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First Impressions of Google Glass 2.0

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 by Michael Barr

Last week I took advantage of Google’s special 1-day-only buying opportunity to purchase an “Explorer” edition of Google Glass 2.0. My package arrived over the weekend and I finally found a few hours this morning for the unboxing and first use.

Let me begin by saying that the current price is quite high and that the buying process itself is cumbersome. To buy Google Glass you must shell out $1,500 (plus taxes and any accessories) and you can only pay this entrance fee via a Google Wallet account. I didn’t have a Google Wallet account setup until last week and various problems associated with setting up Wallet and linking it to my credit card had prevented me from using an earlier Explorer email invite. Google absolutely needs to make Glass cheaper and easier to purchase if they are to have any hope of making this a mainstream product.

Upon opening the box and donning Glass, I was initially at a loss for how to actually use the thing. There were instructions for turning it on in the box, but I had to find and watch YouTube videos on my own (like this one) to grok the touchpad controls “menu”/UI paradigm. I also quickly came to learn that Glass is only useable when you have at least all of the following: (a) a Google+ account; (b) an Android or iOS smartphone; (c) the My Glass app installed on said smartphone; and (d) a Bluetooth-tethered or WiFi connection to the Internet. (Well, and also the USB charging cable and a power supply–given the very short battery life I’ve experienced so far)

At the present time there are very few apps available. Here’s a master list of what is currently just 44 “Glassware” apps. And none of either the built-in capabilities or those apps strikes me as the kind of must-have feature that’s likely to drive widespread adoption of Glass as a mainstream computing platform with a vibrant application developer community.

I’ll finish out the negatives by saying that the current form factor makes you look like an uber-geek (when you are not too busy being physically attacked for some assumed offense) and that the touchpad area on the right side of your head gets surprisingly hot during normal use.

Now for the few positives. First, the location of the heads-up display just above your line of sight feels right for an always-available computer. As someone who walks for miles every day for exercise, I would so love to replace my handheld smartphone form factor with a heads-up display like this. So it’s too bad that browsing the web and reading email aren’t viable on Glass’ meager 640×360 display. I think there are probably dozens of hands-on jobs in which those who do them would be made more productive with a screen (and the right application) in this form factor. I also think the heads-up wearable form factor feels like a great place for quick reference information, such as maps/navigation, pop-up weather alerts, etc., while the wearer is otherwise busy walking, biking, or even driving.

A second positive is that the voice recognition is really very surprisingly good. Dictation, for example, seems to work far better on Glass so far than it ever has on my iPhone 5. You can’t always talk to Glass (hint: generally only when the words “ok glass” are on screen or there is a microphone icon), but when you do talk Glass seems to listen quite well. Good dictation is key, of course, because there is no obvious way to edit the things you’ve drafted if they are misspelled or improperly formatted; you either hit send or start over. And the only application launcher is your voice via “ok google” home screen/clock.

Giving Glass instructions such as “okay glass, listen to ” is an extremely intuitive user interface. And so far that music feature combined with a $10/month “All Access” Google Play music account seems like the only thing I might like to use everyday. I also like the idea of dictating SMS and email messages or taking and sharing photos while doing other things with my hands, though the SMS feature doesn’t work when Glass is paired with an iPhone and the only multi-person sharing option seems to be via Google+. So far the SMS, email, and outgoing call features are not impressing me enough to see me using them regularly or even to convince me to entrust Google with access to my full iPhone contacts database. And searching through a lot of contacts appears to be a real chore too, unless they match with voice recognition on the first try.

In terms of applications that seem interesting, Evernote seems a reasonable near-term substitute for the lack of a To Do list interface to Toodledo or RememberTheMilk. And I sure do like the idea of receiving pop-up extreme weather alerts based on my location. Some of the simplistic sample games (such as balancing blocks on your head) are fun and I could see this form factor perhaps changing multi-player gaming in a few interesting ways. But that’s about it for the interesting apps so far.

