Through the Google Glass

Ok, so, I’ve had the opportunity to demo Google Glass and it’s got a lot of potential. The demo was reasonably tightly curated, so I couldn’t deviate too far from the path, but at least I got a feel for the hardware and the state of play of the voice recognition.

Physically, it’s pretty well polished. It’s unobtrusive almost to the point of invisibility, which I suspect was the point. Even when it’s “on”, the display is easy to ignore if you have other things you need to pay attention to. The display itself isn’t going to knock your socks off until you realilze just how tiny it is.

It’s very light, even with the battery, radios, touchpad, etc. Did I say “touchpad”? Why yes, yes I did. It’s got a little touchpad doohickey on the same side as the speaker that you can use to wake it up and navigate through menus if the voice isn’t working for ya. You can also wake it up by looking 30 degrees up.

The navigation has a way to go before I’d call it “polished.” Granted, I only played with it for half an hour, but getting Glass back to a point where you could do something new after you’d navigated several menus deep was not intuitive at all. Much easier to just turn it off and on again, which I did several times.

I can’t tell you what the sound is like. Supposedly, the speaker bypasses the eardrum and sits directly on the bone. In theory, that’ll really help people with particular hearing impairments, but I can’t tell you how well it worked because I couldn’t get the damned thing to make a peep (or even get it to YouTube).

The voice parser needs some refining too. It’s slow, especially if you ask it to do something it can’t do (“OK Glass, play Rebellion by the Arcade Fire”). It understands the words-it does a pretty great job with word recognition-but it doesn’t always do a great job turning those words into actions. You just get a voice equivalent of a progress bar while it tries to figure things out.

Even with those complaints (and man, it feels weird to complain about such a futuristic device), it’s very close to living up to its promise. People are going to use these. They’re going to be everywhere. Google seems to have a huge head start on the competition which could be huge in setting standards for how programs and apps interact with voice commands.

The initial impression is “good gravy, this thing is cool,” but after playing with it a little bit, you bump up against a few of the walls. There’s a lot of “Grrrr, this is so #$@%#$^ close!” What I really want to see is what Glass will look like in a year or two, because it’s going to be amazing.

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