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Google Glass: Early impressions

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December 14, 2013

Gizmag begins its journey of exploration with Google Glass

Gizmag begins its journey of exploration with Google Glass

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Most companies conduct their experiments behind closed doors. If, say, a new iPhone hits store shelves, then chances are the dirty work has been done and it's already pretty polished. But Google is very different, sometimes letting the public join in on the beta testing fun. Gizmag recently joined Google's US$1,500 smartglasses beta program, and though we're still a ways off from a full Google Glass review, these are our early impressions.

Google describes its Google Glass early adopters as "Explorers," and I think that's a pretty fitting label. Based on my first days with Glass, I can say that using it is definitely unlike anything I've done before. This isn't a subtle nudge towards progress. Glass is Google's forceful bulldoze into the future, and when you join that crusade, you do feel a bit like Ponce de León, Neil Armstrong, or James T. Kirk. Only much funnier-looking.

Be prepared to draw some stares if you wear Google Glass

Yep, Glass very noticeably changes your appearance. Unlike a smartphone, which you can slip into your pocket, or even a smartwatch, which can be easily hidden behind a sleeve, Google Glass makes its presence known to anyone within sight of you. And there's really no way around this. If you have longer hair or wear hats, the effect is a little more subtle. But on a bald head like mine with nothing to distract from it? There will be stares.

In these early stages of "Exploring," I think that self-consciousness is the biggest obstacle to embracing the Google Glass experience. I find myself thinking twice before wearing it out, wondering if this dinner or this trek to the supermarket is worth drawing the stares and questions, or whether I'd rather save that for another trip.

I don't think Glass looks bad. It's comfortable to wear, and is probably about as fashionable as a face-computer can be in 2013. I definitely feel like I just enlisted in the first stages of the Robocop program, or perhaps as a chief engineer on the starship Enterprise, but I think it looks alright. Most people's first reaction involves some kind of wrinkling of the brow (whether out of curiosity or abhorrence). But then again, maybe people reacted that way to the first prescription glasses, piercings, or shaved heads. Now those are all accepted styles in most cultures, and, who knows, maybe devices like Glass will be one day too.

Gizmagging and driving is still legal, as far as we know

For society to embrace smartglasses, though, the devices are going to have to do some pretty damn cool stuff to make it worth our while. Right now Glass is a mixed bag in that respect, as you'd expect a beta product to be. But it's also undeniably oozing with potential.

As I'm writing this, I heard a chirp in my right ear (though technically I heard vibrations that traveled through the right side of my skull). I lifted my head to about a 30° angle to turn the screen on, and saw that I had a new text message. I read the text, tapped on a link, decided I'd handle it later, and went back to writing. Hardly world-changing stuff, especially when you're already sitting at a computer. But when you consider that I could have done that whether I was driving (while still paying attention to the road, of course), running a marathon, or skydiving out of a plane, you start to see the potential here.

When you put Google in your field of vision, you start to realize the potential

But I don't think notifications alone make smartglasses worth all the gawking you'll endure. Most of the early smartwatches handle notifications well too, only they don't wrap a long plastic bar around the side of your head. For me the biggest reason to get excited about Glass is, well, Google.

You might already know that you activate the voice control portion of Glass by saying "OK Glass" from the device's main screen. The list of things it directly responds to is pretty limited right now (stuff like sending messages, taking pictures, or getting directions). But if you add a "Google" onto that ("OK Glass, Google how tall is Kevin Durant?"), you plug your query into the world's biggest search engine. And with Google search now answering more and more questions with direct answers (in addition to the tried-and-true web results), well, you can see where this could really shake things up.

While it's in beta, you'll have to a) get an invite, and b) plunk down US$1,500 to be a Go...

If a smartphone is like having the web in your pocket, then Google Glass is like having the entirety of Google in your field of vision. No matter where you are, no matter what you're doing, as long as you're wearing Glass, the world's vast reservoirs of knowledge are available to you. This really feels like a first baby-step in the direction of things like connected contact lenses or computer brain implants. I joke about the cyborg thing, but that's really what we're doing here. Any knowledge you seek is just waiting to be displayed in the upper-right part of your field of vision.

Whether humanity as a whole actually goes in that direction is anyone's guess. The potential benefits are obvious, but so are the pitfalls. Can computers become intertwined with our eyesight without disconnecting us from, well, life? Will others always wonder whether you're really experiencing the moment with them or just checking the score of the Lakers game? Even worse, will people constantly worry that you're taking pictures of or recording them?

There's nothing subtle about Google Glass

These kinds of questions will probably follow Glass for a while, and we'll keep revisiting them too. But my first impressions of Glass are that it's the boldest product I've ever used ... and maybe also the most terrifying. Its potential reaches far beyond typical consumer lust, but gaining that mainstream acceptance might also be its biggest challenge.

We're going to have much more to share about Google Glass in the coming weeks, so be sure to stay tuned.

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin covers consumer technology for Gizmag. He's previously written for Android Central, Geek, GottaBeMobile, Android Police, and The Huffington Post.
He lives in New Mexico, U.S., with his lovely wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
18 Comments

Alternatively get yourself a pair of Pivothead SMART glasses instead, not stupidly priced and you wont stand out as a Cyborg attracting funny glances :D

Pmb Denton
14th December, 2013 @ 10:59 am PST

You seem to have forgotten one of the more obvious "pitfalls":

Will that future be very bright if it is directly tied to a corporation that blew off its "Do no evil" slogan many years ago?

My guess would be no.

Anne Ominous
14th December, 2013 @ 11:07 am PST

I already wear prescription glasses and adding these things on top of that? NOPE. I already asked my ophthalmologist about these devices and they weren't exactly sure about the long term effects to one's eyesight.

