June 7, 2013 -- About 30 days ago I went to Google's headquarters in Chelsea Market in New York City. For weeks I had been not-so-patiently waiting for this day. I was finally picking up my Google Glass.
My enthusiasm was no secret, especially since I decided to pull out my personal credit card and pay $1,500 for connected glasses. I didn't care -- I was finally getting a chance to see what life was like with a small screen in front of my eye.
Last week I went back to Chelsea Market with the very bag and box Google gave me when I picked up Glass. But this time that original excitement was gone – this time I was anxious over whether I should return the glasses and get my money back before the 30-day return window had closed.
Why would I want to return the glasses that only a couple thousand people in the world have? Why would I want to return what many are calling of the future of technology?
Glass Half Full
First – the things I have really liked about the connected glasses. Lots of people have asked me: Why would you wear those silly-looking frames if you have a phone in your hand all the time?
The answer: so I wouldn't have to have the phone in my hand all the time. The things that Glass does to replace or cut down on glancing at my phone every five minutes are the best part about them.
I have gotten used to tilting my head up and down to wake the screen and see the time or just ask for directions. Being able to see what street I have to turn on right above my eye is much easier than having to look down at a phone. (Note: I've only driven with Glass on once, though I actually felt safer with it right above my eye than having to glance down at my phone.)
Beyond putting a dashboard in front of your eye, it also includes a camera viewfinder. Being able to snap photos quickly without having to grab my phone has also been one of my favorite things about the wearable computer. It's not only convenient but it's a relief to not look at life through a phone screen. I could see the entire view of the city of Positano rather than having to look through a 4-inch phone viewfinder. The screen really isn't as distracting as one thinks either.
And then sharing those photos with the new Twitter and Facebook apps is beyond easy. Two taps on the right arm of the glasses and your friends are looking at what you are.
But in some cases it's much easier to grab a phone. Trying to send a tweet using the voice recognition feature is risky. You don't know what you're going to get in terms of dictation. No, I didn't mean "hashtag humble drag," I meant "#humblebrag."
Searching Google using your voice is useful, but even more useful is the Google Now integration. With the assistant service, I get a reminder in my face about a friend's birthday or the airport terminal I need to be at in the morning.
There's something else I also like about Glass, albeit it is a bit superficial. I don't particularly like how they look on me, but I like that they are noticeable and people are drawn to them. Not because I like people looking at me – despite the fact that I do work for a television network – but because the conversations about the glasses and what people would want to do with them are intriguing.
Glass Half Empty
"Are they cool?" people often ask. "Sometimes," I always reply.
That unenthusiastic answer comes from what I dislike about the wearable computer.
The number one compliant I have is about connectivity, or lack thereof. You have to own a phone that supports Bluetooth data tethering. If you don't, the glasses quickly become a snazzy wearable camera in many situations.
Without the Bluetooth feature on my phones, the glasses rarely have connectivity when I am not at home. I used the mobile hotspot on my phone as a substitute, but that's not always a reliable solution. It's a hard problem for Google to solve since embedding cellular connectivity inside the glasses will take a hit on battery life, which is already less than stellar.
As I said in my original piece, when you use the glasses heavily they don't last longer than four hours. Luckily it doesn't take too long for them to charge since the battery is so small. Still, those two things together have caused the glasses to not be on my face much of the day, but in their protective pouch in my bag.
On my vacation to Italy, the glasses spent most of the time in the hotel room safe. While I did take them out from time to time to snap photos, my iPhone proved to be a better mobile photography companion – the photos were better and connecting to a hotel WiFi network was easier. You cannot connect the glasses to a network that requires you login via a website portal.
Those hardware issues might be forgivable though if there were more compelling things I could do with Glass in general. Of course, this is just the start of the platform and the whole point of them being given to a select group of people now is so that they can help come up with innovative ways to use them. Heck, Google calls them the Explorer edition.
That said, as you wear them now, there simply isn't much you can do with them. Sure, there are those aforementioned things, but none of them truly take advantage of the fact that there is a screen and camera above my eye – they modify the smartphone app experience, they don't yet offer something unique.
I want to do the things that Google showed in the original demo video. I want to be able to look at the subway station and know if there is a 2 or 10 minute wait for the next train so I can decide I should take a cab instead. I want to look at the pasta I am about to inhale and know more about the ingredients or caloric information. There are privacy concerns regarding object and facial recognition, to be sure, but object recognition or interaction may be the game-changing feature.
To Return or Not Return?
When I picked up Glass, Google said I should ease into the experience. I didn't. I wore Glass non-stop during my first week with them. Now, they sit in my bag more than they sit on my nose.
With that you'd think I decided to return the glasses last week when I went back to Chelsea Market. For $1,500 why would you hold on to something that you don't use consistently? Believe me, I thought long and hard about it.
But I ultimately decided to keep them.
I've made an investment in the future. Like any future technology, it is a risk, but when I do look through the transparent screen I consistently think of interesting and exciting ways overlaying digital information in the physical world could enhance my life. Whether app makers build those tools or Google improves the other shortcomings remains to be seen. I just can't see into the future with them… yet.