By now, the Glass Explorers Program is in full swing; websites are producing more and more articles on Google’s latest ‘experiment’ and the product is generating a lot of buzz. I was lucky enough to get into the Explorers Program (thanks to this tweet) and have been using Google Glass for a few weeks now. I’ve been formulating a lot of thoughts about it: how it is to wear, what I can use it for now, what it will be useful for with the right apps, etc. I’m going to talk about all of that and more in this article.
What is Google Glass
What is Google Glass? That’s the number one question I’ve been answering in the past month or so. Of course, it comes in different forms from “Is that what I think it is?” to “What’s that thing on your face?” to “Are you a cyborg?”
So how do I explain what it is? Well, I’m not super proud of the description, but I usually tell people:
It’s a small, head-mounted, voice-activated computer that allows me to do Google searches, take photos and video, get directions, and more.
It’s succinct and to the point, but I hesitate because I don’t really view it as a “computer” per-say, or at least I only view it as such in the same way I view a calculator as a computer. What it really is, is an extension of your cell phone; not in the sense that you can use all of your apps or anything like that, but you can make calls, answer texts, read emails, and look up information. It’s a communication device — you can use your phone without using your phone.
Generally what follows after I explain the device is a series of questions about how it works, if I like it, etc. because of this, I put together a set of FAQs.
- How much do they cost? $1500 and come with the device, an eye “shield”, sunglass attachments, and a charger. It’s rumored that they will cost $300-500 when they come out for the general public.
- Can anyone buy them? Not right now; they are currently only available to people who applied and were invited to the Glass Explorers program, which is now closed. It seems some people in the program are receiving emails asking them to invite 1 friend. While I haven’t seen this email yet, there are screenshots and confirmations of this floating around. The best date we have now for a consumer market release is sometime in 2014.
- Can you use them while driving? In the United States, yes. I’d say it’s slightly less distracting that an cell phone, especially if you’re using GPS. I wouldn’t recommend it, though I did try it out. It was just recently banned for drivers in the UK.
- Do you need a data plan to use them? No — as a matter of fact, Google Glass doesn’t have the ability to use a data plan. Wifi is built-in, and when you aren’t on Wifi, Glass tethers via bluetooth to your phone, using your phone’s data. There have been concerns about Glass using too much data, but I can attest to the fact that due to the toll it takes on battery life, I’m usually on Wifi, especially at work and home. In the weeks I’ve had it, it’s only used about 8MB of data. Last month I used over 5GB (thank you, unlimited).
- Do they work with your glasses? My glasses, personally? No. Mine have really thick frames. In general, I’m told Google Glass can be sized over your glasses (I can confirm that I have seen this in action). I was told they are also working on prescription versions.
- How’s the battery life? The battery life is ok. It lasts about 7-8 hours on normal use. If you’re tethered to your phone all day, you might see your phone’s battery drain more quickly.
- Can I wear them? There were rumors floating around that you are not allowed to let people wear your Google Glass, but you can. The only things your not allowed to do with Glass is sell or gift it. That being said, if you see someone that you don’t know personally wearing Glass, don’t ask to wear it. I understand the curiosity, but I won’t let a complete stranger wear a device I paid $1500 for.
Those are the most common questions I get. What’s going to follow now is how I use Glass and what I see Glass being used for in the future.
You might think that walking around with a screen affixed above your head is weird and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. However, it’s not as weird as you might think. If you wear glasses, you know that you can see the outline of your frames in your peripheral vision, and Glass is the same way. As for the screen that shows up, that can sometimes be distracting but you get used to it pretty quickly. Google recommends you ease your way into using Glass (1 hour the first day, a little more the next, working your way up to wearing it all day), but once you get used to it, it’s just like anything else.
To make Glass work, you download the MyGlass app from the Play Store — or AppStore if you have an iPhone — and follow the on-screen instructions to configure it. A Google employee walks those in the Explorers program through this process.
From the app — which is also accessible on the web at http://google.com/myglass — you can manage contacts, add Wifi Networks, view locations, wipe the device, and manage any apps you have installed.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting going in. I knew it would be easy to take photos and possibly look up information, but aside from that, I was just really curious to try the device. I was not disappointed.
Both of those things are incredibly easy to do with Glass. You take a photo simply by saying “ok glass, take a photo” or by pressing the button above the camera. You start a search by saying, “ok glass, Google <whatever it is you want to Google>.” In most cases, Google’s voice recognition is top notch and flawless. There are of course, some words that it gets hung up on.
What surprised me was how easy it is to do other things too, like text, phone calls, and video chat. This all goes back to the great voice recognition. Browsing the web is also really cool.
Browsing the Web
You cannot choose to go to a website, but you get there using search results. Do a search and elect one of the result cards to follow the link and Glass will bring up the website. Scroll by sliding one finger along the touch bar that extends from your ear to the front of your temple, or you can place two fingers on the touch bar and “look around” the site. “Click” on links by centering on them and tapping the touch bar — you have a small circle on the screen that serves as a pointer. Zoom by sliding two fingers back to zoom in or two fingers forward to zoom out.
I actually think this will be the new way people will browse the web in a few years. So much so that over at Webdesigntuts+ I wrote a guide to designing for Google Glass.
So how am I using it right now? Firstly it’s a conversation piece. I tell people about it, take their picture and then explain future uses. This might seem like a silly use but it has actually done wonders for my networking and has gained me a few leads for freelance work. That was definitely an unforeseen effect of owning Google Glass.
I also use it for the things I mentioned above — phone calls, texting, searching, and even directions. At this early stage, I would say it’s a tool of convenience. I don’t have to reach into my pocket to do something like take a photo or send a text. I can do it just by speaking. That’s not to say that my usage won’t change in the future.
The Play Store doesn’t currently have any Glass apps, so you have to fend for yourself in the same way we did in the mid-2000s, when there was no notion of marketplaces or app stores. From what I’ve found, a website called glass-apps.org has the most comprehensive list, as well as an easy way to add them to your Glass.
Because the device is so new, there aren’t a lot of apps out there; however, I know developers with more time and skill than me are working diligently on new apps for Glass. I honestly feel the possibilities are endless. Here are a few scenarios I give to people when they ask what you can use it for:
- Musicians can use Glass to read sheet music or tabs, moving through it by swiping the touch bar, or hands-free by winking, or moving your head.
- Doctors and Nurses can use it to view patient charts or other information while keeping their hands free to do other things (take blood pressure, perform examinations, etc.)
- Augmented Reality (AR) could become very popular again, as Glass feels much more natural for that than holding your phone up. Imagine walking down a street and seeing store/restaurant information and ratings right in front of you.
- Video Games will be able to extend to it. While playing Call of Duty or Halo, instead of the Heads Up Display (HUD) taking up screen space on your TV, it could be sent to Google Glass, making it a real HUD.
I also have some ideas for apps in the works for bartenders, runners, presenters, and more. There are also tons of use cases I haven’t thought of yet — I’m sure you guys can come up with some great ideas so let us know what they are in the comments.
Google Glass is still very new and we are still trying to wrap their head around it. I hear a lot of people claiming it stupid, or pointless, or they don’t see a use for it. I think it’s the next big thing, and not just for tech people. Perhaps it needs a better, more unassuming design, or maybe it just needs better apps, but I think Google Glass will make its way into our lives both personally and professionally.
What do you think? Sound off in the comments!