Journey To Google Glass
“Okay Glass” is a phrase I am starting to get used to uttering along with the awkward looks that come along with it. As a recently selected Google Glass Explorer, I have surrendered to the fact that I have signed on to be Google’s guinea pig, people are going to think I look strange and I am going to be asked routinely if I am recording everything I am doing. I am trying to take it all in stride, while Glass becomes a part of my life and travels. After all I volunteered to test this new wearable technology to study its potential impact on the travel industry.
For those who do not already know, Google Glass is essentially a wearable computer that delivers Internet connected data visually to the user through a prism mounted heads up display with a form factor of eyeglasses. Glass’ technology also includes an HD camera for taking pictures and recording video, GPS for navigation, a touch pad and voice recognition for interface navigation and a bone conduction transducer to transmit sound through vibrations in the skull. I am not kidding you. It tickles a bit, but it does indeed transmit sound.
Google Glass is one of the latest projects from the Google[x] team who are also responsible for a self-driving car and Internet service via balloons in the stratosphere. Obviously conventional thinking is not their thing. Under the Project Glass team name, Google has been actively engaging developers, tech enthusiasts and social media influencers to live life with Google Glass since they began delivering the Explorer Edition version of Glass to developers ahead of Google’s I/O conference in May.
My journey to Google Glass began in February, when Project Glass held an open beta invitation asking interested participants to apply to enter the Glass Explorers program by posting to Twitter or Google+ using the #ifihadglass hashtag. I posted “#ifihadglass I would document my travels for all the world to see.” and in March, I was informed that I was accepted into the Google Glass Explorers program. It wasn’t until June that I was formally invited to schedule my appointment at one of the select basecamp locations and pay $1,500 to be one of the first to experience Glass before it becomes commercially available in 2014. A week after my invitation I flew to San Francisco to be “fitted” for Glass and begin critiquing what impact this new class of wearable technologies may have on the travel industry.
I selected The Embarcadero San Francisco basecamp to pick up Glass over the other possible locations in Google’s offices in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. My choice was based on two factors, how quickly can I get Glass and because Google teased that this would be a special experience that they would only be offering for the next couple of weeks. The appointment I booked via their website also stated this basecamp experience would require 3 hours of my time and I should not select this location if I was prone to becoming seasick. My interest was peaked. Would we be going to Alcatraz, a harbor tour or something else? It was something else.
The night before I departed for San Francisco. I received a phone call from Google confirming my appointment and phone number so they would be able to text me details such as the driving and weather conditions to the location the next day. This was a nice personal touch and the first indication of how attentive Google was going to be with this experience. Upon arriving in San Francisco and prior to heading to The Embarcadero, I was provided with text updates to aid my journey. My appointment to pick up Glass was scheduled for 6:30pm, but I arrived at Pier 1.5 early to scope out the location, try to figure out what all the secrecy was about and hopefully meet some other Google Glass Explorers.
It was easy to quickly identify the Google Glass Guides as they were sporting Glass and checking explorers into their appointments using a Google Nexus 10 tablet. I observed the individuals for a few minutes before identifying Steven Mautone, a soon to be Google Glass Explorer and former web producer and content strategist for Royal Caribbean. I had met Steven online prior to the event in a Google Glass community on Google+. Mauton agreed to speak with me for a few minutes to share his thoughts on Glass. “The beauty of Google Glass is the simplicity,” said Mautone. When asked about how he views Glass impacting the travel industry he added, “It will allow me to enjoy my vacation rather than focusing on my technology” and “The camera is clearly the killer app, but I am most interested in the visual cues.” He was visibly passionate about wearable technologies as he described and showed off other wearable tech he owns. In short, Mautone is just the type of early adopter and advocate Google is looking for.
As I wandered around the area, I met other Glass Explorers. There were students and artists, tech bloggers and developers. It was clear that Google is trying to get this new technology in as wide a variety of users hands as possible. As my appointment neared I found my way over to Martie, the first Google Guide I met during my experience. She was young, excited and clearly loves her job. She assisted me in checking in and took the time to answer many questions. She told me that she had been living with Glass for several months and one of her favorite place to use Glass was at concerts. I tried to coerce her to provide me more information on the event, but she told me she did not want to ruin the surprise.
After a few minutes we were lead down a dock and helped into a small boat along with another Google Glass Explorer and her guest. Google allowed each explorer to bring a +1 guest to the event. My guest on was Brandon Sanders, a senior art director a MMGY Global who joined me to capture my journey to Glass. Accompanying us on our boat ride were a Google Glass Guide and the boat’s captain. It was a beautiful day in San Francisco and as the boat left the dock everyone began pulling out their smartphones to capture the experience through photos and video. I wondered if Glass would change that? It was still unclear as to where we were heading until we began to approach our final destination and our guide in the boat began to explain that we were going to the decommissioned Navel Air Station at Alameda Point. Since it’s decommissioning in 1997, the industrial space is now home to tech start-ups, wineries, breweries and Makani Power, a green-energy company recently acquired by Google[x].
