My Experience with Google Glass

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

I, for one, tried to welcome our new bespectacled cybernetic overlords but alas, they were powered down to save battery.

I recently found the opportunity to try out Google Glass, the Version 2 of the Explorer Edition release.   First, let me comment on that.  When Glass was announced, I immediately applied and did all of the things a person was supposed to do to be considered for the opportunity to try Glass.      But, my pleads of Glass interest washed out over the internet and were only seen by maybe 100 people.  

Without a billion followers on Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, etc, I clearly didn't fit the intended recipient profile of the initial release.  Boo.     I find it super-ironic that Google, a company of geeks, would resort to popularity contests for product trials and reveals.   If you ever got picked last for kickball in elementary school, for some reason this reminds me of that.    I'd think the super smart Googlers could devise a more genius propagation method.

Eventually after some cajoling and arm twisting, an invite code found its way to my inbox for Google Glass from a photography colleague.  The very next day I was opening the Explorer Edition Google Glass box.  

The box and markings were very refined and nice.   Looks like someone took a cue from Apple in this respect.    A very sturdy box that could be wood or some very rigid cardboard, painted in a Matte white with the Glass emblem on it.   Minimalist but elegant.

The box revealed a URL to get started on one side and a frosted overlay accentuating the curve of the glass headware beneath.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug 

Lifting the frosted sheet, Glass is snugly held in place by a custom-routed cardboard insert.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Beneath this insert, the rest of the goodies, like a charging cable, carrying bag and mono earpiece are all cleverly packed in a very high-end way. 

The packaging was very good.

I began to run through the Glass setup procedure, done via the web instead of an Android app.   The Web App asked you some simple questions, had you login to your Google Account and then prompts for the information necessary to connect to a Wifi hotspot. 

I was surprised to learn it would not connect to the AC or N enabled SSIDs in my office powered by an Apple Airport Extreme but it was able to connect to a mesh of 802.11 a or g range extenders around me.

Why not put in an 802.11AC radio?  Maybe it has one and the Google->Apple mojo was bad.  But I'm pretty sure these only connect over the older wifi bands.  Surprising though the bandwidth consumption doesn't need my 100 mb internet connection so possibly there was power saving wisdom in that choice or maybe it was just a cost cutting measure.

At this point, I was off and running with Glass.

Initial use of Glass was pretty intuitive.  A tap on the temple-sensor gets the "Ok, Glass" start menu thing.   From there, it is listening for your command.   Tap-"Okay Glass, Take a picture" --> Picture Taken

Alternatively you can look up at a 50 degree angle and the Okay Glass menu shows.   I suppose these activations are in place to save battery and to prevent someone in the elevator telling you "Okay Glass, Google Pornography."

This control dynamic works well but isn't very natural unless you are the type of person that spends alot of time pawing at your temple like an insane-person.  The "look up" activation, I'm not thrilled with.   In perhaps one of my least wise moments, what is one of the first things I did with Glass?  I Drove to the subway down the street and back to grab a sandwhich.

Don't drive with Glass on.  Yes, there is a "Get Directions to..." feature.    As a passenger, go ahead and use it.   As a driver, it will make our streets more dangerous.  I know that I've seen chatter about Explorers being ticketed for driving with Glass.  Prior to using it, I thought that was silly since so many cars have pepper's ghost heads up displays similar to the Glass viewing cube.   It is different.  Not to mention, at night every reflective element in the road bounces around in the display prism and makes for lots of distracting reflective ghosts right near your eye.

I do hope that driving with Glass doesn't become 'a thing'.

On to using Glass..

Two use-cases of Google Glass was interesting to me.  As a Software Developer - Product Manager and as a Photographer.

As a photographer / dad - I found the idea of a somewhat unobtrusive eye-level camera to be promising.   In my hopes, Google Glass would be the best possible Dad's-Eye-View KidCam.  It did work reasonably well for this.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Especially with the Holidays around the corner, I imagined that Glass may solve our annual parental paparazzi Christmas morning problem.    In a way, cyborging up for Christmas morning could retraditionalize our Christmas morning, allowing me to put the other cameras away.   In theory, anyway.

So long as you get get all of your family memories to occur in less than 20 minutes.

The battery life is really quite limiting whilst shooting video.    20 minutes seems to be the average before the battery warning comes on.    On one hand, I can see this as a practical limit (home videos more than 20 minutes are too long to enjoy anyway) but on the other hand in use it led to battery rationing instead of care-free use.

The camera is decent, as compared to cellphone cameras in terms of image quality.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

but, the shutter control mechanism, the whole "spoken control" as well as on screen animations make the "time to snap" elongated -- which lead to many missed opportunities in stills.  All of your greatest frustrations from your worse point and shoot cameras -- effective shutter lag.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Being an arcade nut,  one of the uses that excited me about Glass was hands free video recording for the sake of demonstrating arcade machines and doing owner reviews.

So, I put Glass through the paces for some arcade review videos.   (Hard work, I know!)

As you can see from one of the videos, more of the same limitations in video quality.  Without exposure control settings, in the poorly lit 80's retro arcade environment things were too dark or blown out with no way for the wearer to correct while recording.  The "right-turns-only" race game led to a naturally lopsided image through the majority of the video.   Perhaps I hold my head crooked while driving? Didn't know that..

The battery life was again, a major problem here.    These three videos were done on three separate full battery charges and the battery was complaining about death at the end of each recording.

So, I'd sum up the camera experience saying that I'd like to see a better camera in the final retail version and the battery needs some rethinking.

 From the developer perspective, interfacing and coding for glass was easy enough if you have android development experience.   I was able to have a simple app running on glass within 15 minutes.

The general idea is that you present data in small screens called cards in a defined timeline.    Google did a good job of making all of that easy-peezy but I think the real challenge will come down to overcoming the practical limitations of building apps that scale to such a small amount of visible real estate.

The other challenge, I feel will be building applications to live within the "glance able information" model, where you may only have the screen active for 10 or 15 seconds at a time or that can survive keeping the screen active without destroying battery life.

Everyday use of Glass leaves a little to be desired.   The bluetooth audio isn't very good, unless you use the mono ear bud.  The design could be more understated.  I would imagine that Google designers wanted something that could become iconic but too me, the less you see the better.   Walking around the streets of Manhattan isn't the same as walking along the streets of southern Alabama suburbs.   It isn't a shame of use or a fear of being mugged, more of a desire to not be ostentatious.   In my opinion, Glass in it's current iteration is a little too ostentatious.   Unless you are looking for attention.   Of course, I've never been a fan of over-styled bluetooth headsets that wearers treat like jewelry, either.

My plans for a very Googley-Glass  Christmas morning of recording the kids in their excitement have faded, as has my excitement for this very cool but not-quite-ready technology product.  Maybe the retail release will be better.   But, it will have to be alot better with a far more attractive price point for me to come back for another round of play.   Sorry, Google.   I was rooting for you on this one.