A Week with Google Glass

Everyone around me, not long ago, was absorbed into a digital world created by their iPhones and Androids; their eyes fixed downwards at glowing  screens, their thumbs and fingers tapping relentlessly.

That much hasn’t changed. One thing that has changed is that I, too, eventually became one of them, fully ensnared by the power of the smartphone. While a couple of years ago, I scoffed at smartphone users for being constantly distracted by their devices. I refused to get one myself, as I didn’t want to carry a computer in my pocket, being that I already spend a vast number of hours per week staring at a computer. But once I finally caved in, I saw the merits of having the world of technology and information literally at your fingertips. Countless times, I’ve been saved from getting lost in the city, or catching an important message while on the go, winning bets on “who was that actor in that film?” Really important stuff, you know how it is.

So when I recently got a chance to be an early tester of Google Glass, to be a Glass Explorer as their clever marketing team describes, I decided to be ahead of the game this time and to see what this thing can do for my work with Helix River and my personal life. There are certainly some doubts about whether wearing a computer on my head will do any wonderful things for my social life (I’ve already been called a cyborg, once that seemed a compliment, and another time not so much), but Glass certainly has some potential for greatness. So here’s a summary of my first week with Google Glass.

Some Basic Tests of Glass

a week with Google Glass

My first day with Glass, looking mighty excited

Initially feeling a bit like Ironman with my new view of the world, I set out to use Glass in some of the things I would do on a typical day. Here’s a summary of my experience in these activities, and a score for how well Glass supported me in successful completion of said activity.

Commuting in the city

Since I use public transportation, the first challenge was to keep my eyes out for someone ready to punch me in the face and steal my new Glass. Fortunately that didn’t happen, although I definitely got a few strange looks from people, to the tune of “what the hell’s that guy got on his head?”  As I’ve read from other Glass Explorers, many folks have dealt with some antagonism as well, more like “you f— freak, take that annoying privacy-invasion tool off your head”. My experiences weren’t quite so bad, so that’s a win.

Did Glass help at all in commuting? I can’t say it was all that beneficial, although the built-in map has enormous potential – as long as you’re walking, riding, or driving. And as long as you don’t get pulled over and get a ticket for wearing your Glass. For using public transportation, as of now, the Google Maps system that I so heavily rely upon, the public transit tracking system, isn’t available. There is only the driving/walking/riding directions. Which is cool, just I don’t use that nearly as much as the bus or the train. The Compass is also a huge feature: getting out of an underground train station, and not knowing which way is up, no problem no more.

Other than that, having hands-free communication is a plus; being able to field a phone call by just answering, or by speaking “Ok Glass, make a call to…” is pretty nice. Just as long as you don’t get punched in the head for being an annoying person talking to himself loudly on the bus.

Grade: B

Work: web design and writing

Considering that I stare at a computer monitor eight or ten hours a day, wearing another computer on my head while I stare at a computer just seems… well, pretty freaking geeky. I already feel like a massive geek half the time, with my dual monitor, iPad on the ready, smartphone in pocket current arrangement. Adding another screen into the mix, well, it is a bit much for me right now. Plus, the Glass itself started to feel a bit uncomfortable after a while. I’m not really used to wearing glasses for extended periods, just lightweight sunglasses when outside, so wearing slightly bulkier glassware isn’t quite natural.

Was it helpful in my work? Again, I’m already staring at a screen, so I can’t say it was terribly helpful in creating websites or writing educational materials. The one time I found it somewhat helpful: “Ok Glass, Google a synonym for capacity”, which Glass somehow came up with “pacity” instead. It actually did manage to deliver some results, although it was a bit more difficult to read the page on thesaurus.com in the Glass screen that it likely would have been in my 24-inch monitor.

The only saving grace for my work purposes came with Evernote’s Glassware (what Google calls its apps for Glass). “Ok Glass, take a note”, and Evernote records your dictation, then automatically syncs the note with your default notebook on all of your other devices. Huge win, as I’m constantly scrabbling for pen and paper, and then later have to retype the note to keep them all in the same place. The one downside for all of the voice recording in Glass, at least as far as I can tell, is that there is no punctuation so your sentences all seem like really long run-on sentences and no capitalization so you need to record multiple notes or you also end up retyping it later anyway. Hopefully this will change with time. I will likely still use this feature, just grumbling each time I have to retype my punctuation.

