“OK, Glass”

Jun 10, 2013

I played a bit with Google Glass. Here’s the TL;DR version.

  • This is a new category of everyday Heads-Up Display devices. It is going to be great and widely used.
  • This first version of Glass is an above-average first version implementation of the category.

Glasshole and Android

How come I got to play with it?

Google has developed an extensive staged rollout for Glass. Currently, it selects the people that get Glass, and those people must then pay a decent amount of money (around $1,600 at this time) and must then go to a Google location in the US (something like Mountain View, Los Angeles, or New York at this time) for a personal setup. It’s probably a combination of production shortage, and wanting to control the initial experience for this very different new category.

I have a great friend who signs up for all sorts of new products, and was lucky to be selected in this initial Glass program. (Google calls those people Explorers.) She had her Glass setup appointment scheduled for today, wanted to have a friend with her (Google allows the selected Explorers to bring along a friend for the setup experience and this is actually beneficial, as discussed below), and I just happened to be that friend. So she was definitely the main act and spent most of the time with the product, but I also got to see enough to form an opinion.

Service design

I have to give credit to Google for the service design. The whole experience today was very well thought through and executed. We were given an appointment time and place at Google’s campus. We showed up there and were greeted by our “fitter”, the person dealing with us for the two hours that it all took.

We were taken to a Garage space that was almost like a retail store. (Maybe they are actually testing some retail concepts in the process. I wouldn’t be surprised.) Our fitter sat us down at a table and we were offered champagne, not unlike when you buy an expensive wedding ring at Tiffany’s or some such.

Our fitter then guided us through the initial Glass unboxing and setup experience. I could see the two main reasons why the expensive in-person experience is necessary:

  • Glass is a computer on your face that’s held in place by a somewhat awkward form factor that requires some tweaking to get it right to sit on your face comfortably and with the right angles for everything.
  • Glass is controlled by a combination of software on your phone/browser and a set of novel gestures on the hardware itself that are somewhat non-discoverable and not obvious, and you could easily make errors in the setup process.

Make no mistake, the experience definitely wasn’t because of shortcomings in the product quality that they’d need to compensate for. The software, hardware and packaging in today’s version is fairly high quality. What Google could have done is simply shipped the boxes to people’s homes and let them deal with it themselves using the packaged instructions. But they have chosen a personalized walkthrough instead, minimizing the chance of people inevitably misinterpreting or not following the instructions, getting a bad initial experience, and mistakenly concluding that the whole product is stupid or broken just because they made a setup mistake. This is a bold service design decision and investment, and deserves credit.

Our fitter took us through the physical setup, that mainly consisted of adjusting the way Glass sits on your face, to get an optimal viewing experience. We also went through the hardware and gesture controls, of which there are more than I expected. The spoken phrase “OK Glass” is known by now, but in addition to that, there are gestures, buttons, and even head tilts.

Software and UI

The whole experience is based on Google-Now-like cards. Not sure how deeply I want to comment on the details, given that it will change.

The most important fact of the UI is that it’s a Heads-Up Display, embedding itself into how you look at the real world. Part of the fitting experience ensures optimal field of vision so you can naturally look at the real world, and glance slightly upwards to see the Glass UI.

It all felt better than I had expected. I’m not saying I’m immediately signing up to buy it, but this category will definitely establish itself in some form so that you no longer have to glance at a screen. Sure, it feels too geeky or weird, but you could say the same about staring at your smartphone all the time, which wasn’t the norm five years ago, and now we all do it.

It was beneficial to be there with a friend, as part of the experience includes shooting videos and photos and then posting them somewhere, not to mention video calls. Talking and posting to yourself isn’t very interesting, and it made a lot of sense that she shot some material or made a call, and I was the other party in Google Plus/Hangouts.

One shortcoming of current Glass hardware is that there’s no good solution for people like me who wear prescription glasses. Sure, people wear the current Glass over their glasses like our fitter told us, but it looks and feels weirder than for regular people. I asked what are the hardware plans for prescription glasses, and there was no clear answer at this time.

Overall

I’m quite impressed with the current form of the product, as well as the service design that Google currently has in place for early adopters. Can’t wait for the more in-depth verdict from my friend after she actually uses it for longer periods of time.