Google Glass – The Drum's first impressions

The Drum’s news editor Stephen Lepitak went along to mobile agency Somo Global’s London office where a prototype pair of Google Glass was being tested to explore the opportunities the technology can offer. Here are his thoughts on the experience.

The opportunity to try out Google Glass, the most anticipated piece of technology since the dawn of time (well, it feels like that at the moment) doesn’t come every day, so I jumped at the chance to see what the experience of using a pair might be. It's technology I've been writing about for almost a year, reading about wherever possible, and I do genuinely believe it will change the world - although probably not anytime soon.

The prototype of the first iPhone was released back in 2007. For those of you who remember the original all those years ago, it couldn't even send a picture message, but with a few tweaks it has become an essential item for millions of us the world over, and essentially that's where Google Glass could head.

I don't know why I was surprised at just how dependent the Glass would be on an Android phone, but it turns out that most of the content uploads and settings are made through a connected device, meaning that the smartphone is not going to die anytime soon as a result.

At first glance, it's a fairly inoffensive, if not beautiful design, and reminds me of something we've been watching in science fiction movies such as Robocop and Minority Report - only it's real. IT'S REAL!

Like any new experience, Google Glass takes time to become accustomed to, but what stands out almost immediately is just how light a pair is. Obviously it has been designed to perch on the user’s face like a pair of glasses, but prototypes of most technology usually weigh far more than is healthy and are accompanied by a battery pack that requires handles to carry around with it. Not so in this case. I'm told that the battery life is around the same as that of a mobile phone – half a day if used continuously.

And yes, it does make you look a bit of a lemon, so it’s not for the self-conscious, although they aren’t uncomfortable to wear, probably the same as a pair of bifocals if anything.

In order to activate the glass however, a major movement of the head – nodding it up and down – is necessary, and would frighten anyone if done in a public place. It's not a comfortable thing to have to do, although the angle of the nod can be altered – but it is still an unnatural movement to do, no matter how subtle you aim to set the movement.

I have to admit that I expected the screen image in the Glass to be disorientating, but to my surprise Google Glass doesn't block out the real world to create a virtual one, instead the glasses project what looks like a small screen into the top right hand corner of your vision; a bit like a high-tech postage stamp. When not in use the screen disappears and life continues as normal until you wake the device.

At present there's no app store but the device does come preloaded with the likes of Twitter, Facebook and The New York Times.

The scrolling menu, in its current form, is a bit laborious with the user constantly having to scroll through their history page by page, as well as the various apps on offer, however there is definitely scope for a favourites menu to solve this issue. In order to scroll, the user has to tap the unit on the right hand side of the glass, which probably would look to anyone who didn't realise, that I was having a stroke. Again, this takes time to get used to - and the sensitivity of the unit, and it's slow pace to react, can mean having to scroll back and become frustrating.

The camera at the front of the device allows the user to take high definition photos and videos and there is also a built in earpiece which allows Google Glass to read news stories, Google search results, directions, etc. to you, which is a nice touch. The use of the camera is a simple enough operation.Using the available voice activation technology the user can order Glass to take a picture of what they are looking at. However they will have to get over the silliness of shouting commands at an inanimate object - especially in public. However the user can also tap the side bar to capture an image, rather than shout 'take a picture' on each occasion. This feature could be improved by allowing the user to capture lots of images of without having to look through a camera screen. The user can also share the image through Twitter or social media by accessing the preferred platform in order to do so.

The voice command feature still feels like a work in progress as it took this reporter a few attempts at shouting before it decided to follow instructions - although this may have been partially due to my accent. When it worked it did work, however, it did so with ease. The voice commands and jerky movements needed to use Google Glass might somewhat tarnish its appeal in terms of use in public, but at home or with friends I can see its benefits. Honestly, I can't see myself rushing to the shops just yet, but the potential is definitely there.

There is a lot of scepticism as to whether this is a product that will be mass adopted, and it’s hard to see Google Glass becoming so in its current form. It’s not the most attractive device in the world. Despite this, it’s hard to see how it could have been designed any better. However, the quicker the technology is integrated within sunglasses to make them less obvious and, frankly, silly looking, the more likely they are to be accepted across society. Walking down the street with them is likely to garner some funny looks and a few stares.

What could it mean for brands? Well there’s no advertising on the platform at all – Google has declared it. However, the data possibilities are immense. There is a data capture for facial movement that currently on Google has access to, however the online knowledge that can be gathered by companies developing websites and brands directly for the platform is huge. The big data problem just got more complicated, frankly.

With time, Google Glass really could become the ultimate second screen. The potential for its use at home whilst watching the TV is there, and it is far less obtrusive than a smartphone as it would still allow the user to watch the main screen whilst tweeting, Googling and IMDB-ing or whatever they need to do at the time.

I have seen the future. It’s still a long way away… but I'm sure Google Glass is part of it.

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