Google Glass: Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

20140917_074443_805_xGoogle has announced they are halting the sales of Google Glass, the highly experimental, highly controversial eye-gear that looks like something straight out of Star Trek. (See “The Game” from Season 5 of Star Trek: The Next Generation.) Synonymous with “Wearable Tech” Glass promised a future seen only in video games: personal heads-up displays (or HUDs) for its users—sorry, wearers. Since its introduction in 2012, Glass won attention for its groundbreaking technology and application; but since then, popularity for the technology turned. Restaurant and movie theatre bans and certain infamous endorsements did little to raise its popularity; and with this recent announcement, tech experts are speculating as to why Glass did not take off:

The cost. Let’s see, I can either buy a new computer, or get a pair of Glass.

The aesthetic. Seriously, I look like I feel. Awkward, but empowered.

Privacy. When wearing Glass, I’m sharing my experience with the world…and that doesn’t need your consent.

I have an idea why: Glass isn’t all that.

I spent a month wearing Glass, and part of my research included looking at what reviewers had to say about them, their thoughts, and their feedback. What surprises me is what people are not saying about Glass, and moreover how these stumbling blocks led to someone like me (a dyed-in-the-wool tech geek) walking away from Glass with the opinion “Well, okay, I can say I gave them an honest try.” Okay, yeah, privacy and cost were major factors, I won’t lie there; but plenty of other nails were within reach to be driven into Glass’ high tech coffin.

The interface. Perhaps my biggest gripe over Glass is how inconsistent the interface—both touch and voice—performed. The “Ok Glass…” and associated commands like “Take a Picture” and “Record a Video” were fine, but once I took said picture or video, it would stand to reason a command like “Send picture to…” followed by saying someone’s name (as you do when in a car, using Hands-Free dialing) would work, but it didn’t. If I wanted to email the picture or post it to someone’s G+ feed, I would have to scroll through everyone in my account. One. At. A. Time. Could I say “D” or “M” and jump to that section of my network? Nope. I would have to scroll one-at-a-time through every follower, and if I touched Glass’ trackpad interface too hard (which was extremely hard to judge) I would send the picture to whomever was in my HUD. I sent an innocuous picture to “A Galaxy Called Dallas” at least three times as my “swipe” was misinterpreted as a “tap.”

In fact, here was the picture…

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Glass—at least the pair I was wearing—could not seem to distinguish between a “tap” and a “swipe” while vertical swiping seemed to confuse it if I didn’t do it just right.

And if you take a look at what is on my laptop, you will get a glimpse at my next hangup with Glass…

The lack of literature. So I was encountering this problem between “tap” and “swipe” and the zen of navigation. It would have been great to read the instructions for some sort of calibration.

This was when I discovered just how badly Google wants to be Apple.

There were some directions on how to attach the shades (which did liven up the aesthetic), a bit of paperwork on warranty, and diagrams on how to charge up the battery. All of this was helpful, but didn’t answer my questions. I was then on Google itself, trying to find what I could about the Interface, which, as experimental as it was, was buried in their site. You would think Google would have printed some sort of instruction booklet considering how experimental and how innovative this tech is; but the impression I got from the minimalist packaging was an expectation for people to pull Glass out of its box and start playing with it, just as if Glass were an iPhone or MacBook. Thing is, Glass is hardly an iPhone or a MacBook. It’s a state-of-the-art experience, and Google is sending you stumbling into the future without any guidance on how it is supposed to work. The tutorials installed are fair, perhaps a step up from online references. I wouldn’t describe them as thorough, neither print or online materials helping to abate my frustration on what audio commands were recognized, how to adjust the sensitivity between a touch and a tap, and other such details.

Glass is Glass…and Your Phone. When you hear about Glass, it’s all about the Glass; but what you don’t necessarily hear about is how Glass doesn’t really anything until you tether it to your phone. So you have to first unpack Glass, then charge it. Then you have to download the Glass app, then tether it to your phone, and keep your phone within range, otherwise Glass fails to function. So instead of swapping one device for another, you have two. Tethering to your phone, by the way, comes at a cost: your phone battery. While some Glass wearers complain about the battery life in the Glass, I noted a faster drain on my phone.

20140917_083601_145_xFeel the Heat. To give Glass a proper shakedown, I filmed from my perspective the cooking of a favorite Crock-Pot dish and used Glass exclusively as my GPS when on the road, making Glass THE MOST EXPENSIVE GPS I’ve ever used. Both times, Glass performed admirably, provided I ignored the peculiar burning sensation along my right temple. After thirty minutes, you see, the right arm of Glass (where the trackpad, eyepiece, and storage is all housed) gets warm. After an hour, it’s hot enough to sting you. Yes, there is a sleep mode that, with a nod of your head, wakes up Glass; but based on my own Glass tasks, I’m actually surprised more people haven’t mentioned their Glass overheating. It’s a problem no one seems to be talking about, so either I’m the only one that cares or I got a bad pair of Glass.

Glass is an idea ahead of its time. With improvements to the interface and the ability to make the technology more affordable, I have no doubt Glass will become as prevalent as the FitBit and iPods. In its present version, however, it’s offering technology to a society that is outraged when they discover that their government is spying on them, but doesn’t blink an eye when social media sites mine accounts for data and has no problem reveling already in distractions. Privacy continues to dwindle in expectations,  the concern mounting over how monitored we are as a culture; but consider for a moment how many people whip out a smartphone and start filming random action in the world. Google now wants to offer that same society $1500 specs that can capture the moment at any time, conceivably without your knowledge?

These are the higher questions critics were asking about Google Glass, daring to propose that the Real World, on a whole just wasn’t ready for it, hence leading to the halt in Glass sales.

Your mileage may vary, but after my own time with Glass, I offer the exact opposite. Glass is a neat idea. Truly, it is, but I don’t think it is ready for the Real World. As bleeding edge technology as Google promises, perhaps a tourniquet is needed.

What do you think? Will Glass catch on?
If you are using Glass, was your experience different?
Is wearable tech the future? Are we ready for it?

2 thoughts on “Google Glass: Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

  1. I was interested in the Glass, but the high price tag kept me from getting one; it sounds from your experience, however, like I didn’t really miss all that much. How was the resolution? Was it capable of legibly displaying as much information as a smartphone’s screen, or was it fairly limited due to its size?

    I honestly don’t understand the paranoia about “Glass users could secretly be recording you!” For one thing, every cellphone made these days has a camera in it; anyone with one in his or her hand (or poking up out of a shirt pocket) could be surreptitiously recording the people around them. There are even apps specifically intended to hide recording by displaying something unrelated on the screen. (And that doesn’t even take into account “button cameras” costing far less than a phone, capable of recording full HD while disguised as part of a shirt or coat.) Yet I’ve never heard of people yanking phones out of others’ hands due to fears of secretly being recorded, as some Glass wearers have experienced.

    (For another thing, it borders on megalomania for non-celebrities to assume that someone would be recording them just going about their business simply because the person is wearing a device that, among its many other functions, has the ability to do so. Perhaps Google should have put a RECORD light on the front of the Glass, impossible to disable, to mitigate those fears.)

    • Actually there is a small light that comes on when you record. I think why people were so unsettled by the privacy issue was how easy it would be to be caught in the background as Glass’ range was comparable to Widescreen. To answer your question, the resolution was nothing short of impressive.

      But…

      My column sums up the experience for me. Glass wants to be the next big thing, but they have a long road to walk before they get there. Too many inconsistencies, too many hiccups in the interface.

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