I’ve had my pair of Google Glass for a little over a week now and I have spent that time really trying to throw myself into experiencing Glass, playing around with them, trying find ways to integrate them into my life and testing out every app I can get my hands on. So this article details the pleasant surprises, the things I wish really don’t like and some things I just didn’t expect about this new technology.(Click into article to see screenshots of all apps)
Easy to learn
I have been really happy with just how easy it has been to learn Glass, its interface and gestures. After just a few days I found myself navigating through content and doing whatever I wanted without even having to think about it which was a much shorter learning curve than I was expecting. Also have found that with a quick one minute tutorial everyone else who has tried on my pair of Glass has been up and using them just as quickly. I am interested to see how Google is able to balance maintaining the simplicity they found with the early stages of the functionality against an even increasing feature set.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the images and video have been that I have taken with Glass. Photos are 5 megapixels which is much higher quality and resolution than I thought I would get out of a device this small. The camera works best outdoors or in situations with even lighting. I have had mixed results when taking photos with large contrasts in lighting, in low light or if you get too close to your subject the photo will fisheye slightly. Video resolution is equally impressive shooting at 720p HD resolution and the video looks really good. I have found it handles challenges like fast motion or change in focal depth really well but it does have the same lighting challenges that I found with photos.
The hardware is an interesting mixed bag of good and bad characteristics and design. The good is that it is light, flexible and allows for the addition of new interactions. Glass is so light that it is easy to forget that from the weight it is easy to forget that you are wearing them. The titanium band is really flexible and comfortably fits the head of every person who has tried my pair on. Finally the combination of voice commands and the touchpad allows for the a number of different interaction combinations which is so important because it opens up the platform to a lot more complex interactions than you could achieve with just swipe.
The platform is evolving
One of the things that Google does best is to launch a product and then continue to refine it to make it better and this is very apparent with Glass. I had my pair less than a week when the new monthly software update dropped and it made a real difference in refining existing functionality and features which you can rad about here. I am curious to see how much more they can refine the experience through software updates and what they are going to have to fix by revising the hardware design for the launch of the consumer version in 2014.
I wrote about this in my initial impressions but the one thing that could be a turn off for the average consumer is to use Glass in the real world and away from a known WiFi network then you need to have the data tethering featuring activated on your phone which will cost you an extra $20-$30 a month depending on your carrier.
Obvious for the Explorers who are willing to spend $1600 for their pair of Glass this isn’t a big deal but assuming the consumer version is more affordable this may be a land mine Google is going to need to figure out to diffuse.
MyGlass App and Get Direction To…
I was surprised to find there is no iOS version of the MyGlass app which allows you to be able to program glass while on the go and to be able to mirror the Glass display on your smartphone. That was frustrating but it wasn’t the end of the world since you can do everything but the mirroring through the web portal. The part that was incredibly frustrating and disappointing was when I figured that the “Get Directions To…” functionality which has been the most high reviewed featured is not available AT ALL unless you have an Android phone. This was a case where I don’t care if I am just a beta tester but at the price point I am paying to help you better your hardware you need to be able to deliver all the basic functionality out of the box on any platform. This highlights what I think could be the ultimate downfall for Glass if Google can’t get their head around the fact that they are making a lifestyle accessory and not just an Android accessory.
The single biggest disappointment has been the battery life on Glass. I have repeatedly seen Google say Glass would get about 5 hours of battery life but I have found that with what I would consider average usage I can barely get 2 hours before its dead. This is so frustrating because you are forced to constantly look for a plug to try to nurse the battery along if you want to use it while you are walking around the city for even just for an afternoon. To give you an example, when I go someplace new to turn Glass on and get it connected to a new WiFi hotspot takes about 3 minutes and 8% of my battery life. The other battery problem you run into is that since you have to connect Glass to your phone over Bluetooth it also runs downs the battery of your phone in a hurry. The battery life is the biggest problem Google has to fix because in its current state you are forced to use it so sparingly that it doesn’t do justice to the potential of the device and consumers won’t be as forgiving as the people in the Explorers program.
A timeline with a short memory
One of the other things that I did not expect was that there is limit to the number of cards available to you in your main timeline interface. The problem with this is that you can’t access all the photos and videos you have taken through Glass even if they are still stored on the hardware. For instance if I wanted to post a photo from my Glass fitting I can only do it on Google+ or by downloading the image off of Glass through a USB cable because it is so far back in the main timeline interface that I have no way of accessing it.
It is also a problem because without the ability to access this content the only way you can remove it from the device to reclaim storage space is to hook up to your computer and remove it over USB. This is really frustrating since every other device in your life will always let you access all of its content and I think this is a critical problem they are going to need to figure out how to overcome.
As I said earlier the hardware is a mixed bag of good and bad characteristics and there are an equal number of things that I love and have found frustrating. The first is the display which often seems to read the ambient light in your environment incorrectly and it responds by making the display too dark and hard to read. The other display issue is that even at full brightness the display can be really hard to read in very brightly lit locations.
As much as I like the minimal product design of Glass it also poses some challenges like when you want to take them off you naturally want to grab them by the right temple but since this is the touchpad it causes a lot of inadvertent interactions and photos to be taken. There is a feature that detects when you take Glass off which helps with this but it could use some more refinement. The fact that the side of Glass do not fold in to make it more portable is also is really frustration as it is really bulky to put into a briefcase when you aren’t wearing them.
No Killer Apps
All the third-party apps I have tried amount to little more than just sharing settings with most like Facebook and Twitter not even able to deliver on the basic functionality you would expect. The next big area of exploration for me will be to dig into the API, concept some apps and understand if these limitations are being created by the app developers or if there are limitations in the hardware or API that are stunting app designers and developers creativity.
Joining Wifi Networks
The Google basecamp experience really only scratches the surface of setting up Glass as they just teach you the basics of the interface and the hardware. The real work begins when you get home setting up your WiFi networks then loading and testing out Google approved and third-party apps. All of this is either done through the MyGlass Android app or through a MyGlass web portal.
Getting Glass onto a WiFi network is a much bigger pain than I was expecting especially if you don’t have an Android phone and are forced to use the web portal. You have to type the network name and password into open text fields with no validation and then the site will produce a QR you have to show to Glass to join the network. Once Glass sees the QR code it will join the network quickly but I have repeatedly had problems joining the hotspot on my iPhone which can take over a minute to finish. It can also be a problem because Glass has a really short memory and you will have to go through the process to join some hotspots over and over again.
Final First Impressions
If you just scanned down this article and saw that I had more unexpected and bad call outs than good ones you might think my first impressions of Glass are mainly negative and that is anything but true. My first impression is that Glass is a really good first step into a new form factor for hardware, content, usability and social acceptance of technology.
I have seen a lot of reviewers panning Glass but they are written by people who want to review it like it is a finished consumer product and you can’t look at it that way. Glass is a work in progress and does have problems but none that can’t be fixed with design tweaks before the consumer release of the hardware or changed through upcoming releases to the software. You have to look past those short-sighted problems to see the potential of a piece of hardware like this and to see what it does to how people will interface with information through wearable technology. The people who are able to do that will be the ones who will be able to develop the killers apps the platform is missing and that will really bring it to life. If this sounds familiar it may be because it is pretty much the exact same thing we said about the iPhone before the app store was launched and we all saw how that worked out.