REPORT

Living with Google Glass isn’t easy

By Greg Stevens

The first thing I did when I got Google Glass was take a selfie. It seemed like the right thing to do.

Actually, I first had to set it up. Sitting at my computer, with phone in hand, I went through several steps to sync Glass to my iPhone, connect it to my wireless network, and add contacts. Google only allows up to 10 contacts, which seemed strange to me. But I thought, “Google Glass is under development. Of course it’s limited. It will get better.”

Early adopters are used to this sort of thing. Whether we’re joining a website that is in beta mode or previewing an app, we know that we are using something that isn’t completely finished. So I was quickly able to quell the voice in my head that said “I just paid $1,500 for something that only holds 10 contacts?” and move on.

Not interested in reading instructions, I put the glasses on my head and turned them on. I was greeted by a tiny display:

8:12

“ok glass”

I took a deep breath, prepared my most commanding voice, and said, “OK, Glass!” A small menu appeared:

google

take a picture

record a video

get directions to…

send a message to…

make a call to…

make a video call to…

post an update

translate this

start a timer

As soon as I finished reading, the screen went blank. It had timed out, and I had to try again. “OK, Glass!” I said in my “don’t mess with me” voice.

Nothing happened. “OK Glass?” I asked, like a concerned parent. “Hello? Are you there?” Nothing. Glass sometimes goes into sleep mode, and can be awakened by tilting your head backward. I twitched my head back, and nothing happened. I twitched three more times, until I was sure I would hurt myself. Still nothing.

I tapped the touchpad on the side. Nothing. Finally I turned it off and on again, and I was greeted by the opening screen:

8:18

“ok glass”

“OK Glass, take a picture!” I said quickly, before the menu could disappear. An image of the view in front of me appeared for a moment in the tiny display, and then it was gone. I had taken a picture… of the ceiling.

After five more tries of saying “OK, Glass” while looking in the mirror, I was able to produce a decent selfie.

googleslass1

To retrieve the picture, I used the touchpad on the side of the Glass frame. The touchpad recognizes four movements: swipe forward, swipe backward, swipe down, and tap.

Tapping brought me to the opening screen. Swiping forward showed me my picture. Tapping again gave me the option to send. I tried to swipe forward to see what other options were available, but Glass must have thought my swipe was a tap, because it showed me the first of my contacts: my mom.

“Back,” I said tentatively. “OK, Glass, cancel,” I suggested. Nothing happened. Well, fine: I may as well send my selfie to someone. So I swiped forward to see who the next person on my contact list was.

Only, Google Glass thought my swipe was a tap, and sent my selfie to my mom.

Google Glass is under development

My experience wasn’t all bad. It was good at taking pictures, recording 10-second videos, and looking things up on Google. I can also start and stop a timer. All things that I could already do with my phone.

But anything involving voice recognition was challenging. For example, I thought my mom deserved some explanation for the selfie that appeared in her mailbox, so I decided to dictate a message. I said, “OK, Glass, send a message to Renata!”

A microphone indicator showed that it was recording. “Hi mom! I’m sending you this message from my Google Glass!”

The text appeared on the tiny screen hovering in front of my eyes: “Hi mom! I’m sending you this message from my Google ass!”

I paused, trying desperately to think what command would make a correction. But Google Glass didn’t have that kind of patience. Google Glass decided I was finished, and sent the message for me, no questions asked.

“Google Glass is under development,” I muttered angrily to myself. “Of course it has problems. It will get better.”

I don’t dislike Glass. It’s a great wearable Web browser, email-viewer, and camera. But would people who are paranoid about Google Glass worry so much if they knew how limited it really is?

The beta-testing phase of any new technology is always tricky. Companies know they need to beta-test new products whenever possible. Without beta testing, there is a huge risk that defects will be discovered by the general public when the product hits the market; and the general public is unforgiving. It is very difficult to live down a bad release of a new product. Just think back to Apple Maps. (“Apple Maps Fail” is still one of the top four autocompletes in Google when you type in “Apple Maps.”) Or healthcare.gov.

So companies want to keep the test version of a product in the hands of people who will be sympathetic. In the case of Google Glass, however, maybe the elite group of Glass Explorers are a bit too sympathetic. Review after review of Glass, written by Explorers, simply fawn over the new technology.

“Glass has so many applications in my everyday life,” writes Kathi Browne for the News Sentinel, “Anytime I know my hands will be preoccupied, I wear Glass to make my life easier.”

“I saw flight information automatically beam to my eye with a gentle Google Now reminder the day before traveling,” enthuses Matt Swider for Tech Radar. “All of this data appeared in the top right corner of my vision, all without the need to take out my smartphone!”

It’s no wonder they think of Google Glass as strangely powerful and potentially dangerous.

It is not difficult to find fan reviews gushing about Glass all over the internet. If any of these people had as much trouble as I had with voice commands, dictation, or tapping-and-swiping, they didn’t choose to publicize it. That is understandable: they want Google Glass to succeed. That is why they are Glass Explorers in the first place. Quite naturally, they want everybody to think that Google Glass is powerful, amazing, and bug-free.

But there is a downside to people thinking that Google Glass is some kind of all-powerful technology-of-the-future, as well.

A woman was attacked in a bar in San Francisco because the people there thought she might be recording them. Did they know that the video feature defaults to 10 seconds in length? Did they know that she would have needed to say “OK, Glass, record a video” in order to start recording? Did they know there is a good chance it would not even have heard her correctly in a noisy bar? Probably not, because the people who write about Glass rarely dwell on these details.

The information is out there, for those who are interested enough to look. A year ago, TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois explained that most of the fears surrounding Glass were based on misunderstandings. “Glass can’t record everything around you,” Lardinois said. “The video feature, by default, takes 10-second videos when you activate it and you have to actually press a button on the device if you want to extend this time. The battery, however, would die pretty quickly if you just let it record everything as you walk down the street.”

But this is not what most people hear or read. For most people, their knowledge of Google Glass is filtered through the fanboy fanaticism of Google Explorers. It’s no wonder they think of Google Glass as strangely powerful and potentially dangerous.

The private community of Glass Explorers has access to discussion boards not open for the public to see. In these forums, Glass Explorers are encouraged to share their thoughts, questions, and suggestions with other members of the Explorer community.

After the “Google ass” incident, I decided to take advantage of this forum. I politely asked why Google Glass would send something after nothing more than a short pause and not offer any way to correct mistakes.

Just as you might expect from a community of die-hard Google fans, the response was defensive. “You need to know what to say when it’s ready to listen!” I was told. “You won’t be pausing or thinking when you’re having a real conversation!” Most of the conversations that I have involve pausing and thinking, but perhaps that is not the case for Glass developers.

One person defended the “3 second pause” rule this way: “The Google glass is like your personal assistant, just dictate to her as such.” This also doesn’t seem right to me. A real personal assistant says, “Will that be all?” and “Would you like me to read that back?” before sending a message.

My favorite comment, however, was this: “You’ll get used to it effectually.”

googleglass3

I’m pretty sure he meant “eventually.” But he was probably dictating his reply using his Google ass.