I was invited to be a Google Glass explorer a year ago December. Despite the mafia-like invitation (you have seven days in which to accept this or tell us why you won’t), I decided to give them a try, thinking it would be an adventure if nothing else.
Recently, Google announced it is taking Glass back to the laboratory, and handing it over to Tony Fadell, a fantastic design guy in charge of the iPod at Apple, who left Apple to start Nest, the thermostat/home sensor company. This leaves me, one of the folks who paid $1,500 for this piece of gear, feeling hopeful for the future of Glass.
The problem with Glass was multifold. First, the price tag made me question my own sanity, but I justified it by thinking of the possibilities and where the future of wearables was going, and there was no better way to understand this than by really giving Glass a test run. Plus, with Google constantly telling everyone that Glass was going into wide release sometime in 2014, with new frames debuting at CES, it seemed like I would be a step ahead of the curve, always a good thing in the tech world.
As it turned out, Glass was a bit of a disappointment, and I was left feeling that not only was the device not yet ready for prime time, but that it was still far ahead for true feasibility in real life.
Glass was a bit like having to care for an elderly relative. It did some things quite well, but it was often fussy, and not nearly as functional as it promised to be. One update bricked the Glass entirely, requiring Google to send out a new pair to me altogether when the firmware update caused them to go into an infinite non-bootable loop.
Here are the main problems Glass faced:
- Connectivity. While they finally got Glass to work fairly well when paired to iOS devices and not just Android, it was nearly impossible to hook up to dual-security layer wifi systems, such as those at Universities and schools. Even trying to hook into a hotel’s free wifi was a real pain. Without wifi, the major usefulness of Glass goes away entirely, and you are left with a camera and video recorder sitting on your face.
- Connectivity, in the bigger picture. One of the neatest features to me was the ability of Glass to let you look at a sign and get the translation, automatically, in your field of vision. What a great thing for travel! What a great thing for someone like my husband, who often travels to India, where so many signs use a different script alphabet. Think how it would work for NGO’s, and ease translation. But of course, in order to get this to work, Glass needs to ping the ‘net, which isn’t available in rural areas all over the globe, and if it did, it would cost you a fortune in roaming charges, making it not worthwhile financially as well as practically.
So without ubiquitous, open internet/wifi connectivity, so many of the great features of Glass were just useless. Even for doing things like recording my son’s band concert, the video was great and far more stable than trying to hold a camcorder still without a tripod, but the sound capture was mediocre at best. I thought it would be great to “simulcast” events like a child’s performance to his Grandparents, but again, the lack of a broadband wifi network that’s easy to get on makes this use impossible- it can only capture the video for upload later on.
- Point of View (POV) vs. Narcissism. There are times, looking at the world through someone else’s eyes is fantastically useful. Using video captured through Google Glass for showing Residents how to perform special surgical techniques; watching them on a monitor and seeing what they see can be critical. Watching a student use a new tool, work on a problem, or even monitoring a group’s progress could all be aided with Glass as a relatively unobtrusive POV tool. I used Glass a few times while cooking, so show me recipes and techniques while I performed them, but I think seeing the same video on an iPad in the Kitchen would have worked just as well. Looking, and sharing, selective POV video and pictures can be fantastic and moving, but it can also devolve to “look at me, I am special, isn’t everything I do worthy of capture” narcissism, as we saw in the early days of video blogging. This is a human problem, not a Glass problem. Glass just magnified the issue with a smaller, less obtrusive way to film everything, rather than devices like the Go Pro which can give a similar experience, but tend to announce their presence to everyone, so no one is caught off guard by being taped.
- Individual Sizing issues. Unlike a watch, eyewear has a larger problem. Not only do you need to customize the frame to the variations in an individual’s size, etc., Glass was very awkward to use if you already wore glasses or had age-related eye issues that make reading more challenging as we get older. Glass was very hard to readjust when trying to show it off to new users, due to the natural variation we all have in our eyesight, focal range, and just the architecture of our own skulls. As a result, getting Glass to fit and work well required a bit of fussing, making it even less social and more difficult for people to share and help it catch on as a new idea or product that would make it a “must have”.
- The Weirdest Product roll out ever: The whole Glass Explorer program struck me as really interesting from creating a club of folks who could not only help beta test a whole new product category, but also form a community to share ideas and new potential applications, Before Warby Parker came out with frames to adapt prescription lenses for Glass, folks in this community were already trying to find hacks to make glass more useful for them with their eyesight.
Then there was the whole “celebrity” angle, where all the cool people, and even fashion models during NY Fashion Week were wearing Glass, to try to make it look like a forward thinking, Judy Jetson product, very avant guard and au courant, as they might say. I think that approach further helped people see Glass as toys for rich privileged narcissists rather than something people would use every day in normal life. It was an interesting way to go, but I think it also created social as well as economic barriers to adoption.
I’m hoping wearables like the Apple Watch will have fewer problems. I think the relative ubiquity of sizing of a watch vs. glasses will make it much easier for a watch to succeed, if merely from a production, inventory and customer service point of view. There may be two sizes of watch faces and choices of wrist bands, but no one is going to need an appointment and custom fitting like they needed with Glass. However, since we still don;t know the true price, it’s possible the Apple Watch will also have its own set of adoption problems related to the expense vs. utility matrix.
In the end, I only partially regret buying Glass. It’s been interesting to be part of the wearables learning curve, and I can only hope they will give those of us who bought the early versions some sort of rebate/early access to the next version, if they do manage to crack the Glass Ceiling and make it something fantastic. I know if there’s anyone I would trust to put in charge of this sort of product, it’s got to be Tony Fadell. I never thought I could even care, let alone love, something as mundane as a thermostat, but the Nest has been great- we save money, track our energy usage, and can even control it remotely, which has been useful more times that you could possibly imagine. It’s the FitBit for our house, and I only hope Tony can do something equally as great with Google Glass. And hopefully, without the near burn marks from the overheating temples this time.
Google Glass- in the end, too much, too soon, without the overall infrastructure to support it and make its potential shine. I’m disappointed but not surprised they shut it down this quickly.