Last week we received an email from Google offering us a pair of Google Glass (singular). Google Glass is a pair of spectacles with a head up display unit over one eye. It also has a forward facing camera for stills and videos, and has most of the functionality that you’d expect from a modern device – such as Bluetooth, Wifi, GPS, and it can make calls.
We’ll be using Google Glass to develop some prototype apps for our clients, and showing our customers how their consumers will be using technology in the future.
Google Glass is only available for developers in the US. It’s not cheap – it’s $1,500 (currently £1,000), and for that money, you only get tinted lenses, not clear ones. It does come with a charger though. And the charger comes in very useful…
When you buy Google Glass, you have to book an appointment to get them. My US colleagues went to the appointment, and within a couple of days, Glass was on a plane over to the UK.
The first thing we did was to factory reset them. This is important because Glass relies on a Google+ account, and pretty much everything you do with Glass is then applied to your Google account.
It took two hours to set Glass up. In that time we had to charge them, do another Factory Reset and then charge them again. Apparently, Glass works well if you already have an Android phone. I’ve got a Samsung S4 so this was music to my ears. You download the MyGlass app from Google Play and hey presto. Only, MyGlass isn’t available in the UK Google Play and the US store wouldn’t let me download it. So we continued the set up on a computer and manually configured my phone as a hotspot and paired it to Glass.
Setting up Glass on a computer is a step by step procedure which finishes with a QR code. You use Google Glass to look at the QR code, and this transfers all the settings to Glass. Clever stuff.
You need to do some configuration on a computer or phone because entering Wifi passwords just isn’t practical on Glass. There’s no concept of a keyboard on Glass.
The first thing you notice, even during setup, is how crystal clear the screen is. Bearing in mind I had to remove my standard spectacles to wear Glass. The system font is the [currently] fashionable thin san serif, and it’s easy to read. And Glass feel no heavier than my usual spectacles.
Once we had eventually setup Glass, it was time to start testing them. But the Google Glass User Interface isn’t easy to pick up. You use the right arm of the frame to swipe forward, backwards and down. The track pad is excellent to use, but it’s easy to get lost in the user interface. You can swipe between each ‘screen’ or ’tile’, and some menus have dozens of tiles. It reminded me of old Nokia phones.
After half an hour I’d got the hang of some of the functionality. It also helped that a colleague from the US office who had been in the original Google appointment, sat opposite me and walked me through some of the functionality. If you are close enough to the person wearing Glass, you can see a reflection of the screen they are looking at, and then help them with the track pad. A word of caution though – in the middle of an open plan office it looks like you’re stroking the side of someone’s face. Another word of caution – this half an hour of ‘playing’ with Glass had reduced the battery to 71%.
The user interface is a key problem for Google. As soon as the device arrived, people in the office wanted to use it. But as soon as they started using it, it was confusing to use and they got frustrated. It takes a while to get the ‘wow’ moment, such as activating Glass by saying “OK Glass”, and then doing a voice activated Google search.
I found voice activation worked well, although I’m using it more and more in Chrome (you should try it) and Word. Other people in the office managed to annoy the rest of the office by constantly repeating “OK Glass” in an increasingly frustrated tone.
The battery life is clearly an issue. If smartphones like the iPhone or Galaxy frustrate you, Glass is in a league of its own.
In the office, twenty-one people wanted a go within two hours of setting Glass up, and that included some customers. But it takes a while to master that user interface, so people’s reactions went from amazement of seeing the device, to frustration of not being able to use it properly.
I’ve been adding more apps to Glass. Apps are added via a web browser, and there are several apps already available including my all-time favourite, the cycling app Strava. There are lots of apps available. After almost a year of using Windows 8 I still have fewer apps on my laptop than I have already added to Glass.
Once the initial novelty had settled down, I thought about wearing Glass outside of the office. I wear prescription glasses, so it would be a bit silly leaving those in the office and walking around with Glass and the absence of lenses. And then there’s the looks. Glass looks really nerdy. Really, really nerdy. Honestly, I think I’d feel a bit embarrassed to wear them in public at the moment.
Last night I had a parents’ evening at my son’s secondary school. I couldn’t help but think that if I’d have worn Glass to the parents’ evening, teachers would have spoken to me differently. The forward facing camera is the same size as a modern smartphone – it’s clearly visible. Trust will be a significant issue with Glass, and I’m not sure how it will be overcome.
Will this be the future? At the moment it feels a bit too intrusive. From Google’s point of view, it’s a brave step. The smartphone was a natural evolution of where mobile phones were heading. An iPad is in between a laptop and a smartphone. Smartphones and tablets are evolutionary. And Google Glass is revolutionary.