Larry Page has said that, when he wears Google Glass, the wearable electronics that rests on the bridge of your nose like a pair of
spectacles, he feels like he’s seeing the future. After I picked up Glass myself recently, I now know what he means.
As a speaker and attendee of the recent Google Zeitgeist meeting, I was invited to join the group of so-called Google Explorers who are using Glass before its introduction to consumers sometime in 2014. Essentially, we are people willing to try out a beta version of Glass, the “Explorer” edition, and help give Google feedback about it in community forums. I had tried a pair of Glass on briefly at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, back in January and also at Google Science Fair in September. So I was pretty psyched to get my hands on one.
The Google Glass store at Chelsea Market in New York City is all that you’d expect. Filled with light, it’s open and spare but feels somehow warm and geek-chic stylish. Although I was definitely not cool enough to fit in there wearing, as I was, my usual Serious Business Suit, they didn’t seem to mind. The hostesses at the front greeted me warmly and recognized me instantly—naturally, I realized a half a beat later, because they had my Google+/gmail info handy and could see my face on screen. In any case, I’m on six social-media platforms (including an internal one for my company) and my job isn’t exactly a non-visible one, so I suppose I’ve given up on the idea of being anonymous in general anyway.
I only had a few minutes to admire the upholstery and such before being greeted by a cheerful fellow named John, whose Glass looked back at me, kind of like a Borg third eye. For fun, he let me try on models in various colors from a wall display that made them look like they were part of an artist’s gallery statement on techno-life: I tried on white, tangerine (“That’s a good color for you!”), aqua (“That one definitely looks better on people with blue eyes.”), charcoal. But as a good New Yorker, I had ordered black, our city’s favorite color for wearables of all kinds.
John and I were soon seated at what looked like a drafting table with two stools. Staff offered champagne or other celebratory beverage—I went with the bubbly stuff known as Perrier. I opened the handsomely designed package and lifted out the black-framed Glass. I put it on, and it fit perfectly with no adjustment. But users can bend the wire-like frame, and push or pull the clear rectangular display as needed.
The display sits slightly above your right eye, out of your direct line of sight; the electronics curve behind it in two slim rectangles with a gap for your right ear. You can turn Glass on with a tap on the right or a flick of your head up by 30 degrees (also adjustable). When you can see a home screen with the words “OK, Glass” and the time displayed, the device ready to hear one of seven different command options: Google something (of course!), take a picture, take a video, find directions, send a message, make a call, and make a video call. You can also swipe forward and back on the side of Glass to move through a time line of screen options, kind of like a series of index cards, and you can swipe down with one finger to go back a screen or with two to shut it off.
John walked me through the set ups in just a few minutes. Soon I was ordering Glass around myself–the voice recognition is pretty good: “OK, Glass,” I said, “Google how do I say ‘hello’ in Japanese?” Through the bone at the side of my skull, I heard the chirpy answer: “Konichiwa!” Glass uses bone conduction to transmit vibrations, so it’s not apparent to others that you’re literally hearing voices inside your head. If you ask for directions, Glass will show you the path you are taking in real time ahead of you, like your own personal GPS. Using voice commands alone, I took a photo and instantly put it up on my Google+ page, with a caption; if you prefer, you can also just press a small button on top to snap a picture. I made a video of the view through the windows of Chelsea; 10 seconds is the default, but you can extend it.
In other words, it just might be the best (and worst) thing next to getting a chip to access the Internet implanted directly into your head. I knew my Scientific American colleague Michael Voss was eating his heart out with jealousy about my picking up Glass, so I thoughtfully sent him a quick e-mail from the store, which came out “this is from my class hello.” Well, it misspelled “Glass,” but not bad for obeying someone with a New York accent. Michael does have class, however, since he hasn’t expressed an interest in revenge—yet.
Do you think if I let him borrow it, he will forgive me?
Anyway…Glass isn’t perfect. For now, Glass has to piggyback on a local WiFi or pairing with your phone’s Bluetooth for Internet access, which is mildly inconvenient. The GPS so far requires pairing with an Android phone. It drains its energy supply pretty quickly. The possible privacy impacts of the device in general, also, can be unnerving for some (don’t miss the parody video at the end of this blog “Will Google Glass Make Us Better People? Or Just Creepy?.”
But just using Glass even for a couple of minutes lets you imagine a future of wearable electronics that helpfully, rather than intrusively, weaves technology into our lives while also giving businesses like ours new ways to meet customer needs. I’ve got a few ideas about what Scientific American might try doing, in fact. But I would really welcome yours and invite you to share them below.