Thursday, December 19, 2013

Google Glass – my first 24 hours

I picked up my Google Glass (glasses?) yesterday at the Google Glass location at the Chelsea Market in NYC. You, my dear readers, expressed a lot of interest in what the experience is like when I posted a few weeks back that I was selected by Google to become a Glass Explorer.

So here we go.

Pick Up

The Glass space in NY is an airy, bright and open loft space that feels… well… a little Apple-ish. Less is certainly more in this space, but it is very functional and nothing distracts from what you are there for.

The Glass instructor/rep takes his/her time with you, doing both orientation as well as personalization. We took about an hour to get the fit done (2% of the time) and doing set up as well as orientation (98% of my time).

My biggest surprises were:

(1) The unboxing is also very “Apple” – high quality materials, and very minimalistic, but designed very nicely.

(2) The screen quality is actually very good. It is apparently HD and it shows. You do need a dark background though. We were at the Google Glass location on a particular bright day and I really needed to look towards darker areas to fully benefit from the visual quality.

(3) I could use Google glass without my reading glasses! I started with mounting them over my reading glasses (which are frameless) which was just barely OK.

After a suggestion to try them without, I actually discovered I could see! It was a miracle (I am channeling Eddie Murphy in Trading Places). What remains awkward is that I can see Glass, but then anything else I need to read (screen on my phone, a piece of paper in my hands, etc.) still requires reading glasses. So I am anxiously awaiting Google glass with prescription glasses, which is (allegedly) in beta at the moment.

Wearing them in public

You do feel very “aware” you are wearing Glass, and it certainly leads to some stares. I haven't been approached yet with questions, but that is probably more due to my whereabouts for the last 24 hours (not in massively crowded spaces).

I have chosen a very inconspicuous frame color (“Shale”, or as I would call it: “grey”), and when we picked up my set we heard that Shale and Charcoal (in my world “black”) are the most popular colors in NY. There are some other, funky colors like bright orange/red (“Tangerine”) and sharp blue (“Sky”) so you can ensure you are more noticable than with the diminutive “Shale” frames.

I feel really good wearing them with the optional sunglasses "clip-on". This makes them less conspicuous and actually pretty good looking (or so I like to think...).

What it does

At the moment it is more about what it doesn’t… The App Store is (obviously) a work in progress and is still rather limited. Make that very limited.

For now there is a small number of Google Apps, all related to the Google ecosystem (G+, Gmail, Calendar, Hangout and YouTube are the main ones, all synched to your Google account of course). And then there are a small number of unique third party Glass apps, of which I downloaded Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter (where is LinkedIn?), Mashable, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and a weather app.

There are also Apps for golf, running, cycling (but where is Jawbone, Fitbit or Fuelband?), Google Play Music, Allthecooks Recipes (which I will try on my weekly Sunday night cooking stint), Evernote, Elle Magazine, Fancy and some others. The total App Store has 35 apps, of which the most curious one (at least to me) is “The Jewish Guide for Glass” described as a companion observant for Jewish People, reminding you to pray, where to pray, what to pray and much more. The new Pope 2.0 app can't be far behind!

But with time, I am sure there will be a lot of awesomeness. If you just think about it a little, you can easily imagine Uber showing you where your car is and how long it will be before it is with you, or TripAdvisor/Yelp/Foursquare allowing you to see tips and options when you’re out and about, or Shazam allowing you to check music you’re hearing, or public transport giving you updates of your subway/train/bus time arrivals and stops as your traveling, or Flightradar24 or Tripit Pro showing you where your check-in, lounge and gate is in the airport. And so on. Bring it!

The basics, i.e. taking photo's or video, are easily done and sharing is easy, too. But the camera quality is less than what you get on the lowest common denominator (iPhone) or better options (like other manufacturers now offer).

What I find Glass is not for (even though it is now possible) is web browsing. It is just too small and the navigation through webpages is too cumbersome.

Some annoyances

The Glass Operating System (GOS?) is a combination of touches, movements and speech.

Glass's speech recognition is quite good in dealing with my slight Dutch drawl, but I have heard from French and Indian speakers that they are having real difficulties in having Glass understand them. We were told at Google that the Glass team is apparently adding more and more speech recognition with accents.

But don't expect a Siri like experience for the speech part. You can say things, but Glass does not answer. It does have a feature to read out emails, messages and even websites, but there is no interactive conversation taking place.

The other thing is that all the approved “other” App providers like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. as well as your emails and messages all show in one big, hard to distinguish stream. So I am still trying to figure out as I go through my stream of “stuff” whether I am looking at something from Gmail, from Facebook's wall or the the editorial pages of the NYT or Mashable. I think it would be good to have some tiles so you can opt to exclusively review Facebook, Tumblr or any other content.

The biggest, and most often mentioned issue is however that there is currently no Apple iOS App. So the full experience can only be experienced on Android. From both Google’s as well as Apple’s POV this makes sense of course. Android is the world’s leading mobile platform – by quite a bit (see below) and Glass is a Google product so Android was always going to come first.

But at the same time, Apple is “unmissable” in its ability to drive mobile traffic. Rumor has it that the iOS App is on its way. If (at long last) the Democrats and Republicans can come together in the US on a budget deal, then there is hope for Glass to be fully iOS compatible.

The fact that there isn't an iOS app doesn't mean that you can't use Glass to make calls via your iPhone. You can but the interface is clumsy at best. You will enjoy Glass the most in combination with an Android phone or tablet for sure.

So should you get one?

It depends. Will it change your life like the iPhone did when it came out? No! But does it have the ability to? Possibly! It all depends on the “content” it is going to offer in the future.

At the moment, the amount of utility you get out of it is going to be very limited. But if you – like me – are a believer of “learning by doing” then you will need to become part of the tribe and become an official Glass Explorer. Here is the link to sign up.

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