I Wore Glass

Last week I discovered that we had a pair at work so I went and tried them out today. It was my first time so lots of fumbling as usual first times go. But first impressions always count. And you know that feeling when you have too many electronic gadgets around the house that you don’t really use anymore? Well, that’s my first impression. Here are a few more;

  1. Build – for $1500 you’d expect a whole heck of a lot more. Lots of plastic and wire. They could have been better designed – less plastic – more titanium frame – more of a glasses feel perhaps. Nothing elegant or premium about them at all. Google needs help here. Though I am not sure that Warby Parker is the one to help them out. Warby Parker makes cheap eyeglasses. Glass doesn’t need cheap. They should call Jon Ive.
  2. Function – the only thing I could really do with any consistency was to take a picture. The two available gestures on the temple were awkward for me – tap (to activate Glass) and swipe forward or back on the touchpad. There is a third gesture, the head wakeup, but I didn’t try it as I have always had a hard time with the hair flip so I stuck with the stroke pad – it is more of a stroke pad than a touch pad. It was difficult for me to access Maps and it was very strange to have to tap or stroke the temple piece and speak out loud, “ok glass”, and then have this voice whisper into your right ear. Very weird. Very off putting.
  3. Display – seriously? I had to look up and to the right to make any sense of it and I can imagine what that experience would be like if I was walking or driving anything. It is nothing like the HUD experience I was expecting at all and a completely different experience than the screenshots you’ve seen on the web. I imagine that it could be very very distracting. But then the glasses weren’t adjusted to my face so maybe it was just me – but I doubt it.
  4. Camera – so I took a photo on a tap and immediately Glass had it up on the screen for me in preview mode. I’m not sure if you could turn off preview mode – but when it came up the resolution was very low, distractingly so, and the display naturally motivated me to look up and to the right. I also found myself looking for an uncluttered background onto which I could rest my focus and move my attention to the display. Imagine doing that in a car or on the street.
  5. Apps – well, beyond Maps and the Camera I couldn’t see or find anything worthwhile. I did see the new Evernote app for Glass but all that I saw useful in it was popping up a shopping list on Glass. There is a minimal amount of text that the display can accommodate and still be legible – think Twitter but up in the right corner of your eye. I suppose a shopping list from Evernote displayed in Glass might help – if I couldn’t remember the four things I had on it.
  6. Physical Experience – as to the experience of wearing Glass they were very very conspicuously perched on my face. It was hard to look or do anything with them without people staring at you as if some part of you had already started to assimilate to the borg. They are not for the socially awkward or even – for that matter – the socially well adjusted. When I turned to look at someone the response I got (albeit in an office full of the technologicially curious) was this desire to lean in and look close. I would turn to face someone and that someone would in turn lean in and check out Glass. Is that thing on? Can I try them? I can’t imagine what it would be to walk out on the street with them.
  7. User Experience – this is an interesting one. As a whole it needs improvement (well, duh). But the mental model that Glass represents as a relational device runs counter and quite opposite to the efforts of all of us out in the field who are designing experiences, applications and technologies that want to blend in with our daily lives (for a great discussion on this idea of “no interface” and an introduction to some of the technologies that epitomize this interaction watch Golden Krishna’s presentation – here – and a wonderful application of it here – helios bars)  I can’t imagine any field research that I have done in the past where I might have spoken to someone who might have described the solution to her unmet need as “a talking pair of glasses without lenses”. A mobile device is only as successful as it supports our efforts to be human and offers us the choice of connectedness to others and the vast web of knowledge the internets offer. While the UI of Glass supports this idea (whisper a command and I’ll get an answer projected somewhere near me) the physical expression and fabrication do not. The experience of wearing Glass is as if you took a hood ornament off an old Mercedes and stuck it on the end of your nose. Or worse, it is the technological equivalent of wearing a mink coat on a hot summer day – on your face.

But kudos to Google for giving it a try. I’ll be watching the development of Glass to see if it represents, in the end, a true paradigm shift in social interaction where the reward of wearing a mink coat on your face in summer far outweighs the inconvenience. This is obviously a very early release and very much of a proof of concept – an expensive minimally viable product. For that I’d give Google a high five. Strategically Glass gives Google an edge and is a stake in the ground for wearables. And they do certainly set the bar for any answer from the other companies in the room, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft et al. Those guys are going to be seen as me-too if they release anything close to this.

There is no question that Glass has brought Google a mass of publicity. Which is pretty interesting as a marketing strategy. Spend tens of millions on a traditional advertising campaign or try to make something cool that would get you the same amount of eyeballs and elevate the brand – as an experience. Compare that marketing message to Coke or some of the other global brands that rule the top ten. Google delivered.

I’d say that Google is probably about two to three years away from launching them as a really usable device – something that won’t end up in the drawerful of forgotten electronics that we all seem to have nowadays. And I would guess that Google released them this early in the game because they can afford to – and they knew it would take that long for the device to become truly practical and socially acceptable.