Jacked In – You have to look serious
when exploring the Matrix

So, I’ve had a lot of people asking me about Glass over the last few weeks.  How is it?  What do you think?  Should I get one?  My answers have generally been: It’s interesting, I think I like it, and No, you definitely should not get one. There is one caveat, however.  If your idea of an enjoyable Saturday morning is firing up a new LAMP Stack, pouring over GitHub to find new Open Source packages to install, and troubleshooting them for hours, then you might be interested in Glass.  If that doesn’t sound like fun, hold off for a little while longer.  If you don’t know what any of those words mean, then any time someone mentions Glass, stick your fingers in your ears and hum The Battle Hymn of the Republic until they are done speaking. Listen very carefully and take this to heart…Google Glass does not yet exist in your world.

From a geek perspective there is something undeniably cool about putting on Glass, plugging one end of the USB cable into the earpiece, and the other into the back of my computer. This creates the physical sensation of jacking in to the Matrix. I feel powerful and connected. My wife, on the other hand, says it reminds her of a scene from Douglas Adams’ and Terry Jones’ novel, Starship Titanic.  The characters of Lucy and the Journalist are trying to get amorous as the Yassaccans are invading the ship, but third-wheel Dan keeps interrupting. The Journalist hands Dan a virtual reality helmet and tells him to put it on.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “I see what you mean! I’m right in the ship… Hey! This is great! I can get into the consoles! Wow! Now I’m running along the wiring! Hey! The circuit boards are like vast cities!…”

Meanwhile, the Journalist and Lucy go at it.

…then she suddenly pulled away, and glanced anxiously over at Dan, who was climbing some invisible stairs in his virtual reality and then turning around and handling invisible objects and letting out delighted yelps.

“Oh, don’t worry about him!” panted The Journalist. “He can’t hear or see us. We’re still MatterSide.  He’ll be totally absorbed in that thing – it’s always the same – first time you put on one of those you’re usually off for five or six hours!”

I’m not sure whether I should be concerned about what my wife is up to while I’m exploring the Matrix, or just be extremely proud that I married a woman who effortlessly references Douglas Adams and Terry Jones.

After mining the Glass forums, and Googling for APKs that have been updated to run on XE16 (See, doesn’t that sound like fun!), I have found a few apps that, if not yet consumer ready, at least point to the promise and potential of Glass.

Word Lens translating a French sign.

Word Lens – This app is truly awesome, in the “worthy of awe” sense. Word Lens is one of the apps that is available through the MyGlass site, so no need for side loading .apk files, and I think it is the closest that Glass gets to a killer app. You look at a sign in a foreign language, and the app manipulates the pixels of the image to rewrite the sign in English. The translation is only as good as Google Translate, and it’s a little slow, but… Holy freakin’ cow, man! That’s awesome!

PhotoGlassic Memory – This app allows you to say, “OK Glass, Remember where I left my keys.” Glass takes a picture of the keys in their current location, grabs GPS coordinates and stores that information. Later when you’ve completely forgotten where you left your keys, you say, “OK Glass, Recall where I left my keys.” The picture and a map showing the location of your keys pops up.  I’m sure there are better uses for PhotoGlassic Memory than the keys example and I only have an 850 square foot apartment, so the GPS coordinates don’t help much.

Viewing the PhotoSphere Demo as I edit this post.
(That’s Sergey Brin in the blue shirt in front.)

PhotoSphere Demo – There is an “Easter Egg” hidden in the Glass settings that displays a 360 degree picture of the Glass team.  You can turn your head all the way around to see all of the people developing for Glass at Google. Some enterprising developer has made it much easier to access that picture, and to upload your own PhotoSpheres (360 degree pictures). People using this app for the first time closely approximate Dan’s experience in the Starship Titanic excerpt above. They immediately become oblivious to anything around them and are transported to the world of the picture. They spin and contort their bodies to look up at the ceiling and down at the floor, and strangely enough down under their armpit. ?? Unfortunately, if you run this app for more than a few minutes, Glass gets hot and you get the “Glass must cool down to run smoothly.” message.  There is another Google application that uses PhotoSphere technology, it doesn’t take a genius to see where that is going.

