Glass: Gadget

What is Glass about?

As Thad Starner (@ThadStarner), technical lead on the project puts it, Google as a company is about delivering the information to the user as quickly as possible. Preferably even before this information is requested.

Autocomplete in Search, priority inbox in Gmail, Google Now, Knowledge Graph; all those are about reducing the time between the information is wanted or needed and presented to the user.

Glass is the next iteration. Your computer is powerful but slow: if you are walking down the street, you will not pull the laptop from your backpack to check time or email. But when the attachment will not open on your phone, you will end up using your laptop. Different devices, different tasks.

Glass is insanely limited. The screen is not good for anything beyond pre-chewed information. You can literally watch the battery percentage going down in front of your eyes. Input is hard and error-prone.

And it is supposed to be limited. Think about Glass as a hardware interface for notification bar, Google Now, and Search. It is not for browsing the web or even email inbox. The content is either requested or pushed to the user, but in a very condensed way that requires only a quick glance.

This extraction of knowledge that is required here is the real bottleneck of the system. Understanding complex speech is hard. Returning results that are relevant is hard. Presenting information in a condensed way is hard. Thus, building good Glass is hard.

I am visiting my parents for Christmas in Poland. Trying navigation, it was impossible to get Glass to navigate to the place I wanted, Polish street names being impossible to spell. So there I was, sitting with my glass, smartphone, and laptop, not being able to tell Glass what I wanted. I ended up quickly putting together a Mirror API app with a sole purpose of starting navigation to the street I wanted.

Functionally, Glass does not do anything your phone would not do. It does not mean it is useless, your laptop can do anything your phone can do, but because of the phone’s form factor, you still use it on the go, during meetings, in the toilet. But when this email is turning out to be just too long to type comfortably on the virtual keyboard, and your laptop is standing right there, you switch.

As Glass is not aspiring to replace phone, it is competing with being faster than reaching into your pocket, unlocking the phone, and doing search, or checking email, or taking a picture. If Glass fails to recognize your query the first time, you would be better off using your phone to do the search. Tough competition. If the screen does not activate on the first horse-like head jerk, it would be more efficient to check time on your watch.

There are certain use cases where the Glass form factor is a killer. When having it sitting hands-free or being always-on really makes the difference. Taking pictures or recording videos is fun, you can snap casual stuff for which you would normally not feel worth taking your phone out and you get the POV. It is not really for professionals, they have been using POV cameras for years; if you are doing serious bungee jumping, there is a good  chance you have a pro camera for that. For pictures and videos, Glass is for casual users quietly going with them through the day.

Navigation is fun. It is cool to have a stopwatch in the corner of your eye. Or a compass. Or quickly check if the email you just received is worth pulling your phone out. Or ask about the movie you are watching. Those things generally work, and when they do, they feel like magic. But if they fail on the first try, you either continue pushing it (after all you have paid serious money for this thing), or you give up and use your phone. And every time this happens, you think: it is not ready, not good enough.

Glass as a gadget is not ready for prime time. The problem it solves is too small and the solution not perfect enough. There are however other interesting things to do that I am studying and will describe. After all, it is a device with uplink and downlink directly into our eyes. Until we get into our brains (also working on it), it gets us as connected as we can be. There are some fun things we can do with it.


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