A Weekend with Google Glass

I decided to be biased against Google Glass when I first heard about its exclusivity and the early media stories about the privacy implications of wearing a head-mounted camera/screen device. I have done some work in wearable computing in the past year, and my vision of wearables is that we should be able to negotiate more disconnection from the services that fill our lives with a constant stream of data. I love the idea of using a device that discreetly alerts me about matters I should immediately know about (messages from friends, relevant events happening nearby, breaking news in my areas of interest) but doesn’t distract my attention with irrelevant spam.

Over the summer, I had coffee with Tyler Phillipi of OTG Platforms, and we talked over the state of tech in heads-up displays and other wearables. I was surprised to find my opinion changing as Tyler filled me in on the recent history of consumer-grade HUDs. The technology has been available for decades, but it’s only in the past year or two that component costs and miniaturization have made it possible to create such displays at less than a defense-contract price point. Google producing a device and an API sends a clear message that this market is open for business. Whether Glass and its descendants end up causing good or evil, I can’t say, but as a developer in the Android ecosystem, I can’t simply ignore it or refuse to engage with it. If I’m going to have an opinion about Glass, I need to become as educated as I can.

My opportunity arrived this week, as my friend Eric invited me to review his upcoming book on programming Glass. I started reading, and by the end of the day on Thursday, I ordered one. It arrived early Friday morning. I was impressed by the packaging and onboarding experience — basic gesture instructions were printed on the box and repeated in a video that played as soon as I placed Glass on my head and turned it on.

The MyGlass companion app is pretty amazing. If Glass is Bluetooth paired, MyGlass automatically configures it for wifi networks that the phone knows about. And when I’m roaming around, the app routes data from Glass over the phone’s data plan. The near-invisible UX delights me, and knowing how difficult the Bluetooth libraries can be, I’m thrilled with how the Glass team was able to implement near-transparent syncing. This is a huge improvement over other wearables I’ve tried, which wouldn’t have been able to implement such a feature due to Android framework and hardware constraints.

Anyway, on to the weekend! There were plenty of learning moments on Friday with my coworkers at Uncorked Studios. Pictures and videos were taken and shared on social media. Most people (except prescription glasses-wearers) had no problem navigating the Glass UI. It may be useful to note that we are all familiar with multitouch smartphone interfaces and other wearables such as FitBit and Pulse. After work, I took a picture every 10 seconds on my bike commute home, hoping to get enough quality shots to make into an animated GIF.

On Saturday I took a laptop stroll with my friend Arlo around the neighborhood. People on the street didn’t seem to notice Glass, but it grabbed a lot of attention in cafes and pubs. I talked to an electrical engineer who hopes to use Glass to record difficult work procedures in order to teach colleagues. I met up with some folks who are planning to use a GoPro for their upcoming trip to Thailand, and were quite intrigued by Glass. And later, over dinner with my boyfriend Brian, the woman sitting next to us at the bar jumped out of her seat and exclaimed “Ohmygosh, it’s a Google! It’s a GOOGLE!”

I’m looking forward to exploring the Mirror API, writing apps, and finding out more intriguing uses for Glass in my life. I’ve been excited about wearable computing ever since I saved my allowance to buy a calculator watch as a kid, so it’s been great to see wearables evolve from “deeply dorky and single-purpose” to “highly fashionable and functional”. I feel positively about how Glass is being promoted using visual cues from the fashion industry (stunningly pretty models, studio lighting, on-trend branding and web design), signaling that this technology is for everyone, not just geeks. It’s pretty brilliant that the much-hyped exclusivity of the Explorers program has caused each of us to pay $1500 for the privilege of advertising the Google brand on our faces for hours a day. Marketing WIN, Google.

To commemorate the changing definition of “public” and “personal” matters, I made my second selfie wearing Glass a memorial Instagram:

#grief in the time of #selfies

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