Why I'm sending back Google Glass

10 good reasons to give Google Glass a miss

Dear Google,

Thank you for the opportunity to join the recent wave of Google Glass Explorers last month. As a longtime user of Google products, I had been awaiting this opportunity ever since I didn't make it into the ranks of Glass pioneers last year. The ability to integrate a heads-up display with my Google+, Google Play and Google Maps accounts was promising indeed, so I was thrilled to receive my package.

After three weeks of usage, I have changed my mind. Please find enclosed a charcoal-gray Glass Explorer Edition package. I anticipate my refund.

For further customer feedback, please read the following items.

Yours sincerely,Matt Lake

1. Eye contact (or lack thereof)

On the plus side: The Glass screen augments your field of vision with a connected computer experience whenever you glance at the prism over your right eye.

On the other hand: It's impossible to do this and maintain eye contact. And you look cross-eyed.

Glassing out. Credit: Julia Lake.

It's called glassing out. Your eyes roll over to the right to look at the screen, and the rest of the world goes out of focus. People can't make eye contact with you, and if they're versed in popular psychology, they read things into your lack of eye contact.

They see you looking up and to the right and wonder whether it's a sign that you're lying or accessing visually remembered memories -- or that you're just an isolated geek who can't socialize. Either way, it spoils a conversation.

2. Not a good listener

On the plus side: Voice recognition commands are easy to master with visual prompts.

On the other hand: Glass's voice recognition can be about as responsive as your average 6-year-old after soda and cupcakes.

Glass provides handy voice-command prompts -- but often doesn't respond. Credit: Matt Lake.

I've said "OK Glass" so often, I've begun to channel Mrs. Beech from second grade repeating "Attention, class."

Background noise and a hoarse voice from allergies (or saying "OK Glass" for the umpteenth time) don't help with the voice recognition. (Dry fingertips impede gesture recognition too.)

And if you get frustrated by unresponsive hardware, you soon remember that Glass is connected to the bridge of your nose. Tapping Glass's touchpad with any force will spite your face.

3. Battery death

On the plus side: It's a handy Wi-Fi- or Bluetooth-connected device with audio and video capabilities.

On the other hand: If you actually use its capabilities, the battery drains like a bathtub.

If you're wearing a $1,500 piece of equipment laden with cool features, you want to get your money's worth. You listen to music, record video, take photographs, and after a short time, you feel a burning sensation in your right temple. Like all computers without fans, Google Glass runs warm. And in as little as an hour, your battery needs a recharge.

4. Bulk

On the plus side: It's a wearable computer that fits along one arm of a pair of glasses.

On the other hand: It's still too big and bulky.

It's hard to cram Glass into a pocket or purse. Credit: Julia Lake.

Even if you've got a big nose, big hair or a big face, Google Glass still sticks out. And even if you can pull a Jackie O. and look fabulous in enormous goggles, you'll want to fold them up to pop in a purse sometimes.

You can't. Google Glass is a large curved metal arc that's too big to fit anywhere on the frequent occasions you don't want to be seen wearing it. The enormous felt pouch that Google provides does not fit in any jacket pocket and dominates any purse.

5. Conspicuousness

On the plus side: Glass provides a variety of spectacle frame designs and clip-on sunglasses frames.

On the other hand: They do nothing to hide the fact you're wearing Google Glass.

Clip-on shades don't make Glass any less noticeable.Credit: Julia Lake.

People fear surveillance. Even if they don't make racist comments in private, they don't want a recording device waved in front of them. And that's how many people see Google Glass. People avoid talking to you when you wear them.

Big Brother phobia makes Glass wearers targets of derision -- or actual crime. Wearing Glass makes you self-conscious enough without adding Mean Girls-style social snubs into the mix. No amount of frames or shades conceals the glowing prism at the front that brands you a Glass-exploring neo-cyborg.

6. Tilted photos

On the plus side: Google Glass takes clear 1920-x-1080-pixel pictures and video and backs them up to your Google+ cloud.

On the minus side: They're always at an angle.

If your ears aren't perfectly level, Glass takes crooked pictures. Credit: Matt Lake.

No matter how level everything looked to me, many photos and videos I took with Glass were at a tilt.

An optometrist and portrait photographer showed me why: One of my ears is higher than the other, so Glass rests at a tilt at all times. Lots of folks are the same way. Opticians can adjust regular glasses to compensate, but Google Glass isn't made that way.

7. Directions drawbacks

On the plus side: It can provide turn-by-turn directions using Google Maps.

On the other hand: It can't do GPS without using your phone's cellular data or a mobile hotspot.

Glass can provide turn-by-turn driving directions, but it uses your phone's data service. Credit: Matt Lake.

The only culturally sanctioned time to swivel your eyes around in company -- when driving -- seemed like a great opportunity to use Glass for visual directions. But it requires a phone that shares its data connection -- not something I had set up before my Glass Explorer experiment, and not something that's cheap if you go over your monthly limit.

Even after I got it working, its battery life was too short, and the chunky right arm of Glass blocks your vision significantly when merging right.

8. Oh, that earbud

On the plus side: You can listen to all the music at Google Play.

On the other hand: Only as long as the earbud stays in your ear.

Glass requires you to use a proprietary earbud that doesn't fit well. Credit: Julia Lake.

Google Glass's audio system is quite well engineered and taps into your own music library at Google Play. But its earbud options are limited and proprietary and don't appear to be designed for the human ear.

What's more, they use the same port that Glass uses to recharge its batteries -- and if you're going to stream music, you'll be hard-pressed to get through Beethoven's Ninth without at least one recharge. And Beethoven doesn't sound right buzzing behind your right ear through the tinny built-in speaker.

9. Explorer envy

On the plus side: Google Glass Explorers climb mountains, cycle extreme trails and lead virtual tours of the Large Hadron Collider -- all with Glass video running.

On the other hand: You don't do those things.

Everyday activities aren't that interesting when recorded with Glass. Credit: Matt Lake.

When I look at stories of how people use technology, I'm usually inspired to think of how I can use them. But looking at Glass Explorer stories just makes me feel inadequate about my daily life.

It's not that my job is boring -- far from it -- it's just that Google Glass makes it look that way. Because like many absorbing and interesting jobs, it's not appealing in a flashy, visual way.

10. Too little, too soon

On the plus side: It's in the vanguard of a future class of wearable computers.

On the other hand: The future isn't the present.

On reflection, I was probably never a good candidate for an early Glass adopter. I'm still more comfortable typing than texting. I am not an app developer.

And many of the vertical selling points touted by enthusiasts seemed a bit of a stretch to me. (Example: E-learning booster InformED suggests that in a classroom, SMS messages from confused students could appear in the instructor's Glass. Because raising a hand and asking a question hasn't been invented yet.)

Even major Google buffs (and Google itself) limit Glass Explorers' expectations: Although it can be valuable in some niches and might someday be more broadly useful, for now Glass is a far cry from having the universal appeal of most Google products and services.

Matt Lake can usually carry off the extreme geek look. He has been enthusiastically using and writing about technology since "portable computing" meant a 35-pound Compaq 8088 luggable and the most popular search engine was grep.

Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Topic Center.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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