Glass Calculate– This is a Glass implementation of Wolfram Alpha. There is nothing really Glass specific about it. The amazing part is Wolfram Alpha itself.  I hesitated to mention it at all, except it’s really cool to ask your glasses “OK Glass, Calculate how many teaspoons are in Lake Michigan?” and have it come back to you in seconds with an authoritative answer, including charts, graphs, and comparisons to other bodies of water.  (A: 988 quadrillion.)

There is a well documented tendency for human beings to over-value things that they pay way too much for. With that in mind, take what I’m about to say with a huge grain of salt. I like Glass a lot. No, it is not ready for the consumer market, and after having spent time with it, I think a consumer version is further off than most people think. A friend of mine said he was waiting to get Glass until they released the $500 version this Holiday season. It’s not going to happen. Maybe next Holiday season, in 2015.  Maybe. I think a real, viable, easy to use, and affordable consumable product is 3 to 5 years off. But I’m keeping mine. It’s not going back to Google for a refund, unless I find out my wife is up to no good while I’m lost in the Matrix. Thankfully, there’s a very good chance she’s busy re-reading one of the five books in The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy. I’m a lucky man.

OK. I’ve had a couple of days to experiment with Google’s Glass technology. It’s still very early days, and I haven’t come to any firm conclusions yet, but I’m ready to give my first impressions.

First, the bad. Glass is definitely not yet ready for Prime Time. To be fair, Google has never claimed otherwise. I am pretty sure they are doing this ridiculous expensive and slow roll out, because they don’t want your average consumer to purchase a Glass thinking it should be something more than it actually is.  At $1500 only developers, or Google Fans, or die-hard geeks, will be likely to shell out the cash and each of those populations will be relatively understanding of the device’s limitations.

There is no Glass app store.  After you register your Glass with your Google account, you get access to the MyGlass site.  Most of the setup, including wifi setup and app installation, is done on this site or on an Android or iOS mobile app. There a few dozen Google sanctioned apps that can be sent to your Glass with a simple authorization from this site. The apps vary greatly in usability and utility and there really is no “killer app” as yet. In the last few days, Google has added several new apps to this list, so I’m hopeful that that trend continues and is not just Google throwing a bone to all of the suckers new Glass owners who purchased a Glass last week.

If you are a developer or a die-hard geek, then you are probably fairly comfortable with a unix command line. This is where the interesting stuff is happening with Glass. If you turn on Debugging, and plug your Glass into your computer, you suddenly have the ability to install non-Google sanctioned apps.  These can be found on a number of sites dedicated to cataloging new Glass apps.  There is some “danger” in this process. You may install something that causes problems with other apps and you may have difficulty uninstalling some apps.  In my experience a lot of available apps simply do not work at all. (I suspect that’s because Google updated the software version on Glass last week and a lot of apps have not yet been updated.) Thankfully, Google made it very simple to restore Glass to its factory settings.  I’ve already done this twice. This manual process reminds me very much of the early days of iPhone Jailbreaking.  It’s easy to forget now that Apple has more than a million apps on their app store, but for the first year if you wanted the device to run more than the few included apps allowed, you had to do a little simple hacking.

Second, the ugly. This was the most surprising thing for me. I don’t think they’re ugly at all. I kind of like the look of them. Granted, I’m not exactly a fashion plate and I normally wear glasses so they just looked like glasses with a chunky right temple piece. I didn’t get the day glow orange color, so I think my Charcoal Glass looks fairly classy (IMHO) and if I wear a ball cap, you can barely see it. I did wear it out for a walk on Saturday with my wife and she was only slightly embarrassed.  I went into a Starbucks and no one seemed to notice I had it on at all. Although, I live in Manhattan, and we tend to not look at each other much, so your mileage may vary. While I wasn’t accosted by angry anti-tech mobs, or feverish fan-boys, I found I was still quite self conscious while ordering my latte. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I’m not a flashy, out-going, look-at-me type, so maybe I had a look on my face that said, “don’t you dare ask me about this stupid thing on my face!”

Finally, the good. I had a revelation on day two of playing with my Glass; my title from last week, Getting Google Glass All Wrong, was a little prophetic. I’m starting to think that everyone has Glass wrong. (Maybe someone else has said this, though I haven’t seen it, so if this is not an original thought, please feel free deride me in the comments and send me links showing how derivative I am.) Google Glass is not a wearable smartphone, or Personal Electronic Device (PED) at all.  And I don’t mean, it’s not there yet, I mean, I don’t think that’s what this will ever be, or even what it should be.  I think Glass is the world’s first Personal Internet Peripheral (PIP).

