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Google Glass Diary, Part 2: Positive Public Reactions & The Importance Of Google I/O This Week
There’s a hint of truth in Peter Shankman’s recent article, the one where he says Robert Scoble is so over the top about Google Glass that he’s damning the device to be nerds-only for eternity.
But, the reality is that most of America (much less the world) doesn’t know or care who Scoble is, and their introduction to Glass is going to come (or has already come) in a variety of other ways: local news clips about it, mentions in mainstream magazines, Saturday Night Live parodies and other popular TV mentions, links they find on Yahoo’s home page and so forth.
In the first week that I’ve owned Glass, I’ve been able to experience public reactions to it from a few different societal circles. Here’s a recap of what I’ve seen and heard so far, followed by some thoughts on why this week’s Google I/O conference could be pretty important to Glass development.
Reactions To Google Glass
My Daughter & Friends
My 11-year-old daughter had already heard about Glass from the librarian at her elementary school, and she knew that her dad was in California last Monday to pick up Glass. My daughter had a chance to see Glass on Tuesday morning before school, and ended up telling some of her friends about it that day. She says the conversations went something like this:
Her: “Guys, you know those fancy glasses that you wear that have a computer inside? My dad has a pair!”
Her friend(s): “No way! They’re cool. I want a pair!”
Nevermind that it’s a “glass” and not a “pair” of glasses. I was surprised that (at least some) pre-teens had heard of it, and thought it sounds cool.
Professional Dinner with Marketers, Business Leaders
A day later, I was in Philadelphia with fellow search marketers for the latest Local U workshop. We had a large dinner that also involved people from some of the organizations that brought us to Philly — local small business leaders and journalists.
As best I could tell, just about everyone at the table of nearly 20 people knew about Glass, and most seemed to want to try it on. (Our food arrived pretty quickly, so only half the table was able to before I put it away.)
Reactions in this group were mostly positive; there was only one markedly negative reaction that I was aware of.
The negative reaction was from a friend — a fellow marketer — who said that, within one minute of sitting across from me at the table while I wore it, he wanted to reach out and slap it off my face. It was too annoying to look at. I let him try it on (risky, since it’s fitted and adjusted for my facial dimensions and may not work as well on other faces right away), and he had another immediately negative reaction. Didn’t like it and doesn’t think it will ever succeed outside of uber-geeks/early adopters.
Fair enough. All valid criticisms and thoughts, but in the course of our discussion about it, I pointed out that most of the same objections were raised about cell phones 20-30 years ago — i.e.,”Why would anyone need to have a phone with them at all times?!?” (Interestingly, I found myself defending Glass in this situation even though I’m still more curious about the device than a fan of it. )
I used the screencast feature on the MyGlass Android app to let others at the table — my marketing friends and the local business leaders — see what the wearer was seeing on the tiny Glass screen, and the reaction was generally somewhere between “that’s interesting” and “that’s cool.” The navigation and photo-taking on Glass seemed to be the most well-received features.
As an aside, it was during this dinner that I first had a chance to try out the new Google+ integration. Mike Ramsey of Nifty Marketing sent me a message via Google+. It showed up as a new “card” and replaced whatever card I had been looking at.
After a quick tap on Glass, I was able to dictate a reply and send it back to him.
It was simple, and the kind of thing I want to see from Twitter and Facebook apps, too, when they’re ready.
Visiting My Parents
After Local U, I spent a couple days visiting my parents. They’re both in their 80s. They don’t have Internet at home (which made using Glass more difficult). They own a computer but don’t use it. In short, they’re living a tech-free life. They remain amazed that my phone can take pictures.
I showed them Glass on Friday, again using the screencast feature so they could see on the phone’s screen what I saw while wearing Glass.
As I went through some of the basic things Glass does, I think they were skeptical at first.
“That’s too much,” my mom said when I used voice commands to take her photo. (“Okay, glass, take a picture.”) She didn’t seem to like how easy it was to take a photo of her.
