I confess to being skeptical about Google Glass, the much-hyped, mobile computer eyewear from a company so big its name is also a verb. I figured the glasses would be weird and uncomfortable to wear, obscuring my vision and distracting me with headlines, email and other material served up in front of my eye.
But this week, as I lucked into an admittedly brief opportunity to put Google Glass on my face, some of those preconceptions got wiped out.
It turns out that the glasses are remarkably comfortable. And somehow Google has made that in-your-face information far less obtrusive than I imagined.
I was most surprised at how the display didn't obscure my field of vision as much as I thought it would. I had to make an effort to look up to see the screen, and when I looked straight ahead, it was almost like Glass wasn't there at all.
This is what Google says it's trying to do. The company says on its Project Glass Google+ page that the point of Glass is "to be there when you need it, and out of your way when you don't." Yes, it sounds counterintuitive that putting technology on your face would be getting it out of the way, but now that I've tried it, I can see what Google is trying to do.
I used the voice command -- "Okay Glass, take a picture" -- to take a photo. The device understood my command the first time and responded by snapping a picture, although there was a little bit of a delay after I gave it the command.
I was also surprised at the quality of the display -- it's easy to read the menu, and the picture I took looked good.
The product isn't heavy, and as someone who wears glasses (I was wearing contact lenses at the time), there wasn't a huge difference between sporting my prescription Coke-bottle lenses and wearing Glass. It's clear when you're wearing it, however, that the battery and touchpad is all on one side of the device.
I don't know if Glass itself will stick. But I do think that wearable technology like Glass is a big part of the future, which makes me think a lot about what a world will be like where we're walking around with smartphone-like devices on our faces. And I remain skeptical about this being the solution to our smartphone and device addiction.
A Google News search for "Google Glass Privacy" returns more than 100,000 results, and this post is not another one that focuses on the privacy implications of this technology. But I'd be remiss if I didn't communicate something that Engadget's Tim Stevens pointed out in his review of Glass this week: With the absence of a red light on Glass (which Google could certainly add in the future), there's no way to know if somebody wearing the device is recording you. Yes, the display lights up when it's recording, but it also lights up when the user is doing anything with Glass. There's not a clear difference to a bystander when a user is using the device to check her flight status versus using it to record a video.
I also wondered if Glass itself will go the way of the over-the-ear Bluetooth headset. A seemingly cool idea at first (yes, I bought one in 2006), the headsets are now something that tend to be used in television and film to symbolize a jerk. At the same time, it's socially acceptable to walk around speaking into your wired iPhone headset. Go figure.
For reasons like these, I'm as interested in the technology as I am to see the social norms that develop around Glass and other wearable technology. Where and when will it be okay to wear Glass? Will announcements before shows ask us not only to "silence our smartphones" but also to "remove our head-mounted cameras?"
We can only wait and see.