Is It Time for Google Glass?

“It feels weird,” a friend said, affixing the device to her face. “It looks weirder.” Halfway through a pint at my local pub, the latest version of the Google Glass Explorer Edition had drowned out the Chelsea–Liverpool game. Some patrons asked for
photos. Others begged me not to record them.

You cannot wear Google Glass without drawing attention to yourself. But whether or not you appreciate the geek chic of a computer device that straps to your head, buying into Glass requires buying into the device’s potential. That potential may be years in the making. Google anticipates a consumer-focused pair of glasses later this year—with, hopefully, a consumer-friendly price tag. Right now the Google Glass Explorer Edition will set you back $1,500, to which prescription eyeglass wearers can add an additional $225 for lenses. Until recently you had to queue up on a waiting list to get them. Then Google decided it will sell units until they run out. In the meantime, the company garnered a lot of buzz when Italian fashion-eyewear giant Luxottica announced its partnership to develop frames through brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley.

Now, however, no one will mistake these frames for fashion—or even prescription eyewear. Contrary to its name, Glass doesn’t have any lenses. Although constructed of svelte titanium, the frames are lopsided because all the hardware is packed into the right arm, including a small earpiece. (Alternatively, Google supplies a mono earbud). A glass prism, about the size of a thumbnail, extends over your right eye.

Google claims the prism reproduces a 25-inch HDTV from eight feet away. I found myself squinting, and, unless you’re an optical contortionist, I wouldn’t advise using it on a treadmill. You navigate screens by tapping and stroking the right arm or by speaking commands. While its voice recognition is excellent, you can imagine how using Glass in this way might empty some barstools around you.

Constrained by its diminutive form factor, the device’s processor cannot cycle through functions with the iPhone’s alacrity; nor will it replace your smartphone, considering you need to tether it (using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi) to perform web functions. Given its stingy battery life (south of five hours in my testing), you’d better pack the charger.

Glass doesn’t do much—yet. You can snap photos or record videos using voice commands or a button. You can even configure Glass to take photos using an exaggerated wink (this, too, might get you into trouble). Glass can send messages, perform searches, make phone calls, or supply directions. The Maps integration is particularly shrewd because Glass supplies audio directions when the prism is disabled. This means you can navigate without putting your life at risk.

In addition to basic functions, you can add additional apps, what Google calls Glassware, with a MyGlass app for iPhone or Android. Some apps, such as Google Now, integrate contextual information such as traffic alerts. Others, such as Mini Games, will insult your intelligence. (In the tennis game, you swing by whipping your head from side-to-side). As more developers take advantage of Google’s software development kit, users will inevitably gain more robust Glassware. For example, researchers at UC Berkeley recently modified a unit to control home appliances.

If you’re an inveterate early adopter, or you simply like to make a scene at the pub, perhaps you can justify the expense. I, for one, am willing to wait for prices to recede and the style to evolve into a design that will evoke something more positive than one patron’s delicate assessment: “You look like a cyborg.”