I showed the directions and navigation features, showed how Google Now pushed the latest Seattle Mariners game score to me automatically, showed them the New York Times app — they got to hear the computer-like voice read a couple article summaries — and by the end of the demo, they seemed to have changed their minds at least a bit.
Mom, to Dad: “Charlie, we were born too early.”
I’d file that under “reluctantly impressed with the technology,” but my mom and dad are clearly not the target audience for Glass.
Joanie in Seat 6D
I sat next to Joanie on Saturday as I flew home from Philadelphia. She’s an engineer working at the Hanford vit plant, dealing with nuclear waste cleanup and such on a daily basis. Nice lady. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s about 50 years old, and she said her husband is a big tech gadget guy — has to buy everything that comes out, especially if it’s an Apple product. He’s iPhone/iPad, but she’s Android.
We were talking about tech stuff when I asked if she’d ever heard of Google Glass.
“Glass? No. What is it?”
I explained that it’s like a wearable computer, then pulled mine out of my computer case and showed it to her. I turned it on and explained the voice commands for doing photos and video. I let her wear Glass for a few minutes while I showed what it could do if we were on the ground and I had my Galaxy Nexus on, too.
She loved it.
I said that a friend told me he hated how it looked and couldn’t stand to talk to me when I was wearing it. She disagreed and said the design was great. She said it would definitely get smaller in the future (which I agree with). She had a lot of other praise for Glass; the one I remember most was her saying that someday we’d all be wearing this kind of thing; i.e., this is the future. Probably not in this exact incarnation, but something similar. I said it might someday be like a contact lens, and she agreed that was one possibility.
The only thing Joanie didn’t like was the sunglass lens attachment (which I happen to like a lot).
So, that was four different encounters in week one, with people of differing ages and backgrounds. And only one definitely anti-Glass response.
Google’s Big Week At I/O 2013
Meanwhile, I think this is going to be a pretty important week for Google Glass. The company is hosting its annual I/O Conference for developers, and there are a handful of sessions specifically focused on Glass development. (Beyond the sessions, it’s also bound to be the largest group of Glass-wearing geeks ever assembled. I include myself in that group: Glass geek.)
As I/O approaches, and with a week of usage under my belt, here’s my take on Glass right now:
- Glass currently has very limited functionality. This is partly Google’s doing (i.e., you can’t control volume level on the device) and partly because developers are just getting their hands on Glass and haven’t built out many apps yet.
- Right now, in my opinion, Glass is not at all ready for mainstream use. Despite the mostly enthusiastic responses I detailed above, I think the average consumer would play with it for 15 minutes and put it down, probably never to pick it up again. It needs more functionality and apps.
- Sometime later this year, the next version of Glass is going to be sent out to the #ifihadglass contest winners. That group includes more than a few celebrities, so the device has to be almost mainstream-ready by then. (I think, for example, that Facebook and Twitter have to be part of the app ecosystem before that group gets Glass.)
I think Google’s strategy with Glass so far has been pretty smart, Scoble’s over-enthusiasm notwithstanding. Developers need access to the device early to be able to create apps that will make it more mainstream-friendly. Developers are also the ones that are more likely to overlook the obvious shortcomings Glass has right now, and see what its potential is in the future.
Part of Google’s challenge, then, is waiting for developers to make Glass more user-friendly — ready for the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, Alyssa Milano and the other #ifihadglass winners that will get the device next, before the general public. If it’s not close to being mainstream-ready, Google will have to do a lot of spin control to make sure Doogie, Newt and Geordi La Forge know that it’s not ready for prime-time.
There are obviously a lot of people whose gut reaction — even without ever seeing or trying Glass on — is that it’s an unnecessary piece of technology and/or something that only tech nerds would wear. Google and its developers have the challenge of trying to change those minds.
Maybe we’ll start to see how they plan to do it at Google I/O this week. Glass was the star of last year’s show when it was demoed in amazing style. Marketing Land (including me and my Glass) will be at I/O again this week to see how the next chapter starts to unfold.