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Google Glass: First Impressions

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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Making a call requires a mobile phone that supports Bluetooth tethering, such as an iPhone or Android phone, with the appropriate data plan. Getting directions requires an actively tethered Android phone. Android users also can use the MyGlass app, which isn't yet available for iOS devices. MyGlass adds turn-by-turn directions, screencasting from Glass and the ability to send SMS messages from Glass.

If you don't want Glass to do anything after waking it up, you can scroll through a series of timeline and settings cards by moving your finger forward or backward along the right-hand frame. Tapping on a card will allow you to choose relevant actions, such as read aloud, share and delete.

Having Glass read your email is odd. The audio vibrations from bone conduction transducers in the Glass frame feel like a spasm in the veins behind your ear. Unfortunately, the volume isn't adjustable.

Unlike a desktop computer, timing is important. Glass does not wait endlessly for you to do things. Like a mobile device, it powers down after a period of inactivity. If you wake Glass by tapping on the frame, you have about 14 seconds to follow-up with "ok glass" and a command. If you wake Glass by tilting your head back, you have about three seconds. Likewise, if you elect to send a message to someone, you have the opportunity to speak and the message gets sent after a few second of silence, even if you had just stopped to think. Messages sent this way include the presently non-customizable notice "Sent through Glass" at the end.

Seeing Past Glass

Upon seeing me wearing Glass, my 13-year-old daughter issued the snap judgement, "You look like a cyborg." Asked whether that's good or bad, she said, "It's kind of cool, but it makes you look like a stalker." She enjoyed trying Glass on -- despite Google's contractual prohibition on loaning Glass to anyone, Glass includes a Guest Mode setting -- and would have happily run the battery down while taking videos. But she considers Glass to be "impractical."

My 10-year-old daughter was less diplomatic: "You look like a dork!" she said. My wife just rolled her eyes, although she was curious enough to try it.

Such reactions are not uncommon. The Google employees who showed me how to use Glass acknowledged that they get strange looks when wearing Glass in public, along with requests to try Glass.

I find that I have very little desire to wear Glass on the streets of San Francisco. If and when Glass becomes ubiquitous, perhaps I'll feel differently. But at the moment, the social cost outweighs the technological benefit. Pointing a camera at someone is not always welcome. Brandishing Glass at the very least seems rude.

The best photographers of people usually take pictures with the permission of their subjects, often after they get to know them. Wearing Glass suggests that you don't care what others think. It suggests that you believe no permission is necessary, that anything public is fair game. That might be a legally defensible position, but it ignores social norms and expectations.

Really, Glass ought to prompt a reevaluation of privacy rights in public places and in commercial businesses. Is everyone in public subject to constant citizen surveillance? Do those being recorded have a right to defend themselves with counter-measures, like bright lights, lens-defeating sprays or noise generators?

Walking around in clown shoes invites assumptions. So, too, does wearing a tinfoil hat. Strolling around with Glass elicits responses as well. It's going to take some time before wearing Glass isn't a statement.

What's Glass Good For?

Glass allows you to take pictures and videos, conduct Google searches, get directions, send text messages and Gmail messages, make and receive phone calls, participate in Google Hangouts and receive Google Now cards.

If you have a functioning smartphone, you can do all this already. Where Glass excels is machine interaction while on the move, like taking pictures and videos with minimal hand input or Googling while on the go. Using Google to translate spoken English phrases into another language might be the killer app, at least until facial recognition becomes available.

When I was leaving Google with my Glass, Google Now took the opportunity to tell me that I had a 44-minute drive ahead of me with traffic. That was pretty cool, since I hadn't asked.

Glass is still in its infancy and wearable computing is just becoming a mass-market possibility. Eventually, Glass will be able to do more, once developers create their own Glassware applications. It's doubtful many of these applications will be worth $1,500. But the price should come down as interest in wearable computing devices rises.

Glass Explorers are going to discover plenty of dead ends, but we will find our way in time.