Once off the boat, there was two-minute bus ride before we reached our final destination, the Google[x] owned portion of the base complete with an aviation control tower likely used by Makani Power for their airbourne wind energy products. As we stepped off the boat two Google Glass Guides immediately welcomed us and ushered us to the Google Glass basecamp. The space was open and the majority of individuals were wearing Glass. It was a bit confusing at first as we were introduced to guide after guide, and I was not sure what to do, but soon we were checked in by a guide via tablet and on our way to the fitting. Before being given Glass I was shown to a salon-styled station where I was able to try on the various colors of Glass and select my color. I had initially selected shale (grey) when I set up my appointment, but ultimately decided on charcoal (black). There was also cotton (white), sky (blue) and tangerine (orange) to choose from.
Upon selecting my color, I was introduced to my fitting guide and taken up the steps and into the control tower. This was the fitting area and where I would finally get hands on with Glass for the first time. After unboxing my Glass, I was taken through the set up process, which involved logging into my Google Account, activating Glass and pairing Glass with my smartphone through a QR code. The entire process was completed on Google’s newest touch-screen laptop, the Chomebook Pixel. It was clear to me that Google is using these events to further position itself beyond search and software. They want to be known a consumer products lifestyle brand and brought the same level of customer care, attention to detail and product placement and packaging that you would expect from an Apple Store experience.
During the set up process you are told how to reset your device and locate it in case it is ever lost or stolen using the GPS chip in Glass and website. I also was able to add the software I wanted Glass to be enabled with at this time. Glass software is known as Glassware and I opted to link my Facebook and Twitter accounts. There are also options for you to receive news from the New York Times or connect to Evernote and Tumblr amongst others. You can also add your most frequent contacts that you will be contacting and select Wi-Fi networks from the website or MyGlass mobile application. Besides an initial Bluetooth pairing issue, I was soon firing up Glass and greeted by the “Okay Glass” home screen.
It is hard to describe the “oh wow” moment that happens when you first look through Glass. Even though I knew what the product does, it was still shocking, exciting and immediately brought a smile to my face. I am not alone in this experience as I have allowed dozens of strangers, coworkers and friends try my Glass and they all have the same memorized look on their face. It is an impressive piece of technology, but it does take a while to get used to looking up to view Glass and navigating the interface. However, within the hour I am zooming through the interface, taking photos, recording videos and conducting Google searches.
During the event I had an opportunity to speak with Svetlana Saitsky, a Google Glass Guide about the event, product launch and how she views Glass being a part of her life and travel experiences. “The three brand values for Glass are simple, human, now,” explained Saitsky. She elaborated that the goal of Glass is being hands free and present. Google is looking to disrupt the now normal behavior of constantly pulling out your smartphone, staring at your phone screen and being disconnected with those around you. Saitsky continued to explain that Glass is also about sharing your experiences in real time. “You always want to share, but you don’t want to come of out of the moment,” said Saitsky. As an example she spoke of the Glass’ ability to share your first person perspective though Google’s Hangouts software allowing up to 10 people to see what you are seeing.
As the event concluded, we made our way back to the boat and my journey to Glass was complete. Our boat ride back to the city is incredible and we capture the San Francisco skyline through Glass, smartphones and cameras. We are also treated to an up close view of the recently installed Bay Lights light sculpture by Leo Villareal illuminating the Bay Bridge. Our boat captain is amicable to our request to allow us to stop to take pictures and soon we are back at the pier. As we reach the street, I issue Glass a navigation command and the functionality works perfectly to guide me back to my hotel.
The next day, I visit San Francisco Travel, the organization responsible for promoting San Francisco tourism to speak with Christopher Clark about Google Glass. Clark is the vice president of integrated marketing services and has spent his entire career working with emerging technology. After a brief walkthrough of how to use Glass, I allow Clark to try them out. His experience is similar to mine. There is immediate delight followed by sight confusion about how to navigate the operating system, but soon he is comfortable and issuing commands to Glass like “take a picture,” “record a video” and conducting Google searches.
We start to discuss the implications of Glass on the tourism industry and whether consumers will adopt this technology. There is buzz around the product, but are people ready to wear a computer? Clark thinks there will be slow consumer adoption, but is happy that San Francisco is ground zero for this emerging technology. He believes that San Francisco is forward thinking and locals will be adopting Glass quicker than visitors to the city, but that visitors that come to San Francisco are looking to see cutting edge technology at work. I asked Clark if his organization would utilize Glass and he touts his organization’s successes with video with a local perspective. “My staff is going to love to have something like this just to hit the streets,” Clark goes on to describe that his team likes to get into the neighborhoods, speak with locals and interact with visitors on video. He foresees a time where his staff equipped with Glass can go to Fisherman’s Wharf or Pier 39 to meet with visitors and record testimonials of their San Francisco experiences. We concur and leave the San Francisco Travel office in search of visitors at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 to provide a Glass demo and discover traveler insights on Glass.