At the moment, wearing Glass while doing computer work just ain’t working for me. I’m sure that once the technology improves, it will be much more helpful, but at the moment, I’ll be working the old fashioned way, surrounded by just monitors, iPad, and smartphone.

Grade: D

Cooking

So far, cooking has been one of the best uses I’ve found for Glass. The first experiment was in using the Glassware provided by All the Cooks. I managed to find a decent recipe pretty quickly and easily, and got it cooking within a few minutes. The recipes are super simple for the most part, using a minimum of ingredients and typically just a handful of really simplified steps. That’s a key ingredient, in my experience thus far with Glass: the content in Glassware (or one day websites that are optimized for Glass) must be short, sweet, and to the point. It forces conciseness. This can be a mixed bag, quite naturally, for certain tasks that require more detail. But for cooking, it worked pretty well.

The only thing I wasn’t so thrilled with was another Glassware called simply “Timer”, which is, well, a timer. Obviously a very useful thing to have while cooking, and having the ability to start a timer by saying “start a timer” is a fantastically useful tool. The problem is that the voice activation doesn’t work after you say “Ok Glass, start a timer”, and then you need to set the actual timer using the touchpad on the side of the Glass frame. Since my hands were covered in cooking goo (having handled raw chicken, I believe), I didn’t exactly want to slide my slimy fingers alongside my expensive new Glass tool/toy. So the timer, as of now, was a bit of a fail.

Overall, for cooking purposes, Glass is a big win even in these early stages. I’m sure that once millions of new apps (excuse me, Glassware) are released, it will only get better.

Grade: A 

Setting up a kitchen worm bin

Setting up a what? Yeah, a worm bin for the kitchen, to compost food scraps. All part of a healthy, sustainable lifestyle 🙂 I just got some new worms for my birthday (yes, I mentioned I’m a bit of a geek, apparently in more ways than one), and I needed to get a refresher on how to prepare the worm bin. I used the “Ok Glass, Google how to…” voice command, and I had several videos and webpages in my upper right lateral eyesight within moments. While reading webpages on Glass is, well, a pain in the ass as of now, some pages that are responsive for mobile devices are doable. And videos seem to work pretty well. All in all, this was a reasonably good success for Glass. Go Glass!

Grade: B+

Putting lights on the Christmas tree

Even though I casually watched my dad putting lights on the tree each year (yeah, I know, I was a lazy, good-for-nothing kid not helping out), that doesn’t mean the specific tips and techniques were transmitted by osmosis. So Glass to the rescue. Quick search, and I had several usable videos in front of my eyes (or again, kinda off to the top right corner), and had my lights successfully wrapped around the tree in no time. Simple tasks that can be captured in short videos seem to excel in Glass.

Grade: B+

A walk in the park with my wife

This is where one of the biggest obstacles is likely to be: the human distraction factor. Suffice it to say, my wife was none too thrilled about having Glass join us on a nice walk through snowy Lincoln Park. Several times, I had asked Glass a question, and she was like “what baby? Oh, you’re speaking to Glass again. Great.” Although the Glassware called Field Trip might have given some really interesting tips about some shops and landmarks around us, my wife wasn’t thoroughly impressed.

To those not wearing Glass, they’re not really sure when you’re talking to them, or talking to the device; whether you’re looking up at the clouds, or looking at a video of a dog barking at a cat stuck in a Christmas present. Definitely creates yet another opportunity for us to be disconnected from our environment and distracted from the present moment.

My argument is that we’re already doing this; we’re already staring down at our smartphone screens for hours a day. At least Glass is more looking up and out into the world. Even if it is slightly looking in your upper right peripheral line of sight. Nonetheless, I see her point. This will be one of the biggest challenges for Glass: the cyborg factor. We’re so glued to our devices and the digital world, so driven to be constantly connected, that we’re terribly disconnected from the physical world around us. We’re becoming wired in, for better or for worse. Sometimes, we just need to know when to set down our devices, no matter how cool they are. So for a walk in the park, this was a fail (at least until my wife gets her own Glass… she’s just jealous!).

Grade: F

Conclusion

It’s still a bit too early for me to decide whether Glass (or similar wearable technology) will become yet another of my persistently present devices. So far so good, but I can also live without it. Nonetheless, it doesn’t really matter so much what I think, because at this stage, wearable technology is an inevitability, an unstoppable tide. The utility of it, the convenience of any information right in your eyesight, at a simple voice command, is too appealing for humankind to resist. Plus, too many geeks are out there who dream of being Tony Stark for Glass not to succeed.