I have experienced Nerdvana, and its name is Google Glass.
The Google Glass team is currently touring the country, giving us regular, non-Explorers a chance to play with the future of wearable technology. This past weekend the team came to my hometown of Atlanta, and so of course I was there bright and early Saturday morning for my chance to finally get my hands (or rather, my face) on Glass.
Once we arrived, we were put in a pleasantly orderly line with other Glass enthusiasts, where we sipped hot chocolate and read instructions on how to interact with Glass. Before we went in, members of the Glass team gave us a high level overview of the product and its vision (sidenote: apparently it’s insanely nerdy to know things ahead of time like “Bone Conduction Audio.” Yes. I was more or less called a nerd by a member of possibly the nerdiest team on the planet).
Then, finally, it was time. We were ushered in 10 or so at a time into a wide open space with different stations set up to try Glass and various apps. Here are a few things I got to experience:
At first, we were taken to a simple station to get started with Glass, where we were handed our first Glass units and instructed how to interact with them. A simple tap on the touchpad on the right side wakes the screen. From there, you can either swipe back and forth to see various “cards” of information (basically a record of the interactions you’ve had with Glass) or speak the hotword “OK Glass” to interact with voice commands. We were able to Google search, take pictures and video, get directions and more.
I’ve been following Glass’s development for some time, and I’ve had spirited debates with coworkers about the value propositions of wearable technology. And I’ll say this: you can argue use cases all day long, but something magical happens the first time you see technology like this in action. It felt familiar and revolutionary all at the same time. I was accessing things my phone could already do; I knew that. But something about having it accessible hands-free, within your vision but unobtrusive, was a revelation. I could look at my friend and have a normal conversation without engaging with the technology at all. It was there when I needed it, but not when I didn’t. There’s a reason why wearable technology is predicted to become the next big thing.
The other stations led us through some more specific Glass use cases:
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Probably the most impressive station they had set up was to show off the WordLens app for Glass, an app that translates signs from one language to another in real-time, right in front of your face. You select which languages you’re translating to and from, then simply look at the sign and say “OK Glass, translate this.” The app then zooms in on the sign and overlays the translated text directly on top of the existing sign. This was one of the most science fiction things I’ve ever experienced. This is straight out of Star Trek, people, and the usefulness of an app like this for travellers could not possibly be overstated.
The other station the Glass team had set up was to show off Glass’s relatively new integration with Google Play Music. The Glass team members at this station set us up with Glass units and the Glass stereo earbuds and told us to simply ask Glass to play any artist we wanted. A few seconds after saying “OK Glass, listen to Foo Fighters,” Everlong was playing away in my ears. While not quite as mind-blowing as the WordLens station, it was still very cool to have such quick, unfettered access to practically any song or artist you could think of (provided you have Google Play All Access, of course – or a healthy library on your phone).
I came away from my time with Glass with a few key thoughts:
- Wearable technology will be as big as they say. Whether it’s ultimately Glass or some other product leading the charge, the vision of technology that’s accessible without forcing us to stare at our phones all the time will change everything.
- In a demo situation like this, it’s impossible to evaluate the social problems that could arise from this technology. In a room full of enthusiasts clamoring to try the product, you don’t have to deal with weird looks or being kicked out of a public place. I envision this being a bumpy road, but eventually this technology will be commonplace. Smartphones and tablets were weird once too. We’ll get there.
- The worst part of the Glass demo was having to give it back. I want one. I’m not prepared to go full-on $1500 Explorer version just yet, but as long as the consumer version is reasonably priced I’ll be that guy getting weird looks.
Have questions about Glass that I didn’t cover? Leave me a comment below or tweet me @writerwin.