One of the few Canadians currently in possession of Google Glass takes the futuristic eyewear out for a day in the city.
Last weekend, I took to the streets wearing a pair of grey, lens-less glasses and talked to them, asking them to do many things my smartphone can do. “Okay, Glass. Get directions to Dark Horse on Spadina,” I said. I’m sure that I looked completely crazy—like I was muttering at a pair of broken Ray-Bans. But that’s just how it is when you’re wearing Google Glass.
In my right eye, a map with a suggested route to Dark Horse appeared. I tapped on the right arm of the glasses to change the directions from driving to walking. A tiny voice, which sounded like it was coming from inside my head—thanks to “bone conducting” headphones—started to guide my way to the café. “Turn right,” it said.
Glass is Google’s first foray into wearable technology. The futuristic-looking device lets you take pictures, record video, email, search the web, and even video chat without having to take your smartphone out of your pocket. Glass’s screen is a single prism that sits above your right eye; you interact with it through voice commands or by using the touchpad on the arm to swipe and tap through menus.
As one of 10 Canadian Google Glass Explorers—the name given to early adopters who purchased a prototype version of Glass—one of the first things I was anxious to do was to see how it could enhance an ordinary Saturday in the city.
On the way to Dark Horse, I showed the TTC construction chaos at King and Spadina in real-time to a friend who was out of the city. “Okay, Glass. Video call Sean,” I told it. Up popped my friend Sean in my right eye. I could tell he was seeing what I was seeing in the intersection based on the reaction on his face.
When I got to Dark Horse, I ordered a coffee from the hesitant barista who was trying to figure out exactly what I was wearing. After finding a seat, I used Glass to snap a picture of the bottled Cold Brew and posted it on my Facebook page without anyone around me noticing—at first anyway. I’m guessing people at the café’s common table might have been a little leery about the guy at the end who seemed to be staring into space. (Little did they know, I was busy reading my emails and catching up on news headlines on the tiny screen.)
“OMG, is that Google Glass!” I heard off to one side, breaking me out of my Glass-induced trance. “Can I get a picture with them?” the stranger asked. This is something I am used to with Glass. It’s also one of the reasons why I don’t bring them out in public too often, especially if I’m in a rush or too shy to be the centre of attention that day. I reluctantly handed my fellow tech enthusiast the glasses, knowing that he could swipe through my email, calendar, and pictures.
Since Google is known for its translation skills, my next stop was Chinatown. I really hoped I would be able to look through Glass and see English where there was Chinese, but it isn’t there quite yet. Instead, I asked Glass to tell me what onion is in Chinese. If I was any good at pronouncing Mandarin, I could have easily recited the word that Google was feeding me and asked someone around me. Instead, I played a matching game, trying to find the symbol Glass showed on the signs at the store.
I continued my journey on foot, as the Google directions function doesn’t currently support transit. For now, your only options are to walk, bike, or drive around the city with Glass (perhaps not so smart to try the latter two). And since Glass requires a data connection, I avoided the PATH and the subway—getting directions and searching the web aren’t accessible in mobile dead zones like these, making Glass pretty useless when you head underground.
But before I even reached my next destination, my trip with Glass was abruptly cut short. Its battery life is only around two to three hours, and after a video chat, reading, taking pictures, and translating in Chinatown, my Glass was exhausted and turned itself off.
I decided to keep them on anyway, since they also make for a good pair of sunglasses when the solar visor is attached. I turned to head home and plug Glass in for another go when I heard, “OMG, is that Glass?” and it was picture time again.