buying a smaller, lighter, and less threatening version without a camera, I think I probably would.
- Another issue that Glass has brought to the forefront is the matter of distraction. Distraction is no worse with Glass than any other device. Glass never displays notifications unexpectedly (with the exception of the display activating when you tilt your head up, but that can be disabled) and therefore it is no more distracting than a mobile phone. In fact, because you can glance at a map or a message even faster, I would argue that Glass is possibly less distracting than a phone. That is not to say Glass is distraction-free, however. Not even close. I don’t believe that technologies like heads-up displays or hands-free calls eliminate or even reduce distraction since the lack of attention is far more dangerous than the simple mechanics and logistics of interacting with a device. That said, when used responsibly, Glass should not be any more dangerous than your phone. (Note that I am not dismissing the dangers of phones — I’m just claiming that Glass is no worse.)
- Related to distraction is the question of presence. I’ve noticed that a significant number of people are offended by Glass because they feel like it represents just one more device to come between people, to distract us from the current time and place, and to devalue human interaction. I’m undecided on this point. I personally choose to be discreet with my devices; unless I’m specifically monitoring something (usually work-related), I rarely pull out my phone in social situations, and I always give someone standing in front of me priority over whatever might be happening on my phone, watch, or Google Glass. That said, I don’t feel the need to impose my personal philosophies on others. I think it remains to be seen exactly what the repercussions are of integrating all these data streams into our consciousness. I know there are studies which are not optimistic, but devices like phones and Glass remind me a great deal of video games. When I was a kid, the conventional wisdom was that video games would “melt your brain” (and there are myriad studies that claim to back that up). I’m sure I’ve heard that phrase — or some variation thereof — dozens of times throughout my life. However, I’ve been gaming pretty consistently from the time I got my first hand-held LED football game, my first PC, and my first console (Intellivision), and I believe that video games have enriched my life in a number of ways. I believe that responsible and conscientious integration of technology into one’s life can be very positive and empowering. However, I also acknowledge that it can have detrimental effects on relationships and quality of life when not moderated. For the most part, I don’t find discussions of whether certain technologies are “good” or “bad” to be productive. I think it’s up to us individually to find where and how technology fits into our lives — to embrace it where it works, and reject or modify it where it does not. I see technology as a massive, never-ending human experiment, and we shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, and to make plenty of mistakes and adjustments along the way. And at least in instances where people’s lives are not at stake, I think we should be patient with those around us who are trying to figure it out for themselves.
Although I really love Google Glass, I don’t love it because it’s perfect, or because I think Google got it exactly right. I love Glass because it is an early attempt at practical wearable computing, and I think it proves that wearable computing is going to happen. Whether it happens now or in the future is hard to say. The world was not ready for digital books on a large scale until Amazon introduced the Kindle, or tablet computers until Apple introduced the iPad, so it’s hard to say whether Google is ahead of its time, or whether the Glass team is successfully creating the environment they need to drive mainstream adoption. Whether it happens now or in the near future, there’s little doubt in my mind that it will eventually happen.
Whenever I question whether a new technology will be successful, I think back to a conversation I had with a friend of mine after the original iPhone was introduced. By any definition, he was and still is an Apple fanboy, but he had no interested in the iPhone because it wasn’t very suitable to single-handed use. He was too focused on the drawbacks, and not focused enough on how the positives would outweigh the negatives. Today, he’s a big iPhone fan, and I’m sure couldn’t imagine his life — or probably even a single day, for that matter — without an iPhone in his pocket.
So to all the nonbelievers, get your jeering and finger pointing out of the way now because it may not be very long before you will be wearing something like Google Glass yourself.