I’ve recently been adopted into the Google Glass explorer program. I debated whether or not to accept the invitation, but ultimately felt it probably would be a good idea, if for no other reason than there may be something unexpected that came from using them for a bit. Having had the chance to play with Glass a few times prior to this, the experience left me rather nonplussed. Factoring in the $1,500 price tag, and my interest was marginal. Had work not agreed to cover the expense, I probably would have passed on the invite altogether.
I’ve been using Glass off and on now for about a month and its taken me that long to crystalize some of my opinions on the kit. While I can see the potential for the Glass platform, and new apps keep coming online every day, I don’t think it’s ready for prime time.
If you’re expecting Glass to be the future of replacing your phone or tablet, you’re going to be disappointed. Based on what you may see on the ‘net, Glass is not a great device for watching video, surfing the web, reading long text, etc. I don’t believe it was designed with those kinds of usages in mind.
Going in I expected Glass to be a kind of dual threat; acting as a kind of digital personal assistant bringing much more utility and value to the kinds of things that the notification screen on your phone does, and serving specific purposes when using applications developed for the platform. Sadly, it only does one of these things well (for now).
Be prepared to look like a tool.
I don’t mean this to be snarky, but it’s a reality of the device, and one that I believe limits its potential as a mass consumer device. Glass is viewed by most as 1,500 dollars of wearable pretentiousness. I spent a bit of time wearing it in various situations and doing so tends to provoke one of two actions: hostility or annoying curiosity. When I was wearing Glass while around others (not in an agency setting mind you, but out IRL) people would either ask you not to take their picture and try to stay out of your line of sight. That, or every Tom, Dick, and Harry (strangers no less) would walk up and ask to try them on.
I remember similar reactions when the 1st generation iPhone was released. Either people were desperate to play with it, or they wanted to extol their own personal belief that such an expensive device would never catch on. It got to a point where I hesitated even taking the phone out of my pocket in certain situations because I wanted to avoid the headache of ‘other people’. Since Glass can’t effectively work when out of sight, you can see how this issue can manifest. This may abate over time, but the cultural imposition it currently creates is palpable.
All-the-time usage has limited value.
For specific use cases, Glass seems to have a very high ceiling (more on that later) but for every day use, the experience didn’t add much value. Out of the box, Glass has a number of built-in features, along with a selection of ‘Glassware’ apps that you can add on. When configuring the device I was hoping for an additive experience, like an always-on personal assistant that would keep me apprised of various things that I identified as important to me. Maybe I should have realized this going in, but Glass is a passive system. For example, I can configure Glass to sync up with my gmail account, both receiving and composing emails. Google wisely allows you to specify which users should have their emails synchronized with Glass to minimize the amount of email a wearer would have to sift through on the small screen that Glass offers. One would assume that when an email come through from the identified users the screen on Glass would activate and let you know an email had arrived. Not so. It is only after you activate Glass on your own and navigate to the mail Glassware app that you can see if any new emails are present. I thought early on that this might have been just a setting issue and somewhere in the system I could turn notifications on, but that wasn’t the case. This challenge was also the same for the Twitter and Facebook apps, where I could designate friends to be notified about their postings or activity, but Glass wouldn’t wake on it’s own and inform me when any actions had been taken or when new information was available.
Similarly Google Now, one of the most useful applications on my phone, suffers from the same fate. The promise of Google Now is that it would use contextual and location based data to provide you with timely updates and tips. This would be extremely useful if Glass popped on to inform me of the tip. But instead, one must activate Glass and then manually navigate to the Now app to have access to any of this information. Drag.
Another limitation of Glass is that you can’t interact with it completely via voice commands. I expected that to be the case with 3rd party Glassware, but given that Google’s voice input technology is far better than Apple’s Siri, and the ‘Ok Glass’ activation command is so prominently featured in all of the promotions for the device, this limitation was surprising. Even for something like Google Now (Google’s own app), you need to manually interact with the device by touching it. For example, if I wanted to find out what the weather was going to be like today I could speak the command ‘Ok Glass’ to activate the device and turn on the prism. But past that in order to gain access to the Now app I would have to swipe forward on the device (more than one depending on where in Now you wanted to go) to bring up the desired data. Given that you wear the device on your face, and it contains the necessary to run voice-only, I’m surprised this wasn’t possible.