I've read some ophthalmologist suggest that there isn't enough long term testing to see what their effects are and that people should not wear something unless it's prescribed or that it's a form of protection like sunglasses or protective glasses and that since only one eye has the video display, that it might be cause for concern.

I think there will always be some that might think these things are cool, but I think they are more of a fad product that's getting attention because it's novelty aspects of what it offers, but someone to actually use these things might become obtrusive since some public places have already and will continue to ban them, so one has to constantly take them off and be able to store them, which just seems like a hassle.

Bottom line, I won't buy them regardless of the price.

RichDavis
15th December, 2013 @ 12:02 pm PST

If this could be a subtle add on to an existing pair of glasses or sunlgasses (key word being SUBTLE) I can see the public accepting it better, as far as the tech goes I think it's awesome and futuristic.

Like any new tech though the third or fourth generation will probably be where price meets demand on a large scale, and the cool factor will peak.

DLK811
15th December, 2013 @ 12:55 pm PST

Baby steps into a Brave New World...

inchiki
15th December, 2013 @ 04:06 pm PST

It's only a matter of time before someone who doesn't want you filming them puts that evil bit of glass right through your eyeball.

Mark my words - this privacy invasion is so bad, when the campaign to slug idiots using this gets off, there's going to be a ton of half-blind geeks out there before the world realizes how dumb that idea was.

christopher
15th December, 2013 @ 04:35 pm PST

I think the current version of Google Glass should be thought of in the same way as the old "brick" cellular phones. Although they may seem clunky at the moment, they're just the first step in a long process of refinement.

I don't think they're just a gimmick, I think some variant of this technology is going to be here for the long haul.

Wombat56
15th December, 2013 @ 05:30 pm PST

" I could have done that whether I was driving (while still paying attention to the road, of course)"

actually, i don't think you could - there's already been a person ticketed in usa for wearing them driving; this is as dangerous as having to interact with a smartphone while in control (+/-) of a vehicle

ash
15th December, 2013 @ 06:22 pm PST

Google glass is cool and all, and Google is definitely getting some awesome technology, but glasses as a smart device is just too difficult and strange. Smartwatches are the wearable tech of the future.

Smart Watch
15th December, 2013 @ 07:13 pm PST

Your analogy with Neil Armstrong is quite fitting. He probably did feel like taking a giant step for mankind, moving our species into the future. But we're not quite the moon-walking, space-faring race he envisioned, are we? When did we walk on the moon last, remind me?

Whatever he envisioned, he was wrong. Whatever you envision while you wear this gadget, you're almost certainly wrong. Should we get excited about any vision that is almost certainly inaccurate?

Nicolas Connault
15th December, 2013 @ 09:50 pm PST

I think a better implementation is no Google glass at all.

Our eyes have 4k+ equivalent resolutions at 60+ fps.

A far better approach would be to have an implantable near the corneal stem with either an external inductive power source, or some kind of organically powered source like a blood fuel cell.

Then you can feed stuff directly without the inconvenience of Dorky 80s cyborg motif.

The technology exists, but like anything, has never been pushed beyond basic eyesight because it is not media orientated. Plus the ASIC to drive beyond ceratin resolutionsit has to step up. At the moment blind people are happy to see blocks in 16 colours. If it ramps up you can expect chipsets to support the full gambit.

Add an external IR camera, and you have yourself cat eyes. Bargain !

PS - I would expect the usual "evil corporation, mind control, and other such tripe" And to some degree, this might be achievable. But pick your poison. I for one would prefer this tech.

Nairda
16th December, 2013 @ 02:34 am PST

Electromagnetic radiation piped right into your brain? That's a little worrisome.

ezeflyer
16th December, 2013 @ 08:59 am PST

Yeah, it's a little strange, but is it any worse than today where everyone is face down into their smartphones?

Jay Wilson
16th December, 2013 @ 10:16 am PST

Google should team up with these guys who make solar light caps.http://www.2clight.com

The solar panel could charge the battery and caps look cool but not too geeky.

Can I have one of those for prototype testing please :)

Kääriäinen Heikki Haykey
16th December, 2013 @ 11:57 am PST

I envisioned scenes of "The Jerk" with Steve Martin where he gets rich from inventing a nose piece to hold glasses in place and then goes broke from all the lawsuits from people who are now cross-eyed.

Capt'nCrunch
16th December, 2013 @ 12:16 pm PST

1. Using only one eye and staring the upper right all the time may develop some eye muscle problem. When people chew only on one side for years, your lip line gets slightly sloped sometimes. It should be switchable.

2. Turning your head 30 degrees to the right to turn on? Again unless you switch to the left as well, your neck will feel it sooner or later.

3. How strong is the electromagnetic exposure so close to an eye and the brain?

4. The danger to driving is enormous, particularly if accessed to google search. It should be banned while driving like smartphones, but how can you enforce it?

Dangers to health and accidents seem to outweigh the benefits.

kamaaina
16th December, 2013 @ 12:31 pm PST

Glass + driving = distracting if 'abused' but what about the motorcyclist using it with a rear facing camera to better see what is happening behind or providing satnav? Anyone who does their job on their feet and or with their hands full e.g. engineers, technicians, doctors and nurses etc etc all would benefit hugely from being able to access information not only wirelessly but 'touch-lessly' as well. It all seems perfectly reasonable, desirable even, to me.

I'm sure with development this tech will be virtually indistinguishable from an ordinary pair of glasses or for those of us who already wear them, an optional extra.

I think the nay-sayers are, as usual, lacking the imagination to see where something like this can take us, focussing again, as usual, on all the potential negatives.

Martin Winlow
17th December, 2013 @ 02:07 am PST

@Pmb Denton:

But I don't think those have a display, do they?

dalroth5
1st January, 2014 @ 11:15 pm PST
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