Google Glass Owners: Don’t Waste Your Money — Yet

Google’s face computer is intriguing, but it’s still a terrible buy, say its earliest adopters.

Google Glass isn't a good buy yet, users say.
National Journal
Laura Ryan Alex Brown
April 21, 2014, 5:18 a.m.

If you missed your chance to buy Google Glass on Tues­day, it’s prob­ably for the best, ac­cord­ing to the product’s earli­est users.

Google opened the gates to its face-moun­ted com­puter for a 24-hour win­dow last week, and an eager pub­lic snapped up every mod­el. Hate it or love it, every­one is curi­ous.

But the Google Glass “ex­plorers” — a se­lect group who got the first few thou­sand mod­els — have a mes­sage for people who want to join their tech-savvy in-crowd: Wait.

“There’s no rush,” said Noble Ack­er­son, ex­plorer and de­veloper of the LynxFit app. “[Fu­ture it­er­a­tions are] prob­ably go­ing to be cheap­er and a lot bet­ter than this beta product.”

It’s not that Glass isn’t in­nov­at­ive or prom­ising — it just de­liv­ers lim­ited util­ity for its $1,500 price tag. “It con­tin­ues to frus­trate me be­cause it’s so un­fin­ished,” said tech­no­logy blog­ger Robert Scoble. “It’s a very ex­pens­ive price for what it does right now.”

Users com­plained that the dearth of ap­plic­a­tions — both from Google and third-party de­velopers — means that Glass just isn’t all that use­ful yet. Some were frus­trated about the re­cent de­cision to scrap the video-call­ing fea­ture. A Google de­veloper con­fer­ence in June will show­case new soft­ware — and provide a test of Glass’s mass mar­ket vi­ab­il­ity, Scoble said.

For now, the gen­er­al con­sensus among the ex­plorers Na­tion­al Journ­al talked with is that Glass just isn’t prac­tic­al for the av­er­age use.

“When people are look­ing at buy­ing Glass, they need to un­der­stand it’s a concept,” said Larry Dom­ine, who teaches at Mil­wau­kee Area Tech­nic­al Col­lege. “It’s really at the de­vel­op­ment stage.” Ad­ded Larry Walsh, who runs the IT news and ana­lys­is site Chan­nel­nom­ics: “It’s just not a very in­tu­it­ive or us­able device.”

Ack­er­son, who just cel­eb­rated his one-year an­niversary as an ex­plorer, be­lieves Glass’s ac­cept­ance will de­pend on its util­ity. “The gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion won’t get used to Glass un­til they find a use for it,” he said.

And the slow rol­lout of Glass, says Ack­er­son, fuels an “aura of ex­clus­iv­ity” and “echo cham­ber” of cri­ti­cism from people who haven’t even worn the device. To help sa­ti­ate the curi­os­ity of the many who don’t have a pair of Glass, he star­ted the So­ci­ety of Glass En­thu­si­asts, which now has more than 3,000 mem­bers, to help edu­cate the pub­lic about the product.

On the oth­er hand, Daniel Castro, a seni­or ana­lyst at the In­form­a­tion Tech­no­logy and In­nov­a­tion Found­a­tion in Wash­ing­ton, be­lieves that Google’s gradu­al rol­lout is a smart move be­cause it al­lows for a tri­al-and-er­ror peri­od with a small group of people en­thu­si­ast­ic about Glass’s suc­cess.

Among the most com­mon la­ments is Glass’s bat­tery life, which Google says is im­proved in its latest up­date. Users also said they hoped to see bet­ter apps for nav­ig­a­tion, en­vir­on­ment re­cog­ni­tion, and com­mu­nic­a­tion. “A lot of things that I want to do are still apps that I have on my phone,” Dom­ine said.

“Google’s been get­ting a pretty steady bar­rage of cri­ti­cisms over Glass,” Walsh said. “It’s not about pri­vacy; it’s about func­tion­al­ity.”

Even shoot­ing hands-free pho­tos and videos — one of Glass’s main call­ing cards — has come with prob­lems. Users re­por­ted ac­ci­dent­ally tak­ing pho­tos by blink­ing, with some of then end­ing up on Face­book. Scoble ad­ded that the tiny screen makes it dif­fi­cult to re­view pho­tos, and there’s no way to up­load them to ser­vices like In­s­tagram.

So who should be us­ing Glass? Ex­plorers said the cli­en­tele falls in­to three cat­egor­ies: De­velopers or cre­at­ives with a busi­ness idea, tech­no­philes (who prob­ably already have a pair), and people with ex­tra money to spend.

“It was the first-kid-on-the-block thing that got me,” said Walsh. “My ex­per­i­ence with it proved it not to be a good in­vest­ment.”

One ex­plorer who has put the tech­no­logy to pro­fes­sion­al use is Dr. Ra­fael Gross­man, who has per­formed sur­gery while wear­ing Glass and sees lots of pos­sib­il­ity in the health care field. He was able to livestream an op­er­a­tion while his stu­dents watched. “If you could in­teg­rate Glass to the elec­tron­ic health re­cord “¦ I think that you pre­vent med­ic­al er­rors.”

Still, Gross­man said he uses his Glass only for pro­fes­sion­al pur­poses. “At that price tag, the reg­u­lar user would not be mak­ing a wise de­cision,” he said. “It’s not ready to be everything you would want it to do.”

One day, users said, Glass’s per­form­ance will match its po­ten­tial. Emer­gency re­spon­ders could see real-time build­ing lay­outs. Con­struc­tion work­ers could read in­struc­tions without hav­ing to put down their tools. And a moth­er could teach her child to cook a fam­ily re­cipe from across the coun­try.

Even today’s Glass, Ack­er­son says, makes tech­no­logy less in­trus­ive by keep­ing his hands free and al­low­ing him to see mo­ments nor­mally, not through the lens of a cam­era.

But for now, buy­ers should be pre­pared to spend a lot of money to help put a lim­ited sys­tem through its paces.

And, of course, they should be ready to deal with the so­cial fal­lout that comes with it. Users should be pre­pared to be some­what of a spec­tacle — and deal with a fair amount of de­ri­sion. “There’s a high prob­ab­il­ity of not get­ting laid if you’re wear­ing it,” Walsh said. “You’re also buy­ing in­to what is still now a so­cial stig­mat­ism.”

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this art­icle in­cor­rectly named Noble Ack­er­son’s com­pany, LynxFit. 

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