Limited configuration options
The other quirk about Glass that I found bothersome was the lack of user-configurable options. The prism, when activated, only stays visible for a short amount of time. This is most likely done to conserve the modest battery life Glass has (about 40-60 minutes when using heavily), but I would have liked the option to adjust this. The brightness of the prism also has no manual adjustment options and I wish that it did. The prism does adjust its brightness in reaction to the ambient light around the user, but often it would make the prism so dim it was almost impossible to read.
In addition, Glass has a rather clunky way of being configured to run on a wireless network. To get Glass online you need to launch the Glass app on your phone and input a wireless network manually. Unlike almost all the other networking apps I’ve used, the Glass app doesn’t automatically detect the wireless networks in your range. You must manually input the network name before being able to input the password. This may seem trivial, but I have access to several networks (offices, clients, work, home, friends) and I don’t always remember the broadcast SSID name. This caused me to have to close the Glass app and launch my network app on my iPhone to review the EXACT naming of the network I was looking for (any kind of typo, including ones of capitalization, return a network error). It was quite a pain. Once the SSID name and password were input correctly, the Glass app displayed a QR code that had to be held in front of the Glass camera to transfer the information to Glass.
Given that Glass needs to be tethered to your phone to run things like the GPS app I was a bit surprised that the data just didn’t sync and how cumbersome the whole process was to configure. It also seemed incongruous with activating other features. For instance, when I want to install new Glassware on the device, I simply turn it on through the app on the phone, no clunky inputs or QR codes required. It seemed very odd the networking functionality was so poorly implemented.
Contact integration also proved a challenge. I don’t use Google Contacts as my go to contact manager, but imported them so I could have access to them via Glass. If you have a contact, say for home, mobile, work, etc., Glass makes them individual contacts, each of which needs to be imported and added separately. Very frustrating.
All that said, Glass still is a beta product, so it’s possible these challenges will be worked out when (if?) Glass is released to the general public.
Glassware: where the potential of Glass shines
I do find it more than a bit ironic that where Glass really wows me is when I’m using Glassware developed by companies other than Google. I know that Glass is meant to be a platform as much as it is a product, but this seems off. You can peruse the Glassware offerings at your leisure, but the Strava apps, GolfSight, World Lens and the Field Trip Glassware are brilliant examples of how to use Glass to augment the world around you with information or data. I do a lot of mountain biking (as of this writing we’re all buried under like 3 feet of snow so I haven’t extensively tested the Strava Cycling app yet) but the heads up display feature is a welcome addition to my rides. I typically use a Garmin GPS and HR monitor when I bike, but have only limited access to the data it’s collecting while I’m out. The software for the Garmin once synced with my computer is fantastic, but having things like distance and speed on a heads up display via Glass is great.
So far in my usage these types of apps have been where I’ve used Glass the most, and I’m fairly confident that will continue to be the case in the near future. I’m not sure that’s what Google had in mind though, especially since they seem to be interested in making it a product you wear all the time.
Potential for pharma marketing
Since Glass was launched I’ve been asked by a number of clients how Glass could be implemented into their marketing plans. It’s been a challenge, not so much for a shortage of potential ideas, but because their expectations have been that Glass is a kind of wonder-device that can do everything an iPad can, just on your face. It can’t.
Glass is very good at providing ancillary information to overlay on real world environments. The heads-up display functions are great examples of that. Using it at a conference or controlled environment to overlay facts or info that a sales rep might be discussing or items that are being displayed on a poster would be a no-brainer. Glass would also function very effectively being worn by a KOL or speaker leading a Google Hangout for a small group of visitors.
For a different variation, Glass would make an excellent tool for assisting in sales training or presentation training. Recently a developer created a rather salacious app where 2 users could wear Glass while ‘ahem’ collaborating, and see themselves during the rendezvous. While I’m pretty sure the developer didn’t have pharma in mind, that kind of ability (to see yourself while actively doing something through another person’s viewpoint) would be highly beneficial to anyone who has to present for a living. During my time in PR at Nonhyphenated Communications I had to go through media training prior to a live TV appearance. That experience of watching myself on video after practicing for an interview helped me immensely. Glass would be a perfect technology for that type of teaching.
The final verdict
If you’re in marketing and have the opportunity to get Glass, it might be worth having a pair (do you call them a pair?) for your team to play around with. If you’re just an individual thinking about getting them, I’d seriously consider passing at this time. For $1,500 the value and utility just doesn’t seem worth it.
The potential for Glass seems high, and new Glassware apps are coming all the time, but for now the technology is not quite ready for prime time.