I approach new technology with about as much enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist.
So the prospect of hearing about Google Glass at a small event in central London doesn’t make me rub my hands together in childlike glee. I would rather have a front-row seat at London Fashion Week, sadly now over.
Fortunately the man introducing us to Google’s big innovation is an amiable American named Bob, who speaks in plain English and doesn’t appear to be overly techie or robotic. I should also point out that he doesn’t work for Google and hasn’t been paid to give us the PR speech about how this will change our lives for the better.
Bob is on a whirlwind visit from New York. He’s been wearing Google’s hi-tech glasses for about three months and is incredibly enthusiastic about the experience. He tells me, in fact, that he hasn’t been this excited about a product since the launch of Apple’s iPad. I’m waiting for his enthusiasm to rub off on me, but I’m still skeptical. Bob hasn’t seen my phone yet, which does nothing but make phone calls. Imagine that!
His demonstration kicks off with a presentation about what Google Glass can do, which is much the same as any smartphone. You can film, take pictures, make video calls, get directions, search the internet and translate languages with the simple vocal command ‘ok glass’ followed by what you want to do. Touch technology also allows you to control functionality or scroll through different options.
The picture quality is good – the embedded camera is 5MP – but you can’t frame the picture like you would with a phone or traditional camera, so that would take a bit of getting used to if you’re as useless at photography as I am.
Filming is an entirely different story. The sound quality varies hugely depending on where you are. If you’re somewhere really noisy, the film will come out practically unusable because Google Glass doesn’t filter out ambient noise. You also have to learn to keep your head extremely still while filming, otherwise the shaky result might give your viewers motion sickness.
‘It requires you to be massively disciplined,’ admits Bob, who adds that wearing Google’s glasses means learning a whole new set of behaviors.
A big downside to extended use is the battery life, which averages about two hours if you’re not using the glasses for battery sappers such as filming. If they get stolen, there are also security issues because at the moment there is no lockdown mechanism. You also won’t be able to wear a pair with prescription glasses, although a solution is being developed.
Bob has tested people’s reactions to the glasses in public and it varies. In the United States, he says, there were people ‘swarming’ to him. But here, in the UK, there’s more caution, with people pretending not to notice. Bob calls it the ‘I’m looking at you, I’m not looking at you’ attitude.
The big question remains how it might change our lives. At the moment it’s too early to say. It’s hard to envision this piece of hi-tech kit becoming as ubiquitous as the iPhone. The cost, at the very least, would need to come down substantially. Estimates put the retail price at about $1,000 to $1,500. Optional extras include buying dark shades that fit the frames – I would call this the Hollywood look and it’s certainly not for everyone.
There’s also no guarantee the product will even make it into the mainstream market. A limited number of people in the United States will be able to get their hands on a pair later this year or early next. ‘This might just be a great experiment,’ Bob says, explaining at the same time that approximately 8,000 people are currently working on the product at Google’s headquarters.
He does, however, predict that Google Glass is part of a trend of wearable technology. Personally, I’d rather be wearing something else, preferably by Marc Jacobs.