Google Glass – Is It Consumer Ready?

Alex Spencer

[caption id="attachment_45263" align="alignleft" width="300"]The selection of frames and accessories available for Glass The selection of frames and accessories available for Glass[/caption]

After a fairly muted public launch in the US in May, Google Glass has finally gone on sale in the UK this week. At today's I/O conference, Google is expected to make announcements that will shape the device's future – watch the site for more on that later.

But in the here and now, there are still a lot of questions. We've tried to answer some of the biggest ones – including whether this version of Glass is a viable purchase for consumers, or still just a toy for developers.

How much does it cost?
The Explorer edition of Glass is on sale in the UK for the rather shocking figure of £1,000, a significant increase over the already steep $1,500 (£884) being charged in the US.

As well as Glass itself, that price includes a mono earbud – stereo headphones are sold separately for £65 – and a frame, from a choice of styles and colours, which can be fitted with prescription lenses or shades.

Where can you get it?
As the version of Glass that's gone on sale in the UK is still the 'Explorer' prototype, it's only officially available online through the hardware section of Google's own Play Store – though a few of the US devices are being resold at a hefty premium on Amazon.

Glass owners then attend a fitting session at a 'Basecamp' in London's King Cross, where Google is also offering demos of the device to prospective buyers.

[caption id="attachment_45269" align="alignright" width="208"]Glassware is downloaded through the MyGlass smartphone app Glassware is downloaded through the MyGlass smartphone app[/caption]

What can you do with it?
Probably the most heavily promoted functionality of Glass is its ability to take photos and videos with the tap of a button, voice command or even just a wink. However, this functionality drains the device's battery very quickly and isn't practical as a constant replacement camera.

For my money, the killer app right now is navigation, which delivers on the initial promise of Glass' seamless integration into everyday life by constantly feeding the wearer with directions without them needing to dig a phone out of their pocket every few minutes.

On top of the built-in functionality, there are currently just over 60 official apps, or 'Glassware', which can be downloaded using a Bluetooth-paired smartphone. The selection is fairly comprehensive.

On top of the apps you'd expect – social networks, news, plus Google's own offerings – there are companion apps for sports (GolfSight, 94FiftyBasketball), travel guides (Field Trip, GuidiGO) and language apps (Duolingo, World Lens). Travel brand Starwood has its own loyalty app for Glass. Fancy is one of the first online retailers to explore wearable eCommerce. There's even a Glassware guide to practising Judaism.

Still, there are a few major omissions. There's no way to integrate WhatsApp messaging, for example, and despite their dominance in the mobile charts, there are only three games.

However, there is plenty of unofficial Glassware which can be sideloaded onto a device set to debug mode, including an AR app that pulls local data from Wikipedia and controversial adult app Tits & Glass.

Late last year, Google opened Glass up to submissions from developers, the start of an official process for vetting Glassware which should go some way to broadening the range on offer.

However, it's worth noting that there's currently no app store for Glass. The apps are just presented in an alphabetical list when the user signs into their account, without categories or any way of searching. As the selection grows, Google is going to need a way of organising Glassware and encouraging user discovery.

How does it shape up to the competition?

[caption id="attachment_45264" align="alignleft" width="300"]Somo's Naji El-Arifi Somo's Naji El-Arifi: "Glass isn't ready for primetime"[/caption]

Wearable technology is an increasingly crowded marketplace, and recently plenty of smaller companies have revealed or even released smart glasses of their own.

However, they tend to target specific niches, whether it's the wealth of heads-up displays designed for industrial use or the Recon Jet, used mostly by cyclists and skiers. Glass also has the benefit of being a Google product, with all the marketing budget and press coverage that provides.

“Google really jumped the gun with Glass, similar to the way Apple did with the iPhone,” says Somo product innovation manager Naji El-Arifi, who has been a Glass user for over a year. “And I think if people do decide they can see the appeal of these devices and want to buy one, then no one's going to look further than Glass.”

From a software point of view, El-Arifi points out, Glass also has the advantage of running a version of Android, meaning that developers can submit their apps fairly easily, with a few tweaks. This should help to increase the range of Glassware on offer fairly quickly.

“Could someone come along and create something that could rival it? I don't know, but I'd argue companies like Pebble could end up not really surviving. Alongside the likes of Google Wear and Apple's rumoured iWatch, what are those companies going to do?”

Is Glass ready for consumer use?
The way Glass is currently being sold, in an 'Explorer' beta program with a prohibitive price point, suggests that it's still pitched at developers who want to get in on the ground floor, but it's still worth remembering that this device is now publicly available. Even more importantly, until there's a significant consumer user base, there's going to be very little incentive for those developers to create apps – and absolutely zero for marketers to get involved.

“Glass definitely still isn't ready for primetime,” says El-Arifi. “It needs more work on the software side, to get rid of bugs and make the experience a lot smoother. Google also needs to do a lot of education. It's still as true now as it was a year ago that you can only really understand the benefits of Glass after around a week of using it properly. Most of all, though, £1,000 is just a lot of money to ask for a device that's an accessory, rather than a standalone device.

“But once the price is right, once it hits $299 or £199, I think Glass could start to really fly off the shelves.”