It is a Wednesday night, and I am turning heads on the sidewalk. People are slowing halfway down the block as I approach. They are whispering about me as I walk through the room. Strangers are watching me, sometimes even stopping me on the street.
Why? Because I am wearing Google Glass. And I hate it.
I shouldn’t feel this way. I like new technology — I have been a tech reporter at the Washington Post for more than three years. And I admire the vision of technology that Google promises Glass can offer: a device that lets you keep track of emails, texts and other messages in a seamless way — all through a screen that is perched just over your right eye.
Headed into a week with Glass, on loan from a co-worker, I was prepared to review a buggy product. Glass, after all, is still in testing, and has only been released to developers, the media and just a handful of “normal” people who were willing to spend $1,500 (Dh5,505) on an untested product.
I expected tension headaches from constantly trying to focus on a floating screen above my line of vision. (I got only one headache, for what it is worth.) I even prepared myself to be comfortable talking aloud to the product in public because you can control Glass through voice commands.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the attention I got. Sporting Glass put me among only a handful of people in Washington, and that meant getting a lot of looks. Most of it was good attention from curious people, but it still made me miserable. For wallflowers like me, wearing something that draws constant attention is more or less my personal idea of hell.
I have heard just about every privacy concern raised about Glass, but, as the one wearing the device, I wasn’t expecting that the privacy most invaded would be my own. That type of anxiety should lessen over time, particularly as Google works with designer labels such as Luxottica’s Oakley and Ray-Ban to make prettier models. But anyone who opts to buy Glass should be ready and willing to become a constant topic of conversation and to answer questions from strangers.
Wearing Google Glass in public is like wearing a sandwich-board that says “Talk to me!” And, given the rare but highly publicised fights, robberies and other major incidents some Glass users have experienced, I was a little wary about wearing the device in public.
In the name of fairness, though, I did wear them — nearly everywhere: to work, to the grocery store, out with friends, even to choir rehearsal. Here is a sample of what I heard (or overheard) from friends and strangers in the week I spent with Glass:
“Is she wearing Google Glass?” “Is that what I think that is?” “Are you recording, like, right now?” “You look ridiculous.”
Or, my personal favourite, delivered deadpan, from a friend: “Oh. Hayley.”
But beyond the personal privacy issues, I found that Google Glass is an intriguing device that has a lot of flaws. After more than two years in development, the number of remaining technical bugs is surprising.
On the hardware side, the problems ranged from the device becoming too warm — sometimes after just ten minutes of use — to needing to be charged multiple times a day. The sensors on the device were far from perfect, and there were many times when I had to re-tap, re-swipe or (and maybe this was the worst part) jerk my head up repeatedly to wake up the device when it went dormant. I probably reset the device at least half a dozen times in the course of normal use because it wouldn’t respond to my frantic taps, or refused to connect to my smartphone even when there were no other network problems.
Glass works better with Google’s Android phones (in my case, an HTC One M8 on loan from HTC) than with the iPhone, if only because the integration between the Google systems is much smoother. As for software, developers have been smart about designing Glass apps to minimise the amount of data bombarding users. Big names such as Facebook, Twitter and CNN provide a strong app core for Glass. The CNN app, for example, will let you see headlines for top stories, or by subject, and serves headlines, photos and short video.
There are other apps that would be nice to have, however, particularly more photo apps to take advantage of the point-of-view vantage you get with the device.
The iPhone experience with Glass is improving. In fact, Google added a feature allowing Glass users to see iPhone text notifications during the week I wore the device. And some functions of Glass, such as the ability to project what a Glass user sees on to a paired phone, were fantastic and useful in ways I didn’t anticipate.
But though I tried, very hard, to make Glass a part of my life, I simply didn’t feel comfortable with the screen hovering just out of my line of sight. I didn’t get any direct challenges about filming others without their permission — not that I ever did film people without permission — but nearly every person who questioned me about Glass asked if I was filming.
What struck me most, however, was what happened when I let others try on the device, giving me a glimpse of how I appeared when I was wearing Glass: a conversation partner who was like a dinner guest who keeps looking at the door, as if to check if there is another person in the room they would rather be talking to. Think of every person wearing earbuds or a Bluetooth headset who has annoyed you for the same reason. Now multiply it by a factor of ten.
All of which goes against what Glass is supposedly all about: the idea that you can avoid those awkward moments when you try to sneak a peek at your smartphone, which is always much more obvious than you think.
After a few earnest days of trying to make the thing work, I stopped trying to force the issue and used it as I would in real life — in situations when I needed to watch something hands-free, or when I wasn’t required to actively engage with other people. In those cases, Glass worked as promised. It delivered updates to keep me informed without overwhelming me and acted as a useful second screen to my smartphone.
But that also meant that, more often than not, Glass ended up perched on the top of my head — the way you wear your sunglasses indoors — or discreetly tucked into my bag, to keep it from being the only subject of conversation.
Would I buy Google Glass? Not now, especially with that $1,500 price tag. The device has a lot of evolving to do before it is ready for the world. The world has some evolving to do before it is ready for Glass, too.