As we’re exploring user interface design for wearable tech we wanted to share our honest impressions of the current state of Google Glass. We’ve had an Explorer Edition Google Glass in our office since last November, and I can honestly say, it’s been in its case more often than not. This isn’t because I’m too busy to play around with it. It’s because the experience leaves a lot to be desired.
First Day Impressions: In The Bag
For the first half hour of owning it, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know that multi-touch gestures existed or what they even did. Couple this with the fact that, at the time, there wasn’t a companion application for iPhones and it’s easy to see why it got placed in its pouch as a timeout.
There was no training of how to interact with the device, and by default, these actions just weren’t clear. A lot of my use of the device came from simply swiping my finger across the touch sensor on the right side until I found what I was looking for.
1. Don’t expect users to figure it out. User interfaces need clarity above all else, especially in virgin technology.
2. Training users is important. A customer’s interest level is highest when opening their shiny new toy. If you don’t capture them there, odds are they won’t stick with it.
3. User experience matters. We were so frustrated with Glass we placed it back in its tiny felt cave.
One-Month Missed Impressions: Missed Directions
A month later this was remedied, or so I thought, by the release of the MyGlass app for iOS. The companion app for Glass functions as a sort of “window” into your device. You can see all active apps, download and enable apps, and toggle various preferences.
My first mission? A test drive from the dojo of Cubicle Ninjas to home.
Much like the peripheral itself, the app quickly led to frustration when setting up the Bluetooth connection. That was until I did some research and discovered that you need to connect Glass to your phone as a hotspot, not simply through Bluetooth as I had thought previously. I didn’t expect Glass to use that much data so I wasn’t too worried about it running up my data usage, but I still wasn’t all that enthralled with the idea of needing to enable my phone as a hotspot just to use navigation.
Once I got Glass connected to the mobile hotspot, it was very easy to set up navigation. I said the trigger “Okay Glass” and then told it to navigate to my home address. It quickly pulled up directions and began listing off turn-by-turn directions. Finally, we’re off and running!
To go from the office here at Cubicle Ninjas to my home, the route starts with a couple quick turns, which Glass correctly called out. From there I drive down the same road for a majority of my commute. This is where Glass’ own battery saving functionality cuts off the experience at the knees. Because of the lack of new directions, Glass goes into standby mode, turning the screen off and stopping all turn-by-turn directions.
To get an update on my directions, I touched the frame on the side to wake up the device only to find out that it has lost GPS connection. It quickly recovered and went back into standby. As I approached a turn that I would typically make during my commute down another main drag, I awaited Glass to prompt me to make the turn. However, it didn’t. I, again, tapped on the frame to wake the device, reconnect to GPS, and then was told to make the turn.
I would consider myself very tech-savvy and it was a very frustrating user experience. I can’t imagine putting the device in someone’s hands that is less versed and having them try to go through the same steps without totally giving up first. If someone were truly using Glass to navigate somewhere they had never been before, they would literally have to tap the frame every 5 minutes for an update so they didn’t miss a turn.
1. Inform a user of the device limitations up front. By going into a situation understanding these challenges, we expect them. But seeing them during use is jarring and creates a negative impression.
2. Never stop doing a user request automatically. If a user makes a request, a device should work until this request is completed. If my toaster stopped making toast consistently it would be in the trash.
3. User interfaces should require as little interaction as possible. The process above would take dozens of steps, compared to 5 on a smart phone. Until the interaction is streamlined there is no benefit to using this device.
4. Don’t require other devices. Having to have a specific phone, paired app, or Internet connection guarantees an inconsistent experience.
Today’s Impressions: Glass Half Empty
Aside from navigation, Glass’ functionality is pretty bare bones. Most of the apps currently available for it are remote notification checking apps like Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook. Sure, there are some wonderful outliers like Word Lens, but the market of Glass applications is pretty sparse. Part of the value that lies in smartphone apps is the ability to play around and explore, but there just isn’t that draw with Glass.
Until Google and developers explore more innovative functionality for Glass, it is severely hindered and outshined by the phones it tethers to.
Good write-up, thanks Brian. I’m mostly in agreement, although probably not as strongly.
I got mine in April. The iOS app was already available and setup was a breeze. A couple of battery life issues early on were resolved with calibrating the battery level sensor (full drain, full charge 3x) and now have battery all day.
Your navigation experience does not match mine. I think there’s a bug or something that’s causing yours to suspend completely. Mine starts the same as yours, then if there is a period of time in between events/instructions, it goes dim. Then very shortly before my next turn it pops up without prompting and gives the directions.
I definitely agree about the sparsity of applications for general consumer use. In my opinion though, where Google dropped the ball the worst (and seem to continue to do so) is in marketing, communication, message – setting expectations appropriately. Nobody really knows what this thing might be useful for.
Thanks for the comment, Chris!
I’ve noticed an inconsistent user experience is pretty common with Glass. With every hiccup, I went straight to Google looking to see if anyone had a similar experience and it seems like there are people whose experience is closer to yours as well as some that have had trouble with it similar to me. The hardware and software is still very much in its infancy so that’s to be expected, I suppose!
Hearing about the experience you had with navigation makes me hopeful, though, as that’s the way I would expect it to work, so thanks for sharing that.
We’ve talked about it a bit within the office and we are definitely in the same camp as you in terms of how Google has been marketing (or not marketing) Glass. I think as time goes on we’ll start to see more developers delving into making truly one-of-a-kind experiences that are only possible on Glass. I just think that, for the time being, the barrier to entry (price, lack of experience, etc.) is keeping people from really exploring what the device has to offer.
I’d love to hear your thoughts once we publish the next article about the future of wearable tech in the coming weeks!