Review: Uneasy first steps with Google Glass


NEW YORK (AP) — Shaped like a lopsided headband, Google
Glass is an unassuming piece of technology when you’re holding it in
your hands. You feel as if you can almost break it, testing its
flexibility. Putting it on, though, is another story.
Once you do,
this Internet-connected eyewear takes on a life of its own. You become
"The Person Wearing Google Glass" and all the assumptions that brings
with it —about your wealth, boorishness or curiosity. Such is the fate
of early adopters of new technologies, whether it’s the Sony Walkman,
the first iPod with its conspicuous white earbuds, or the Segway
scooter. Google calls the people who wear Glass "explorers," because the
device is not yet available to the general public.
With its
$1,500 price tag, the device is far from having mass appeal. At the
South By Southwest Interactive tech jamboree in Austin this week, I
counted fewer than a dozen people wearing it, including technology
blogger Robert Scoble, who isn’t shy about posting pictures of himself
in the shower, red-faced, water running, wearing the device.
like most successful technology companies, dreamers and inventors,
likes to take a long view on things. It calls some of its most
outlandish projects "moonshots." Besides Glass, these include its
driverless car, balloons that deliver Internet service to remote parts
of the world and contact lenses that monitor glucose levels in
There’s an inherent risk in moonshots, however: What if
you never reach the moon? Ten years from now, we may look back at
Google Glass as one of those short-lived bridges that takes us from one
technological breakthrough to the next, just as pagers, MP3 players and
personal digital assistants paved the way for the era of the smartphone.
Fitness bands, too, may fit into this category.
In its current,
early version, Google Glass feels bulky on my face and when I look in
the mirror I see a futuristic telemarketer looking back at me. Wearing
it on the subway while a homeless man shuffled through the car begging
for change made me feel as if I was sporting a diamond tiara. I sank
lower in my seat as he passed. If Google is aiming for mass appeal, the
next versions of Glass have to be much smaller and less conspicuous.
no one knows for sure where wearable devices will lead us, Rodrigo
Martinez, life sciences chief strategist at the Silicon Valley design
firm IDEO, has some ideas. "The reason we are talking about wearables is
because we are not at implantables yet," he says. "(But) I’m ready.
Others are ready."
Nevermind implants, I’m not sure I’m even ready for Google Glass.
in place for the first time, I walked out of Google’s Manhattan
showroom on a recent Friday afternoon with a sense of unease. A wave of
questions washed over me. Why is everyone looking at me? Should I be
looking at them? Should I have chosen the orange Glass instead of
Ideally, Google Glass lets you do many of the things we
now do with our smartphones, such as taking photos, reading news
headlines or talking to our mothers on Sunday evenings — hands-free. But
it comes with a bit of baggage.
Glass feels heavier when I’m out
in public or in a group where I’m the only person wearing it. If I think
about it long enough my face starts burning from embarrassment. The
device has been described to me as "the scarlet letter of technology" by
a friend. The most frequent response I get from my husband when I try
to slip Glass on in his presence is "please take that off." This is the
same husband who encouraged me to buy a sweater covered in googly-eyed
Instead of looking at the world through a new lens on a
crowded rush-hour sidewalk. I felt as if the whole world was looking at
me. That’s no small feat in New York, where even celebrities are
afforded a sense of privacy and where making eye contact with strangers
can amount to an entire conversation.
But that’s just one side of wearing Google Glass.
other side is exhilarating. Glass is getting some bad press lately.
Some bars and coffee shops in Silicon Valley and Seattle have banned
Google Glass, for example, and federal authorities in Ohio interrogated a
man earlier this year after he was suspected of recording a movie with
the device. Last month, Google put out a Glass etiquette guide that
includes the appeal "don’t be creepy or rude."
But the truth is
that it’s a groundbreaking device, even if it doesn’t take off, even if
it evolves into something completely different, even if we laugh at it
10 years from now while driving our flying cars in the skies of
I strolled around for a few hours with the cyborg
glasses, happily snapping photos. With a mere wink, I captured snowy
Lower Manhattan streetscapes and my reflection in the grimy subway-car
There were some whispers. ("Did you see? Google Glass!")
There were some comments as I squeezed into the subway with my fellow
commuters —comparisons to the Segway scooter, and a warning that it will
prove to be a huge battery drainer if I use my iPhone to connect Glass
to the Internet.
For more human interaction, I walked into a small
macaroon shop to buy a friend some birthday sweets. Alone but for the
store clerks, I fumbled to take them off, find a place to put them on
the small counter and get my wallet out of my bag.
"Sorry. You’re
the first people I’m interacting with wearing these. I don’t mean to be a
jerk," I told the man and woman at the counter. I took off Glass for
the same reason that I take out my earbuds when I am talking to people. I
don’t want to appear like I am not paying attention to them.
It was fine, though. The woman thought Glass was cool. The man, he might not have, but he didn’t say
is the second in a series of reviews about Google Glass. Reach Barbara
Ortutay on Twitter at Email her at
bortutay@ap(dot)org with questions or comments about Google Glass.
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