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Nick Bennett

Strategy Director

Will Google Glass Become More Than Just a Novelty?

A few weeks ago, Google Glass was delivered to the Rawnet office and everyone was excited to see what the new tech could do. Fortunately, I was given the chance to take the coveted wearable device home for the weekend to see what it is was capable of.

Since its initial announcement, I have closely followed every shred of Glass news that Google have released. Obviously, the prospect of being able to get my hands (and eyes) on the device for a whole weekend filled every nerd-fibre of my being with immense excitement.

Glass was still in the second stage of closed beta in the US, and having never seen one in the flesh, let alone the UK, I knew how rare it would be to walk around wearing the futuristic tech. I was very interested in seeing how the public would react to me whilst wearing Glass out and about and also to see how useful the device actually was in its current form.

Augmented Experience

As soon as Glass was handed over to me, I made a point of wearing it at every given opportunity. I wore it whilst I commuted on the train, when I went grocery shopping, when I drove around town and even when I visited the in-laws. Had it been waterproof, I would have even worn it in the shower!

Immediately I became very aware that people were paying far more attention to me than what I would normally receive. However, I didn't let this bother me and found it quite amusing to see double-take after double-take, from people walking past. I even heard the occasional "was that Google Glass?" whisper, and on one occasion, I even heard a teenager yell out "did it scan my face?". No young sir... it did not.

Sitting on the train, I found people intensely staring at me, only to hastily look away as I caught their eye. Unlike some of the recent stories that I had read, I was never worried that I might have been confronted by an ominous character, and I didn't once catch anyone scowling at me. It was actually a far more enjoyable experience than what was predicted by both my friends and colleagues.

When the novelty of actually wearing and using Glass eventually wore off, I was left feeling a little bit deflated. I ended up forcing the use of Google Glass into situations that didn't really warrant it, and it left me feeling unfulfilled with its functionality. I would have saved myself a large amount of headache (both metaphorical, and physical!) had I just used my smartphone to browse the web and read the news. What I realized was, once I stopped trying to force the use of Glass and let it augment my everyday life, I realized how useful it could actually become.

I ended up playing with nearly every single option and app available; I took random pictures & videos doing ordinary things, listened to music whilst shopping, answered phone calls whilst driving, replied to text messages whilst washing the dishes and looked at directions when I went on a long drive to see the in-laws.

An Eye For Retail

Although I started to really see the benefits of Glass later on, this could end up being a very difficult barrier-to-entry for Google to remove. When Glass eventually gets announced for sale to the general public, I can't see how they are going to correctly sell the real long-term benefit of the device to everyday people. The actual benefits, beyond the novel, are difficult to articulate, and a quick shop demonstration is not going to be able to cut it. People are going to need time with Glass during their everyday lives to understand the subtle benefit of using the device. There is a creeping learning curve, and until you have experienced the Glass making your life slightly better, you will not want to part with any substantial amount of money in order to purchase it.

By Sunday I had completely stopped trying to force the use of Glass during my daily life. Surprisingly, this was when I ended up using it the most. I found myself using it whilst I was shopping with my wife - She was trying on hats and wanted to see how they looked later. All I had to do was wink, and Google Glass would take a picture. A couple of voice commands later and the pictures were shared to her laptop, giving her a chance to review when she got home.

Glass was also surprisingly useful in times where I had limited ability to use my hands. Kinky handcuff imagery aside, I actually found Glass incredible relevant when I needed to use my phone, but had my hands full with shopping. I was looking at washing detergents, trying to remember which one I had been asked to buy. In a last ditch effort to refresh my memory, I used Glass to call my wife and ask her which one she had talked about. Normally this would have involved me tediously placing all of my shopping down to pull out my phone from my pocket. Glass made this task a lot easier.

These shopping experiences do poise an important question: Could Glass be the next step in the retail shopping experience? Or will it become a novel piece of tech, with no real-world use case?

Developer Distress

Finally, at the end of my Glass infused weekend, I sat down to whip up a little Glass app. Previously, I had scoured over all of the developer documentation and found that the heavy guidelines and restrictions on development were quite off putting. This didn't stop me however, and after using Glass for a couple of days I realized why Google had created restrictions in the first place. Due to the small amount of input options available and the intrusiveness of the device, I can only imagine how horrible it would be to use an app that didn't follow Google's vigorous guidelines.

In the end I didn't end up creating anything. I toyed with some ideas, ran up some of the example projects but realized that most of the apps I could think of would make no contextual sense on Glass. Any that did feel like they might work would require a great deal of thought, time and effort to make them useful or even usable at all.

The Glass Ceiling

So, after my weekend with Google Glass, the million pound question is: Would I recommend the wearable tech to anyone else?

If you are an early adopter, a gadget geek, tolerant to the occasional technical issues (such as laggy interfaces and crashes) or are already heavily invested in the Google ecosystem, then I absolutely think Glass could be for you. However, this is a relatively niche target audience, and I think Google are going to really struggle to sell to the wider market.

Overall, Google Glass is an impressive piece of tech. Once the kinks have been ironed out, and people have figured out its true usage, we will see a far more complete product. Until that point, Google Glass seems to initially be a novel way to take pictures and videos from a fun new perspective. The subtlety of its augmentation is difficult to understand and takes a while to adjust, but hopefully a shift in thinking will eventually overcome the initial disadvantages.