We arrive at Fisherman’s Wharf and begin meeting and talking with visitors. Some of the people we meet have heard of Glass, most have not and the majority did not want to be bothered with an interview. However we do find a handful of visitors who are willing to take a moment to try out Glass and discuss their feelings on wearable technology. Veronica Volborth, from Charleston, South Carolina likes that you don’t have to have your hands occupied, but when asked if she would purchase Glass states, “I would like to see a variety of designs to choose from.” Saara Vanhanen, from London also wants to see Google allow more personalization of Glass beyond just colors. When I asked about her time with Glass, Vanhanen says, “It wasn’t as distracting as I thought it might be.” and that she is most interested in using Glass for local discovery to find things around her.
As we walk to Pier 39 we met David Lopez Hernandez, from Spain who is in San Francisco on his honeymoon. He is carrying a large DSLR camera with him and upon trying Glass states that he likes the convenience of Glass and ability to take photos. “It is not convenient to carry a large, heavy camera,” said Hernandez. We met with other domestic and international visitors all of whom mention the hands-free photo and video capabilities as an attractive reason to use Glass. Several others like the navigation feature, especially when you are in a city you are unfamiliar with. When asked what concerns they have with a technology like Glass, we heard a variety of answers that included looking awkward, being perceived to be always recording video, being distracted while walking or driving and as Vanhanen said “The fact that I am being tracked all of the time and everything I do is monitored. I think that is the most scary part.”
As we pack our rental car, I issue Glass a navigation command to the San Francisco Airport and begin our journey home. I use the drive to the airport as an opportunity to see how distracting using Glass navigation can be while driving. I find Glass to be no more distracting than looking at your GPS, adjusting the temperature or changing a radio station. The navigation will display your route, but goes to sleep shortly and you can rely on voice commands to guide you along. This is in no way an endorsement to use Glass for navigation, just my insights into my test. Ultimately it will be up to individuals and states to decide whether it is safe to use Glass navigation while driving.
As we drop off our rental car and head into the airport, I become increasingly more conscious of my appearance with Glass. At the basecamp event I was surrounded by people wearing Glass. I start to understand better why Google is holding these events. Google certainly wants to provide explorers with information on how to use the technology and an opportunity to meet the Glass team, but it is just as important to indoctrinate explorers into the cult of Glass before releasing them into the public. In the terminal I catch people staring, hear murmurs about “what is he wearing?” but I have committed to this exploration and I soldier on with Glass on head. I am able to go through the TSA screening still wearing Glass and soon enough we are at our gate and boarding.
Once onboard, I am immediately put at ease as two women who are sitting next to me recognize Glass and cannot contain their excitement to learn more. I feel cool again for a moment. I allow the women to try on Glass and I answer their questions as best I can. They are both educators and extremely enthusiastic about the potential of Glass in the classroom. Our flight attendant is also intrigued, I provide him with a demonstration and allow him to try Glass on. He says he sees opportunities to use the technology to service customers and hopes he can get a pair soon. It is clear to me now how brilliant Google is. Besides creating an air of exclusivity and buzz for this product they have turned every one of their early adopters into advocates and educators. Even after the plane has landed and I have returned to my office and life, there has not been a day that has passed since I received Glass that I have not explained what it is and allowed multiple individuals to try it out.
After spending some additional time with Glass, I am excited about the future of wearable technologies and its impact on the travel industry. There is substantial freedom afforded by being hands free and having information pushed to you versus seeking it out. I believe that it will make people more productive and connected with each other on a personal level. Being able to capture moments through photos and videos instantaneously has made me take more photos and videos without being taken out of the moment. I have taken photos and videos with my children that I would never have recorded with a camera or smartphone. Being navigationally challenged, Glass navigation has allowed me to explore cities I am not familiar with without having to hold out my smartphone and look like a “tourist.” But it is not all great.
I have had connectivity problems with Wi-Fi networks that require passwords like those found at hotels and airports. In most cases you have to buy an additional data package from your mobile provider in order to Bluetooth tether your phone. And while bone conductivity sounds great it really doesn’t. The volume is too low and outside of low noise environments you either have to plug your ear or abandon your call. There is also a lot of work that needs to be done on Glassware. Some of it needs to come from Google and some of it from third party developers. For instance you can post a photo with a caption to Facebook and Google+, but you can only post a photo to Twitter with the accompanying “Just shared a photo #throughglass” default message. However, Google has committed to monthly updates for Glass, with the latest XE7 update expanding on voice command support and allowing users to navigate websites. My biggest complaint though is in the content management of Glass. As you take more photos, videos or create communications, more “cards” are added to your “timeline.” The problem is that you have to manually manage your data storage on Glass. There is no way to use the website or mobile application to clear out photos and videos that have been automatically backed up to Google+ after connecting to Wi-Fi. This is a chore, but Glass is still a beta product and months from a public offering.
If Google Glass can rectify these issues, continue innovating, offer more style choices and obtain growing consumer adoption, I believe the implications of Glass and similar wearable technologies for the travel industry will be significant.
Follow Robert Patterson #throughglass on MMGY Global, Twitter and Google+.