To summarize my thinking, Google Glass so far makes me think about the Apple Newton. Everyone knew that Apple was on to something with the Newton MessagePad, way back circa 1993. But the Newton was also too far ahead of its time in terms of cost and size relative to practical usefulness. Eventually Apple came back and did the “communicator” platform right more than a decade later with the iPhone, which it has continued to improve even more dramatically in the half decade since. I think the same is likely to be the hindsight experience for Google Glass in terms of it being an agreed precursor of what’s to come in terms of a heads up wearable but a near term flop. If it does fail, let it be known that Forbes says Google dug its own grave by putting it out there in too many hands too soon.

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7 Responses to “First Impressions of Google Glass 2.0”

  1. Michael Barr says:

    Update: I’ve returned them. My summary of the product is, “When it works, it doesn’t do much.” No one I showed them to was much impressed. I’m apparently not the only one returning them either. Unimpressive Google. I’d say the final product will probably be better, but am not confident enough there ever will be one.

  2. sylvain says:

    yes, I agree, Glass is a ‘beta’ product (I like the term: “Explorer”, I’m gonna start calling my beta release “explorer release”) and that’s it not ready for mass market. It is definitely an expensive tech toy designed by geeks, for geeks.

    However, as a novel wearable, it’s an amazing platform for experimenting. The UI is amazing: crystal clear screen quality, performant voice recognition, simple tactile interface. A couple apps are simply amazing in terms of UX: tried the GPS? the sms is also very powerful, albeit for simple messages (all I really need)

    imo, it sounds like you expected a “productivity” tool but got a beta toy instead… you should have read the fine prints 🙂

  3. David Adkins says:

    Another downside/warning…as a prescription eyeglass wearer I waited to get into the explorer program until the titanium frames were available. At the time I had to pay $225 for them. So, with ear buds and taxes, I paid over $1900. I took the frames to all the common lens providers around town, as the Google suggested supplier never called me back, and none of them could make lenses for me. They called them “specialty'” frames. The lenses must have a groove etched around the edge. I finally found a specialty sports shop that offered to make my lenses for about $650 to $850. I never did it of course. While I of writing this I revisited the Web site and it looks like there is a larger variety of frames offered for free?!?! I feel cheated. Oh…and I had to upgrade my Android phone too.

  4. Joseph says:

    I’ve talking about Google glass on a couple of boards.
    There is some significant potential here. I work in industrial automation, so I tend to think about that area.
    Just imagine if, when you were repairing some piece of equipment, you could get a visualized manual that updated in time with what you needed to do? Even better if the manual could ‘overlay the real world equipment and highlight the part that needs to be worked on. Also, you could collaborate in real time with a partner using the video.
    Just imagine the next evolution in navigation with a faint overlay of the trail you should be following. The trail could change from green to yellow then red as you close in on a turn. Tell Glass you’re hungry and want something to eat. Add in faint highlights of upcoming restaurants.

    Glass is a helluva neat concept because we are so visual. But the current execution is so limited. For the purposes of useable applications, Motorola’s HC-1 is far more practical if less attractive. Glass has limited computing power, and poor battery life. It’s a design that can’t achieve its purpose.

  5. Areg says:

    Google glass is actually a toy for grown ups and not a tool. The selling price and people buying confirm this in indeed true. All some can think of is listen to MP3 in this expensive “looking glass”!
    What we need is a device which gives us the info we want and when we want it and we are far from realising this anytime soon.

  6. Some obvious ergonomic problems that need to be solved:

    1) Has to be compatible with most forms of regular eyewear. Thus some kind of clip-on to that.

    2) For those who don’t wear normal glasses, there’s no reason for it to have that form. You would wear it only on one side.

    3) Must have right or left hand versions. Many of us favor one eye over another and we’ll probably want to look at the display from that side. Or at least be able to try both and decide what works best.

    I like the idea. For many things we do with our eyes, having to hold something in front gets in the way. As a motorcycle rider I see the benefit of having something like this, innocuous compared to a GoPro.

  7. jeff hane says:

    There are a lot of problems to be solved with smart glasses. The company I work for, Atheerlabs, is attempting solve many of these. Our glasses provide dual displays and present a fully functional android virtual tablet to the wearer. Also uses gesture recognition for interacting with the tablet.

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