Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD
Let me start by saying that Google Glass is a very powerful tool even as a beta device, and this essay is intended more to enlighten than complain. However, being an early adopter of disruptive technology is a very interesting (and awkward) experience, especially when traveling in a foreign country. In my case, I got my Google Glass to blog conventions more easily, and took it with me to the 2014 PCIM conference in Nuremberg, Germany.
A promising start
I spent the day prior to the conference re-exporing Nuremberg and using Glass as my only camera. Hands-free photography and online posting is a breeze with Glass, although I did attract attention saying “OK Glass, share with Facebook public” and such as I walked about. The perceived immediacy impressed everyone I showed Glass to, and I showed it to everyone who expressed interest. Everyone was very impressed with the voice commands, but the touch interface isn’t as easy and intuitive as Google could make it.
I said “perceived immediacy” because once you tell Glass to share or send something, it processes it and moves on, giving you the impression the image or video was sent. In reality, it gets buffered and Glass sends it when the bandwidth is suitable. Sometimes this can take a really long time if you are traveling in a bandwidth-poor area. Glass tethers to your phone, or any acceptable Wi-Fi connection in the area. My (T-Mobile) phone reception was passable, and there were no wireless networks I could join. However, enough videos and images got through in the few hours I used it outdoors that I felt confident enough to use it to blog the show the next day.
Glass also provoked conversations about privacy and intrusion. Several people came up to me and asked me questions about Glass as I walked about, and almost all the comments had to do with privacy. I pointed out that it would be difficult to sneak into a place with a visible apparatus on my face anywhere people cared, and also pointed to the ubiquitous cameras on the walls and street poles while suggesting they be more concerned about those than mine. I do think Glass should have a small red LED to show people when you are recording (and reassure them when you aren’t).
The weakest link
The nuisance of yesterday’s sluggish uploads became my nightmare of connectivity at the trade show. Cell-phone reception was barely adequate for voice, and the show sold two-tier Wi-Fi access, with only the top paid tier barely satisfactory for small images. There was always a line in the press room for the three CAT5 lines, and the terrible state of wireless was a constant theme, with the chorus being it ironic (not to mention counterintuitive and short-sighted) that an engineering conference would invite press and then make it difficult for them to broadcast their coverage because their communications infrastructure was not up to the task. I managed to post a couple of videos (one made the Glass newsletter) by using an exhibitor’s Wi-Fi connection.
In all, the biggest problems I had with Glass had to do with infrastructure, not the device itself. This only underscores the importance of net neutrality and having open high-speed broadband everywhere, as it is a critical support infrastructure without which the most sophisticated devices are simply lumps of plastic and metal.