Google Glass – Post #1 – It’s a Brave New World, with Few Roads and Plenty of Potholes

Got my Google Glass yesterday.  I was very curious to try it out because it seemed like a potentially world-changing hardware device.

I’m fascinated by how it can retrieve and store contextual relevant information faster than what I can do with my phone or computer.  The promise of a display that is with me all the time, means more real estate for taking notes and displaying information.  It all worked out great in my mind, but the initial experience has left me wanting more.

Somehow, I’d expected Glass to seamlessly integrate into my daily routine, just like my first iPhone and first computer.  But sadly, it will have to overcome some major design and usability challenges before that happens.

It all started out very encouragingly.  When I first went to pick up Glass at Chelsea Market, I was greeted by a nice gentleman at front-desk and was quickly handed off to a Jill, a Glass specialist.  She was friendly and did a wonderful job walking me through how to wear and use Glass.

The first problem came before I even turned on Glass.  You see, Jill had to make adjustments to the frame to make it fit me just the right way.  She explained that the HUD isn’t meant to be placed right in front of my right eye, but above it, so that I can maintain eye contact. While it makes sense, I think this might feel a little counterintuitive to anyone who tries on Glass for the first time (I’d thought it was suppose to be worn in front of my eyes).  It made me wonder how Glass can proliferate if everyone who buys it has to go through a special fitting.

Once she made the adjustments and we turned on Glass it did leave quite an impression.  If you’re not impressed when something the height and width of a small piece of tape transforms into an 8 feet screen right in front of  your eyes, then you are probably a magician.  It was something very magical and memorable, and at that instant I felt like the door of a new world had been opened.

We walked through some of the gesture onboarding – swiping forward, swiping backward, swiping up, swiping down, tapping.  It’s a subset of motions that smartphone users are used to.  The second problem surfaced when I started playing with some of the basic apps and started confusing which gestures I should use.  Unlike smartphones where the gestures are operated on the screen itself, in Glass the gestures and received from the side of frame and translated to an operation on the HUD.  The separation of input and output, made those gestures very unintuitive.  Two days later, I still find myself trying 2-3 different gestures before finding the right one.  It’s not as intuitive as my first smartphone experience.

I got enough of it though to advance to the next step in my Glass training.  It turns out Glass isn’t very useful without internet, so the very first thing we did was to setup an internet connection. The third problem came up at this point. I was surprised to find out Glass can’t link to the internet directly via cell networks.  Instead, it has to be tethered to a phone or linked to a wifi-network.  While the linking doesn’t take long, a device that is suppose to be omnipresent and retrieve information at a moment’s notice shouldn’t have to rely on other devices/networks for internet.

After I brought Glass home to play with it some more, the fourth problem with the Glass came up.  After about a full 1 hour of interaction (at Chelsea and at home), Glass was ready for some R&R (rest and recharge).  I was surprised at how quickly the battery drained.  I’m used to Apple products that easily go 1-2 days without charging. This was probably the most disappointing find in my first day of Glass.

Even after all of these complaints, I still think Glass can be a device that has some world changing applications. For example, doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess are using Glass to treat patients in a novel way.  I just don’t see it production ready to be worn by millions of people anytime soon.  For now, it is still very much in an infant stage, with many explorers trailblazing in this whole new world.

 

Major Challenges that Glass Should Address

  1. Battery Life: Current battery life is way too short.  Battery life needs to be extended 10x to last for a full day.
  2. Controllability: Swipe and tap input isn’t fully intuitive.  Voice command often has a lag likely due to internet translation.  In additional, voice seems to only work at the home screen level, even though it’d be more natural to have it work across all levels (after all in real life, we can talk and change our mind at any point).  New input interface likely need to be explored to enable more intuitive control of the interface (maybe in the form of a touchpad watch, eye tracking for scrolling, or finger motion sensing).
  3. User Interface:  The Glass UI is a very simple card based design.  Unfortunately such a design doesn’t communicate depth well and can frustrating to browse through when looking for a particular card in a big stack.  I often found myself lost/disoriented.  There are at least three layers of depth, a) home screen, b) applications list, c) application internal interface.  However, there are no indications which layer of the hierarchy the user is currently on.  This is a problem because depending on the layer the same gesture command can have very different meaning.  New presentation formats and signifiers for user’s place in the OS should be explored so that users can stay oriented at all times.
  4. Latency: With much of its functionality residing in the cloud, latency needs to be significantly reduce to give users a faster input and retrieval experience.
  5. Internet Connectivity:  Glass should be able to connect to internet directly without connecting to wifi or tethering to a phone.  The dependency on other devices creates an unnecessary hurdle and nuisance for users who expect to stay connected without interruption or external dependencies.
  6. Fitting: The fitting process is tolerable, even if the frame form might not be suitable for every form of daily use.  If 1-5 can be addressed so that Glass’ true potential can be unlocked, then I think people would tolerate a fitting.

 

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