Today I’m in New York again, and I was this time organized enough to have scheduled some time with the superlative Mike DiGiovanni, whose exploits in bleeding edge Glass development have led to him being, no hyperbole required, Google Glass’s first celebrity.
His creation of Winky, the app that takes pictures just from a wink (among other things) has rightly caused a sensation, reported here, here, here, here, here and here. But apart from the imagination that led to this brilliantly simple piece of HID creation, what I love is his immediate instinct to dive deep into the heart of Android and do things – combining hardware, software and a new array of sensors – that it was never meant for.
I spent part of last week designing user journeys and even getting hands on with the design templates for Glass, so it’s fair to say I am already a convert, but today’s experience at getting hands-on (eyes on? head-on?) with the device itself was simply the best day I’ve had in digital since I grasped the iPhone 1 the day after it was released in 2007.
As I previously wrote here, since the smartphone model has matured, I’ve suffered bouts of a terrible ennui with all things digital – saying to brands the same old message around mobile optimization, integrated mobile strategy, mobile engagement models blablabla, and without realizing it, I suppose the lack of anything exciting or new in mobile tech has contributed to my move towards more holistic brand work.
Glass is here to change everything. It’s as big as the smartphone and probably bigger. I haven’t yet seen any extravagant analyst forecasts for wearables, but I simply don’t care what they say either way.
As soon as you put on Glass you get a shiver of newness that you can’t stop smiling at. The only comparable experience is when I got hold of that first iPhone and compared the screen to my then devices – the XDA2 and the Samsung Z140.
What’s it Like?
The first thing I found, after adjusting the fit (it’s quite nose-size sensitive) is that it’s pretty much completely intuitive. In less than an hour I learned a complete set of new interface commands. The touch forwards and back, the swipe down, the basic voice commands, the nod – they all make sense straight away.
The overall screen-on-face thing is pretty easy too – Mike reckons to wear his Glass pretty much all the time now, and after just an hour, I can see completely how you get used to it. The screen is transparent when off, making it no impediment to regular activity, and when in use it’s simple to flip attention up to it.
It is of course distracting, though by no means as bad as a mobile, so it will be interesting to see how legislators respond to it for driving. First impressions are that it should be banned behind the wheel as texting is, but it’s by no means as clear cut. It’s still hands-free, and takes your attention off the road less than a traditional sat-nav…
The hardware is pretty fantastic for what is really a beta.
- The bone conduction audio is very good for conversation and video playback
- The screen is super-clear both in use and switched off
- The touch pad is responsive and interprets commands consistently
There are of course issues – battery life is very poor, and Glass heats up quite quickly when playing or recording video, but these were both common issues in the early days of smartphones, so we’ll see them resolved pretty quickly.
Probably the best aspect overall is how Google have loaded up the software with features – there are so many Android modules crammed into a tiny device, and operable through both a tiny screen and limited user interface: emails, text, basic apps, search, calendar, navigation – it’s all in there and more.
The strategy here is clearly to make a massive impact with the user experience and show Glass as a meaningful new personal communication device that replaces or augments phone functionality in new and better ways. While they could have spent this effort on styling or battery life, I think they have scored the home run by giving users and developers as much of a vision as possible of how Glass will be used.
The Consumer hurdle…
While some such as my esteemed colleague @joelblackmore have some doubts as to the physical appearance of Glass, I can’t see this being too much of an issue. Once you understand the device and why someone might have one, you see straight past it – we’ve certainly got used to Mike wearing his 24/7. And even if you don’t like the current design, people are already 3d printing devices for mounting Glass over your own shades etc
The voice response may prove a bit more troubling – imagine sitting on a bus and saying “OK Glass – Google Athlete’s Foot remedies” out loud. Or worse… So it won’t be good for everything, or in many cases replace the phone – yet.
The cost of course is hardly worth talking about. While the develop unit is $1500 now, I would forecast this coming down to under $500 in a couple of years at the outside.
So will Glass change everything? I believe so. Even if you can’t see it now, Glass should usher in a new age of the Intensely Personal Computer, melding us ever closer to our digital alter-egos.
It’s a fantastic Beta, and we should know by now not to underestimate the scale and growth of new device ecosystems.
I, for one, am rather happy about the whole thing.