By internet peripheral, I mean, this device is a new method of interacting with the internet (obviously). But specifically, Google Glass has more in common with the computer mouse than it does with the smartphone. I don’t mean that as an insult, I think that is actually quite brilliant. While there is some storage and processing ability within Glass, the real brains of the device are in the cloud and Glass requires an internet connection to do much of anything useful. And while the camera and the display will get smaller, and the storage will get bigger, over time, I don’t see Google ever putting the brains in the device itself.  Why would they? They are an internet company and persistent connectivity will only become more common.

Most computer mice (mouses?) today use lasers to determine cursor coordinates, but they still work essentially the same as the old mice with two wheels turning at right angles to each other, to move a cursor on a screen in two dimensions. In the days of DOS, the mouse was of little use, but the Graphical User Interface quickly became the norm and computing changed forever.  In the same way that the mouse opened up new ways to interact with computers, I think Glass and its descendant technologies will create new ways to interact with the cloud.  Google Glass is an eleven dimensional mouse on the two dimensional web. It seems of little use now, but just you wait until the eleven dimensional online user interface becomes the norm. It’s definitely not what I thought it was, but I am much more impressed with Glass after two days than I expected to be.

More to come…

Image [cc] – Tedeytan

Last year it seemed everyone was gaga for Google Glass.

“Ooooooh, it’s a computer for your face!  It’s got a camera and can give you directions! It’s just like your phone was permanently positioned 3 feet in front of your right eye! Woo hoo! I can’t wait to get one!”

I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t jump on board. I just didn’t see the utility. Yes, it’s a cool concept, but the functionality wasn’t there. Maybe in a few years it would become something functional and interesting, but I certainly wasn’t going to waste my money on something that was little more than a half-baked concept.

A week ago Google announced that they were opening up Glass sales for one day only. On Tuesday, if you were willing to shell out $1500 dollars, this pre-beta, sub-functional, ugly cyborg technology could be yours! The one day sale was met with a barrage of negative press. Journalists and bloggers across the world almost universally decried this Google foray into wearable tech as not yet ready for prime time, or elitist technology, or as little more than a toy for wealthy geeks. One Business Insider journalist told his harrowing tale of being assaulted on the streets of San Francisco for wearing his Glass in public. Glass has been banned in some coffee shops and bars. Most tellingly, the term Glasshole has graduated from Silicon Valley/Northern California in-joke to official entry in the American Lexicon. I even heard Michael Strahan say it on Live! (Kelly was aghast.) Boy, when the pendulum swings, that sucker swings hard! By Tuesday morning, it was clear to me that everyone in the world finally agreed with my original assessment of Google Glass. So, I bought one.

You’ve heard the phrase “that many people can’t be wrong”? Well, any time consensus holds that I am that right about something, you can be sure I’m going to seriously question that assessment. The “wisdom of the crowds” does not refer to the crowd’s purchasing prowess after all. If that many people, most of whom have never tried or even seen the technology, hate it with such a viciousness, that is a sure sign that there is something there worth exploring.

So Hello World! I am about to become a Glasshole.

Now, I don’t intend to wear the damn thing around all the time.  Mostly because I don’t want to be beaten up by the poor disadvantaged proletarian children carrying their 1970s-era super computers in their pockets instead of wearing them on their face. (“Down with the face computers, long live the pocket!”) But also because, I suspect they will make me look even dorkier than usual. And also, in a nod to all of my privacy lawyer friends who just crossed me off their Christmas Card list, because there are some real, gray area, privacy concerns surrounding wearable technology in public. Our social norms, let alone our laws, have not yet assimilated wearable, always-on, camera computers.

That said, this is happening people! Wearable computing is here. It will only become more prevalent, and we have to learn to live with it.  More to the point, we will have to learn to work with it. While I can imagine any number of futures for Google Glass and its like – everything from laws preventing its use in public, to public distribution for all school children – I have no doubt that one day I will start my working day, not by logging into my desktop computer, but by physically putting my computer on my body. And I would bet that that day is closer to 2020 than it is to 2030.

I understand that Google has a 30 day money back guarantee, so if it turns out that my original assessment (and the rest of the world’s since Tuesday) is right, maybe I’ll ship it back to Mountain View in the next month. In the meantime, please don’t worry about people calling me a Glasshole, I’ve been called something very similar for most of my life and I probably won’t even notice.