I’ve been fortunate enough to use Google Glass in some form or another for months now, but just recently procured a pair of my own. Wired’s Mat Honan penned my favorite Glass review, and his words so similarly mirror my own overarching viewpoint that I’ll simply redirect you there if you’re looking to spend a hefty chunk of time reading. For the purposes of this article, however, I’m going to focus on brevity. I’ve just recently returned from a week at CES, where I used Glass during some portion of each day there, and I’ve reached a point where I feel comfortable opining on the unit’s strengths, its shortcomings, and my hopes for its future.
What Google Glass is awesome at:
- Turn-by-turn navigation. This is Glass’ current “killer app.” Flashing photos and email cards in front of someone using Glass for the first time is cool, but dial up a map of a nearby street corner and you’ll almost certainly hear a positive adjective uttered by the wearer.
- Being sunglasses. I ordered the Charcoal color a bid to be as understated as possible, and that decision proved doubly great once I realized that it shipped with a tinted sunglass add-on. Rocking these as sunglasses in the desert proved to weird people out much less than when using them sans shades.
- Enabling spontaneous captures. I was boarding a relatively small aircraft a week ago, and the sun flare striking the plane’s body was perfect as I approached the boarding door. Thanks to Glass, I tapped the camera capture button and secured that moment. In the middle of nowhere in Nevada, three donkeys decided to wander out and cross the street that I was driving on; due to having Glass on, I captured a memorable 10 second video of the weirdness. It’s the little things, you know?
- Notifications. When it’s synced up properly, hearing a gentle “ding” to signify an incoming notification is quite useful. You can choose to look up at it immediately, or just wait. We need more notification customization options, but the crux of it is ace.
- Being a Bluetooth headset. I’ll never wear a conventional Bluetooth headset, but I loved having phone conversations on Glass. The only downside here is that it doesn’t get loud enough — in airports and on noisy roads, you’ll struggle to hear the person on the other end.
- Being comfortable. Amazingly, Glass is super light, and you barely notice them on your cranium. Every person who tried my set on commented on how much more comfortable they were than they had anticipated.
What Google Glass is not awesome at:
- Organization. There’s no (current) way to dismiss notification cards permanently. There’s no way for users to customize the order of their cards. You can’t change the “home screen.” There is essentially no flexibility whatsoever in the user interface, which at least means that Google has a huge opportunity for improvement.
- Being used while playing sport. Try running with Glass and taking a photo mid-stride. You can’t. Google is aware of the issue, however, and will hopefully remedy this in a future software update.
- Lasting longer than four hours. Seriously, the battery life on Glass is abysmal. It gives me all sorts of anxiety to use Glass for more than two hours without being near a charger.
- Capturing great images. The camera sensor in the Glass headset is fairly poor. It’s at least three or four generations behind whatever is in the top-end iPhone, which — like it or not — is going to remain the benchmark that Google will absolutely need to match.
- Collapsing. Astonisinghly, you can’t fold Glass’ side bars in as you can with bona fide glasses, so they take up a comical amount of space in one’s backpack.
- Being useful in sunlight. Shocker — projector-based displays are awful outside — but you really need something of a solid backdrop, and to be indoors, to really see what’s going on on Glass’ module.
- Being comfortable long-term. I have the same issue with watches, but most “normal” humans won’t have an issue wearing a watch for their waking hours. Wearing something on your face for 12+ hours is going to take some getting used to. (Yes, those who’ve worn glasses for years won’t have much issue adjusting.)
- Maintaining a connection. Not a day went by where Glass didn’t disconnect from my iPhone’s Bluetooth signal at least once. You’ll need Bluetooth for using Glass as a headset, but you’ll also tether Glass to receive data — it often requires a full power down + power on to reconnect fully, which is annoying (and unacceptable for mainstream users).
- Transcribing the human voice. So, so much of Glass’ utility revolves around the headset’s ability to ingest and transcribe the spoken word. Quick email replies, Twitter messages, etc. The harsh reality is that it’s simply poor. It frequently gets words wrong, even if I make myself look like an idiot in public by speaking slowly and deliberately to a glass cube above my eye. When swipes and vocal cords are the only input choices, they have to be flawless. The latter is still heavily flawed. Nothing will make you swear off wearables faster than this. If Glass borks up even a couple of spoken emails, I’ll bet you that the majority of mainstream consumers will say: “You know what, typing on my phone is more private, less embarrassing, and more accurate. Screw Glass.”
What I hope Google Glass gains before it’s widely available to consumers:
- True phone connectivity. I need to be able to capture a photo with Glass and instantly import than into Snapseed (a Google product, no less) on my phone for further editing and sharing. Period.
- Easier settings. It’s stupidly difficult to connect Glass to a Wi-Fi network. Seriously, it’s a 3-4 minute process, and it usually involves the scanning of a QR code. Just… no.
- A better display. The resolution is too low, viewing angles are poor, and it barely works in sunlight. That’s a recipe for mass rejection if it’s not resolved.
- A relocated micro-USB port. The charging port is directly beneath the power button, which caused me to inadvertently turn Glass off while trying to shove a power cable in.
- Collapsible arms. Really, that’s all that needs to be said.
- Some amount of ruggedness. Glass is ideal for adventuring, hiking, etc. It needs to be able to resist a bit of water and take small beatings.
- Support for all apps. The ecosystem has to grow tremendously, or — like Pebble — it should simply tap into a phone’s existing notification system. Being able to receive Gmail notifications, but not Mail notifications, is frustrating.
- A better battery. This needs to be an all-day device, at least.
- Speed. The menu transitions are too slow, and in general, the user interface needs to be snappier. Sorry, but if your product isn’t as snappy as the latest iPad or iPhone, people aren’t going to use it. The bar has been set, and continues to be reset on a yearly basis.
- Functionality. The list of things that Glass can do is painfully short, and nearly every trick it can play can also be played on a smartwatch. Google has to take better advantage of the form factor here.
Funnily enough, I never had any strange stares while wearing Glass in airports, in Las Vegas, in ghost towns in California, and at a resort in Mexico. I think Glass has been on CNN enough at this point that most humans understand what’s going on. I firmly believe that society is well on their way to accepting face worn wearables — that’s not going to be Google’s primary challenge. The challenge is going to be price and functionality. As we saw with 3D HDTVs, you have to have a killer — killer — pitch to convince a customer to strap something onto their face. And, it’ll need to be priced like a smartwatch. If an eventual iWatch hits at $349, Glass will need to be immediately, obviously, and unarguably superior in the functionality department to stand a chance.
Google’s biggest issue with Glass today is that I have no good answer to why anyone should buy one. I prefer a watch for raw notifications and I prefer my phone for input. I also prefer traveling with as few things as possible, so the company still has some persuading as to why Glass should make the carry-on cut. The upside, however, is that the potential for Glass far exceeds its present state. Much like the original iOS — the one that shipped without an App Store — Glass could be morphed into a game-changing device for the masses. I’m also completely in love with Google’s investment on the Glass Guide side of things; there’s an entire stable of Glass professionals who are scouring message boards for complaints and suggestions, which gives me hope that they’re working tirelessly to make sure that the consumer edition of Glass is impossible to resist.
For the sake of a wilder, crazier future, join me in hoping so.