Busting the 7 worst myths about Google Glass
Most people’s knowledge of Google Glass has been informed by a comedy skit, and that’s a dangerous situation. Sure, Fred Armisen’s SNL portrayal of Glass is hilarious, but it’s also full of gross inaccuracies that paint the headset as half-baked technology for nerds and porn addicts.
Indeed, Glass has become the new Segway, and the people criticizing it most are those who’ve never used it, let alone seen it in person.
It’s time to address all of the myths surrounding the headset and rescue it from the depths of sketch comedy hell. Glass is definitely an interesting piece of technology—one that developers are right to be excited about—and it would be a shame if the device’s reputation were based entirely on silly rumors and the embarrassing shower stunts of Robert Scoble.
Myth: Google Glass is a final product
The Glass you see today is not the Glass you’ll be able to buy when the device eventually goes on sale to consumers. The Explorer edition of Glass—the one you’re likely to see most people wearing today—is officially in “prototype” stage, according to Google, and I would characterize it as an alpha-stage product at best. Currently, Glass doesn’t work with conventional eyeglasses, and it suffers from extremely poor battery life. But both of those problems should be addressed by the time the technology goes retail.
Though Glass runs Android, the hardware employs a custom UI overlay designed specifically for the device. The overlay is pretty slick, but it lacks basic capabilities. For example, you can’t adjust the volume of the bone-conduction audio that gets transmitted to your ears. Nor can you define the duration of the screen timeout. And other features, like voice recognition, seem to work only about half the time—leading you to sound like a maniac repeating the same phrase until the headset registers the command.
At its most basic level, Glass represents a marriage of simple hardware to a small collection of rudimentary APIs. You can read email, texts, and tweets. You can use Glass to receive turn-by-turn directions—via both voice and notation on your head-up display. You can even take photos and videos and share them to your social networks of choice without having to pull out your smartphone. But what Glass won’t let you do reveals more about the device. You can’t adjust basic settings. You can’t view full webpages. You can’t control which Google Now cards show up in your timeline. You can run Android apps, but most of them don’t fare well on the touchscreenless device. Glass is one of the most locked-down Android devices Google has ever made, and it will be interesting to see how this approach affects the platform in the long run.
The upshot is that Glass is nowhere close to being retail-friendly, so evaluating it as if it were a final, shipping product is grossly unfair. Google is working with Explorers, collecting their feedback and enhancement requests, to turn the final version of Glass into a force to be reckoned with. But chances are you won’t hear about any of these improvements until shortly before the device goes on sale, which Google says will happen sometime before the end of the year.
Myth: It will cost $1500
Most people I’ve talked to are excited about Glass until I tell them how much I paid for my unit. Yes, the Explorer edition of Glass does cost a pretty penny, and that price is unlikely to drop anytime soon. But the $1500 that people are paying for the device today is essentially going toward a Glass development kit—one that’s shared within companies or among groups of people interested in crafting apps for the headset.
Development kits generally cost more than final device hardware, and Google has already gone on record saying that Glass will retail for less than $1500 when the final version hits store shelves. Of course, that could simply mean that Google plans to sell the headset for $1495. Or Google could play it smart with pricing and make Glass as affordable as possible (see the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7).
Regardless, Glass won’t be dirt cheap, but you probably won’t have to whip out your Platinum card to purchase a pair.
Myth: It shoves distractions in your face
Wearing Glass isn’t as distracting as you’d think: The glass prism (in effect, its screen) sits outside your normal line of vision, and you can’t see it unless you focus on it. Since everyone’s head is different, Glass has to be fitted to your face —just as regular glasses do—to prevent the screen from hovering directly over your eyeball.
Many people are concerned that Glass might be dangerous to use while driving, but the technology’s current limitations keep it from being as engrossing as most smartphones. (During my daily commute, I often see drivers messing with their cell phones while zipping along.) The screen doesn’t light up when you receive a notification, and most of the device’s communication capabilities are hands-free anyway. That situation might change as designers develop more apps for the platform, but in its current state, Glass is no more distracting than a typical billboard or road sign.
Myth: You have to use voice controls
If I had a nickel for every time someone has run up to me yelling, “Okay Glass” in the hopes of activating my Glass, well... let’s just say I could probably afford to take something other than public transportation to work every day. Glass does accept voice commands, but most of the time you control the headset through a small touch panel on the device’s side.
The famous “Okay Glass” phrase only works when Glass is on, and only when you’re looking at the start screen. With those two conditions satisfied, saying “Okay Glass” produces a short list of commands that you can issue to Glass. But none of the commands involve any interaction with third-party apps or services. You can use voice commands to take a picture, for instance, but you have to use the touchpad to view that image in your timeline and to share it.
Myth: It replaces your cell phone
For a device that’s supposed to free us from our smartphones, Glass can’t do much on its own yet. Glass has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, but it lacks any sort of cellular connectivity. As a result, you can use Glass at home like a Wi-Fi-bound hermit—but if you want to use it while you’re out on the town, you must tether the hardware to your phone.
You can still take pictures and videos without an Internet connection, but I’m not too keen on toting an extra gadget to do something my phone can already do on its own. Glass works with any smartphone that supports tethering over a Bluetooth connection, but you’ll need an Android phone if you want to use the headset for turn-by-turn directions. Until Google creates a version of Glass that has its own GPS and cellular radios, your smartphone needs to tag along as well.
Myth: Glass users are constantly monitoring you
The number one question people ask me when they see me wearing Glass is whether I’m using it to record what they’re doing. Their concerns aren’t unfounded, of course: I have discreetly taken photos of coworkers without their being aware of what I was doing—you know, just to see if I could. As more Glass units make their way into the wild, I don’t think it would be overly paranoid to keep an eye on the guy with the $1500 titanium headgear.
That said, secretly recording videos with Glass is a bit more difficult than using the device to discreetly snap a few photos. When you record video using Glass, the glass prism on the front of the device lights up brighter than normal. The person doing the recording also has to look right at the subject in order to record what it’s doing.
So if you see someone wearing Glass and staring right at you for an extended period, and if the glass prism on his headset is lit up brighter than the Las Vegas strip, he’s probably recording you. But is this a surprising development in our age of constant public surveillance? At least Glass users telegraph their intentions—they’re totally conspicuous, and can’t hide behind a veil of anonymity.
Indeed, an overly attentive Glass wearer may be the least of your worries when it comes to someone recording your every move on camera.
Myth: You can watch porn on it
Glass can’t display full webpages, so your porn options are limited to tiny Google Image results and whatever you’ve shot yourself. Adult app store MiKandi announced that it’s launching a porn app for Glass later this week—which should prove to be a stimulating experience on a 1-inch display, right? So don’t take Fred Armisen’s Glass portrayal seriously: Google Glass will not let you watch commercial porn videos (unless you shot them yourself). If you’re really that determined to get your jollies while on the go, I hear you can buy magazines with pictures of naked people in them at 7-Eleven.