I love Google Glass, and wear mine almost every day. But Glass could never succeed as a consumer product as is. It’s funky and clunky, fragile and — worst of all — socially unacceptable.
Here are my suggestions the Google Glass team for how to fix all these problems and make Google Glass the killer consumer product of the decade.
Google is already assumed to be solving some of Glass’s worst problems. For example, Glass looks dorky and clunky. Google patents, leaks and rumors suggest Google is working to make Glass work with prescription glasses, reduce the size of the device and enable a broad range of cooler looking sunglasses.
And reports also suggest that the price of Glass will come down to well below half or even as low as one quarter of the price “Explorers” have paid.
Also: Glass uses a QR code to enable you to log into a password-protected WiFi network. You log in with the password in the app or on the MyGlass page, then point Glass at the QR code on screen, which logs in Glass. However, if a WiFi network has no password but does require that you click a box saying you agree to the terms and conditions — for example, at Starbucks — there’s currently no way to log in with Glass. Google says they’re working on a fix that will enable logins for such networks to work just like the password feature works — accepting terms in the app on the browser page, then using the QR code to log Glass in.
However, there are other fatal problems — by fatal, I mean they will kill Glass as a viable consumer product — and I’m not sure Google is working on these, so I thought I’d offer my own views on what the solution to these problems should be.
In the process, I think you’ll get a much more realistic sense of what it’s like to use Google Glass in the real world.
1. Glass Headsets Break Easily
The basic frame for Glass is a thin, flexible titanium piece of metal upon which the plastic and nose-bridge parts of connected. On the right side, there is a thin strip of plastic housing connecting the battery unit with the rest of glass, and this is easily broken, especially in the included Glass pouch.
The pouch that comes with glass is a soft bag with a reinforced bottom to protect the glass prism and electronics. But it doesn’t offer any real protection against bending and breaking at Glass’s weakest point — that thin bit of plastic between battery and the main unit.
Google should do two things to prevent Glass from breaking here. First, the titanium metal part should be extended all the way to the battery compartment.
Second, Glass needs to ship with a reinforced case.
After my own Glass headset broke as described (the same thing happened to gadget and car writer Tim Stevens), I started carrying Glass inside the case that came with my Bose headset. It doesn’t fit quite right, but it’s reinforced and protects the entire headset, not just the front.
Google should make a Bose case-like Glass container that really protects the device.
2. Glass Battery Life Sucks
The battery life of all mobile devices is routinely made better by a combination of slightly better batteries and better battery management at the software and chip level. I’m sure Google is working on that. In addition to that, I have two more suggestions.
First, the Glass battery is located in the back of the right side. Google may change the size and shape of this battery, but I would recommend adding a second battery to the left side. This would theoretically double the battery life and also balance glass so that it doesn’t tilt to the right, as it now does.
The second fix is to bundle a battery pack inside the carrying case for Glass. I currently do this on my own, using an iPhone-size battery pack with a built in cable that fits Glass to charge it while I’m not wearing it and while I’m away from an outlet.
3. Glass Interrupts You With Irrelevant Messages
Glass notifies you of incoming messages by making a “ding” sound through bone conduction, then pouring the notification directly into your right eye.
When the majority of those notifications are unwanted, the Glass experiences is seriously degraded. And that’s what happens.
Most notifications come from Gmail and Google+. All that junk that comes into Gmail interrupts me. And Google+ is even worse. I almost never get notifications about posts from people in my circles (i.e. the people I care about). I usually get interrupted by posts from strangers posting crap — some guy in Pakistan posts a five-year-old Internet meme written in Urdu, and I get interrupted and notified with the picture.
Glass needs an option that says: “Never notify me of this kind of thing again” and Google’s algorithm magic should figure out what notifications to stop in the future — for example, figure out that I don’t want to get posts from strangers in foreign languages.
4. Glass Is Socially Unacceptable
Many Google Glass users are afraid or embarrassed to wear glass in various social situations. In some places, it can cause a small scene. Non-wearers, confronting a Glass user, might be curious, suspicious or hostile toward Glass.
Nearly all this reaction is based on a lack of familiarity or understanding about what Glass is and what it does. And the public hasn’t had time to accept it.
Both users and non-users treat Glass like some futuristic technology, which is true enough. But what it actually does (as opposed to how it does it) is no different from devices that have been around for years. The truth is that Google Glass is just a peripheral device to a smartphone, which enables you to use that smartphone or use the smartphone-like functions built into Glass, without touching the phone.
Let’s take the privacy issue around the built-in camera. People claim to be creeped out by the idea that they could be captured in pictures or videos without their knowledge. But this is also true of smartphones (when I hold it up, am I taking a selfy, checking my email or stealing your soul with a photograph?). It’s also true of camera watches, which have been around for more than a decade, tablets with cameras built in, and even laptops — when people are using laptops at Starbucks, nobody knows or cares whether than person is recording video through the camera.
It’s actually more obvious when someone takes a picture on Google Glass than with a smartphone. You have to either press the camera-like button while looking conspicuously and directly at your subject, or audibly say: “OK, Glass: Take a picture.”
It’s easier to capture video without people knowing, as long as you begin the video before encountering people. But, still, the video is visible to anyone within ten feet (you can see the Glass screen from both sides).
The larger point is that the fearful fantasy about Glass is that it’s recording or taking pictures all the time, which it can’t do for more than a couple of hours.
Fear of the Google Glass camera is fear of the unknown. So the solution is to make it known, and in three ways.
First, label Glass with a clarifying tagline or descriptor. “Use your smartphone hands-free” or “the phone that lives on your face” or whatever. By describing it in accurate terms, rather than allowing people to assume dystopian, Orwellian technology, people could understand that Glass does not represent a real change in our privacy situation.
Second, design and brand other wearable computing devices to mirror Glass. For example, the coming Google smartwatch should have the same features, use the same interface and run the same apps as Google Glass. And it should be called the Glass Watch, or something like that. People won’t fear a wristwatch with a camera built in, and once they understand that Glass is exactly like something they don’t fear, they won’t fear Glass, either.
And third, just wait. The trepidation around glass will melt away given enough time. People get used to things, especially as more people use them.
These are my suggestions to fix four fatal flaws that Google Glass in its current form is burdened with.
I hope they do fix these problems. Because if they do, millions of people will be able to truly enjoy what is, let’s face it, a very cool gadget.