Monday, February 24, 2014
NEW YORK (AP) — The first time I was in the proximity of Google Glass was nearly a year ago at a technology conference. The people wearing the device were like cyborg members of an elite club I couldn't join.
Now, it's my turn.
I picked up my Glass on Jan. 24 at the Google Glass "base camp," a bright, airy loft on the eighth floor of Manhattan's Chelsea Market. The location serves as a product showroom and a place where users can schedule appointments to learn how to use the device.
Walk in and you are invariably greeted by a smiling receptionist wearing Google Glass. There are Glass displays on the wall, people walking around wearing Glass, and mirrors so you can see what you look like in Glass. There was a steady inflow of Glass newbies like me who were there to pick up their device for the first time or to get help with problems.
I couldn't help drawing sci-fi and Star Trek comparisons while at the same time feeling like a clumsy luddite for doing so. What if this is just how things are going to be?
Glass is still in what Google calls an "explorer" phase, which means it's not yet available to the general public. That's coming later this year. For now, it's an ever-expanding club as more and more people are invited, either by Google or people who already have Glass, to buy one for $1,500.
The thought of buying Glass with my own money never crossed my mind. Rent comes first. Beach vacations second. And despite being a tech reporter, pricey gadgets rarely make it into my top 10.
The Associated Press purchased a pair, and I plan to share my impressions in a series of stories in the coming months. I'm interested in the device's technical specifics, but more excited by the idea of exploring the cultural and social reactions to Glass. Will I be embarrassed to wear it in public? Do I look like a jerk? A cyborg? Is it actually less distracting in a conversation than a smartphone, as Glass evangelists insist? Will it change the world, like the iPhone did? Is it really worth a month's rent?
The first time I saw Glass outside of tech circles was in early January, near my office. Two 20-something guys in skinny jeans were standing in front of me at a crosswalk. The Glass one of them wore was sky blue, and he was nodding his head up and down in an exaggerated fashion.
"Okay Glass, what time is it?" he asked. "Okay Glass, what time is it?"
I looked at my iPhone to check the time. The traffic light changed. I wondered if he ever found out what time it was.
After placing my order online, I could have opted to have Glass mailed to me, but picking it up at a basecamp meant a friendly Glass-wearing Googler was there to watch me open the box and explain the basics of setting up and using the device.
Google Glass is meticulously packed in a simple, white box that evokes Apple's clean, Zen-like design sensibilities. There are no plastic clamshells or cords dangling everywhere. Lift the lid and you see your Glass covered in translucent parchment paper.
"It will all be OK," the package would say if it could talk.
Glass doesn't mean glasses. The device sits above your eye at roughly brow level, so you gaze up with you right eye to see its tiny screen. My guide showed me how to adjust the nose pads and the screen so looking into it feels a bit like looking into a rearview mirror.
There are three ways to interact with Glass: touch, speak or move. To turn it on, you press a round button that, when you're wearing the device, sits behind your right ear. Press it again to turn it off.
The screen automatically goes to sleep after a few seconds, which makes sense. The device has about 45 minutes of battery life while in continuous use. To wake it up, you can tap the touchpad with your finger or nod your head up and down. Head-nodding mystery solved.
My cheerful Glass guide showed me how to connect Glass to my Google account, and walked me through MyGlass, which is basically your Web, Android or iOS portal for the device. It lets you add apps (called "Glassware"), connect to Wi-Fi networks and, in case you misplace your device, see where it is on a map. It all seemed pretty straightforward, and I was eager to get my Glass on my forehead and explore the world through a new lens, so I bid my guide goodbye.
When I ordered Glass, I opted to add a pair of detachable sunglass lenses that Google provides at no cost. The company also offers prescription lenses and designer frames for $225 and $150, respectively. Thinking I'd be less conspicuous, I walked out of Chelsea Market with Glass on, shades attached. Nothing to see here, just a pair of sunglasses.
Next up: Baby steps.
Reach Barbara Ortutay on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BarbaraOrtutay . Email her at bortutay@ap(dot)org with questions or comments about Google Glass.