Google Glass may usher in the era of wearable computing, but based on my first few days, this is a long way from being a mass market product.
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On Friday, 10 months after signing up to join Google's Glass Explorer program at Google I/O 2012, I received my invitation to purchase and pick up Google Glass.
The invitation directed me to call an 800 number, to agree to Google's unprecedentedly restrictive terms of service, and to choose a color: Charcoal, Tangerine, Shale, Cotton or Sky. For the fashion-challenged, that translates to black, orange, gray, white or light blue.
I opted for black because it goes with everything and it's less likely to attract attention, which appears to be difficult to avoid if you wear Glass in public.
The invitation asked me to choose between picking up Glass at a Google office in Mountain View, New York or Los Angeles, or having Glass shipped. As a resident of San Francisco, I opted to for the in-person pickup experience at Google's sprawling headquarters in Mountain View.
Google's Glass distribution operation is housed in one of its office buildings on Charleston Road, just south of the company's main office complex. A larger-than-life model of the Android logo, perhaps 15 feet tall and formed from green plastic, stands to the left of the entrance.
Outside, several Google employees were milling around, some wearing Glass. Once checked in by the security guard, I was ushered inside to a workshop at the intersection of technology and fashion. Computer workstations lurked beneath desks topped by keyboards and monitors. It all had been shoved toward the back to make room for several tables where the invited Glass Explorers could sit with Google employees to try on their hardware and learn the ropes.
There were a lot of mirrors, something not typically abundant in tech company offices. But then Glass aspires to be fashionable. When computing becomes wearable, you need a fitting room.
Apple's stores are often cited as exemplary retail operations, but the Google Glass customer experience deserves recognition, too. Simply put, Google has learned how to make a transaction into an event, and that showmanship will serve the company well if and when it formally launches its own stores.
Granted, Glass is a low-volume, luxury product -- $1,500 plus sales tax -- but the level of personal attention Google employees provided and the quality of the hardware and the packaging will generate a lot of goodwill among early adopters in the development community.
Google refers to its developer relations personnel as developer advocates rather than evangelists, to emphasize conversational exchange over product promotion. With Glass, developer outreach might best be described as coddling. Clearly, Google wants to get off on the right foot.
Glass comes in the same kind of sturdy white cardboard box used for Google's Chromebook Pixel. It's a step up from the thinner black cardboard used to package Google's Nexus 7 tablet. It includes an exterior label that reads, "This box is 100% paper. So use it to write a letter to your Grandma. Or at least, please, recycle it. All of it." You won't want to recycle it, because it's that nice.
At 10.5-inch x 7-inch, the box seems rather large for a product you might expect to be the size of a pair of eyeglasses. But Glass doesn't fold, so it needs a larger container. And it comes with accessories.
Beneath the Glass hardware you'll find a micro-USB charging cable, a black-and-white USB outlet adapter, a fabric Glass storage bag with a protective shell at the bottom and a small paper envelope with printed FAQs and two pairs of extra silicone nose pads.
I also received two additional boxes: snap-on tinted and clear lenses (which presumably will be available eventually with a corrective prescriptions). Either of these help make Glass less odd when in public: People notice when you're wearing eyeglass frames without any lenses.
The Glass hardware itself is elegant. The titanium frame is strong and flexible and electronics are unobtrusive, packed away in plastic on the right-hand side of the frame. You have to look carefully to identify the power button and the micro-USB port. Glass is heavier than normal eyewear however: 42 grams, compared to 26 grams for a regular pair of reading glasses. So wearing Glass for long periods of time -- several hours -- can be uncomfortable, an issue magnified by the uneven weight distribution.
Getting To Know Glass
Glass takes some getting used to. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Just remember, you're not on the desktop anymore.
To get the attention of Glass, you either tap the frame by your right temple or you tilt your head back 30 degrees (the angle is settable). Doing so turns on the display screen to show the time and the "ok glass" prompt, which you have to say before speaking a command. Available commands include: google, take a picture, record a video, get directions, send a message and make a call. Prompting Glass to listen for search query terms can also be accomplished by tapping the frame with two fingers.
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