What a difference a week can make in the life cycle of a product and a user experience since last week I was writing this article but at that point it was talking about how useless the ‘google’ function was on Glass. When you would say ‘ok glass google ______” it would return either a list of short and useless descriptions of sites or a grid of 6 images you could scroll through. The problem was that only the image search had value since the web site results were too short to provide any real information and you couldn’t pull up any of the sites. But three days ago Google rolled out their monthly update to Glass and with it a whole new flow to the ‘google’ functionality where you can now get better search results and open those pages in Glass.
Now when you do a search for a topic like ‘St Regis Hotels’ you will be presented with all kinds of results ranging from Wikipedia entries, the location of the nearest St Regis hotel and a list of web sites (see slideshow of images above). Clicking on one of those web site results will prompt you to ‘view website’ and a few seconds later the page will appear on Glass.
Before we get to how you can explore a web site I wanted to walk through some limitations I have found that are also worth noting if you are thinking about running out to update your site to work on Glass. The first is that web sites will detect that Glass is a mobile device and automatically deliver the mobile version of their website. The biggest problem I have found is that Glass doesn’t currently support forms and it will be interesting to see if they try to solve this challenge using speech input. Finally, YouTube videos will play normally but I have found that many others video providers including those requiring Flash will not work.
Those few limitations aside, exploring web sites is a really cool experience with a user experience design that I think is very well thought out. You use four different gestures to navigate sites including scroll where you slide your finger forward on the touchpad to scroll up or down, zoom where you slide two fingers forward or backward to zoom, look around where with two fingers down on the touchpad you move your head around to pan the site and click which works as you look around, you can tap to select anything in the center of the screen.
There are two additions I would love to see in the next evolution of the interface which would be the ability to snap the site back to 100% after you have it zoomed in and the ability to re-center the site after you have been in ‘look around’ mode. While both ‘zoom’ and ‘look around’ are extremely helpful they can also be disorienting and frustrating since when you engage ‘look around’ the site will appear where ever you leave it horizontally positioned in the frame. This means that if you engage ‘look around’, look to your right until the page is cut in half, release ‘look around’ and then scroll down the site you will only see half of the page.
Using the ‘look around’ functionality is by far the coolest functionality of the interface options because I have never experienced anything like seeing a site and then exploring the page by moving my head to look around the design. But while web surfing on a device like Glass is unlike anything else I have ever done it also feels strangely dated because web sites just aren’t the type of content design that works best on Glass.
Looking at a web sites on a device is difficult because they are just too detailed with functionality created for a completely different form factor and input style. This is where designing a new form factor like Glass creates a paradox because you are creating a whole new interaction model with a new level of content design but then have to decide how much of the old content design do you allow into this new world since it could create an inferior experience? You saw Apple tackle a much smaller version of this problem when they decided to exclude Flash from the iPhone because it was too processor intensive (debating the truth of that fact is another article). So I left wondering if instead trying to figure out how to bring search results to life in a way that we all know, should they have been pushing to be move innovative and find a solution that would be better suited for the form factor of Glass?