When Google Glass first appeared, I found myself wondering, “Now what the hell is that for?” This after being convinced by two or three people that it was not, in fact, an attempt at sexy Borg cosplay. But as skeptical as I am of new technology, I have learned the hard way to be skeptical of my own skepticism. I remember resisting getting a cell phone (although admittedly, my main concern was that I was already available enough to the management at my day job, thanks). I also remember a toy company executive saying in the mid-1960s, “I think there is a world market for maybe five Etch-a-Sketches.” Or…something along those lines.
Now I can’t get through the day without my iPhone…mostly because I have a head like a sieve and it serves as my outsourced long term memory now. But instead of fumbling around in my pocket to grab my phone and responding to a text or checking my calendar…Google wants me to look slightly up to the right and then ask my glasses what’s what.
If, like me, you’ve mostly just seen pictures of smiling attractive models wearing what appears to be the 23rd Century equivalent of a Viewmaster…you know, like the specimen at the top of this post. Let’s dispense with one myth right away. Wearing Google Glass does not make you look like a model. Exhibit B:
[ad#longpost]Anyway, if such model-ized pics have been the majority of your exposure to the product, here’s the gist: they’ve taken a lot of the functionality of your smartphone and placed it into that bit seemingly grafted onto the spectacles. Actual spectacles are optional, since it can just be a frame with the Glass device in place. You can either tilt your head back and then forward again slightly to tell Glass you want it to wake up, or you can touch the side of it. You then are presented with a tiny clock and the smallest script side in the history of things: “ok glass.” With these magic words spoken, you can then tell your Glass what you want it to do.
No doubt you’ve already identified a key benefit to the device. Every time you touch the side of the Glass to turn it on, some part of you will inevitably pretend you’re Scott Summers. But even beyond that, you have options as to what to do next. You can take pictures or short Vine-esque videos (with an option to go longer). And with 12GB of storage on board, that’s a few snapshots. You then swipe forward or backward on the side of the device to scroll through your timeline–stuff you’ve done or accessed.
Want music? Apart from the tiny speaker that transmits sound through your cranium in what could be considered the most miniscule scalp massage in all of creation, earbuds connect to a USB port on the device and you have access to whatever you have on tap with Google Play. Word to the wise, though: pausing can be your downfall. Trying to figure out what might be available and saying “Um” brings you Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, who seemingly has a discography the size of Cleveland. This music option is especially useful if you threw away your Oakley Thump in disgust after having been so thoroughly disappointed by Dog the Bounty Hunter.
Real-time translation? Yes, it’s got it. You can stare at a sign and select the language you want to translate from and to and it’s freaking eerie how quickly it was able to overlay the German or Spanish example words with English. Extra Entertainment Note: if you keep letting bits of the words fall out of the target on screen, Google will continue to translate. Apparently the German word for “Danger” is somewhat close to the word for “Forefather,” depending on whether or not the tops of the letters are cut off. Watching it rush to try and keep re-translating can be amusing.
At this demonstration, I was repeatedly told that the Glasses were demo models and that the whole point is to be able to customize your own so that it’s for you. And that’s beyond just fitting them to your face. To expound upon this point, they proceeded to show me an app that definitely wouldn’t be on my Glass: a golfing app. Once told to find the closest golf course, Glass will show you the distance to the first hole and even provides advice for what club to use. At first, the app didn’t work, but I chalked that up to the fact that Google, since they know everything about everyone, knows that I am craptastic at golf and it wasn’t unable to find a course…it just couldn’t find a course for me. But on the second attempt, it found a nearby course…and testament to the fact that Google Glass doesn’t adjust on the fly to the wearer, it wasn’t a mini-golf course, like I prefer. “Ok Glass, where’s the nearest mini-golf course with a pirate ship?” That’s my style.
The folks doing the demonstrating did so with the ease and familiarity of someone who either has been working with a device for a while or is damn good at faking it. I felt like a complete maroon, forgetting if I was supposed to swipe up or back or tap or what have you. Or maybe too much of my brain was pretending I was in the Danger Room. Regardless, they were all extremely patient and–here’s the crazy part–so good at what they were doing they were able to ascertain where I was in the device’s menu system just by looking at my screen from the opposite end. Which, on the outside looking in, is roughly the size of a Kandorian mini-Cooper.
There are some questions that spring to mind: can somebody gain control of your Glass? Well, apparently if the device is awake and they yell “OK Glass!” before you do, they can then tell Glass what to do. But since “launch the missiles” isn’t a standard option, their ability to do any damage would be quite limited. Can somebody just start filming you without your knowledge on the off-chance they get milk to come out your nose? Well, yes…but again, you can at least tell they’re up to something on their screen. Is this just yet another attempt to distract us from the fact that it’s 2014 and affordable jet packs and robot butlers have yet to hit the market? Well, yes, but so is everything else.
But here’s the real thing: who needs this? Well, at the moment the people who actually need it are probably few and far between. There is a very valid point about being able to stay engaged and yet get access to something that you need without having to retrieve your phone from whichever pocket it’s hiding in–and it seems a lot less rude if you can look up Willem Dafoe’s filmography and not have to go into your own universe for several seconds to do it. So “normal” people, whoever the hell they are, aren’t going to have some gaping hole in their lives that’s Google Glass-shaped. At least for the moment.
But that’s because tech isn’t always there because we need it or have to have it. It’s there because some mad bastard says, “Hey, you know what would be cool?” And then several years down the line, even the most jaded among us would be diminished without the damn thing. Sure, you could actually plan ahead of time where and when you were going to meet people during your day without calling and coming up with a scheme on the fly…but why would you? Because while that’s eminently doable, at this point, in a world with cell phones, it just sounds exhausting.
And it’s easy to see where additional apps (“Glassware”) and functionality will start to make this necessary in many fields. Apart from the existing on-the-fly translation (which would make world travel a helluva lot less frantic methinks), what if you’re working on something–the inside of a car, a computer, or a person, whatever–and you get everything labeled? It would certainly make my basement lab experimental surgeries a lot smoother. “So that’s a spleen. Thanks, Glass!”
Regardless, this is early days. And what’s really screaming about these things is Potential. And what’s sort of speaking in a normal voice is that while wearing Glass did not make me a model, they’re the swankest looking spectacles I’ve ever had on. So when you see me rocking the pirate ship mini-golf to some Egyptian tunes and looking goddamn amazing while doing so, you will clearly see the benefits of early Glass adoption. The rest of you will just have to wait for the missiles.