May 13 2013 05:04 PM

Suddenly, I'm an Apple guy with no need for Glass

Google Glass glasses
Photo by Ars Electronica / flickr

I'm not a first adopter. I'm more of a third-waver, an only slightly late-to-the-gamer, a consumer who picks up new devices when the kinks have been ironed out, but just two or three minutes before you start seeing them in the hands of homeless people on the street. 

I picked up my first smartphone in 2009, a crappy little Samsung Omnia with an all-but-useless touch screen but a pretty kick-ass camera. When the two-year contract ran out, and I realized the folly of relying solely on CNET video reviews, I broke my never-say-Apple rule and went in for an iPhone. That's when everything changed. 

As I've written before, the iPhone has become an extension of my being. I have joined the ranks of the cybourgeoisie, using my little device in just about every facet of my life. I don't know how people navigated bus systems without the Google Maps app. I don't know how people filled time on bus rides without the Netflix app. I use it to listen to police scanners and West African radio, to check the weather and remix tracks by The Troggs and identify endangered animals that walk past hidden cameras in Sri Lankan forests and to meditate when I'm stressed and to mix cocktails with my limited cabinet and to scan and send W-9 forms and to find Car2Go vehicles and to check the levels on picture frames and to shine a light when I'm picking up dog poo at night.

I was always a PC guy, but seemingly overnight I found myself no longer a proud John Hodgman but a self-loathing Justin Long, living in what my co-workers describe as the "crystal prison," where all my devices are connected to one proprietary platform. Work issued me a MacBook Pro, and then I received an almost unused first-generation hand-me-down iPad from my mother. I couldn't be happier. I've got all my notepads and calendars linked, so now I can run up and down the stairs at work with my digital clipboard. (If you want to know what apps I'm into: For privacy, try ChatSecure and Onion Browser, but for convenience and efficiency, install IMO and Dolphin and don't listen to the blogs when they say Atomic Browser is worth the $2; Noteshelf is worth the money if you're conscientious about your idle doodling, Penultimate if you're not.) 

But soon there will be Google Glass.

I recently sat in on a demonstration of the new wearable technology. Is it cool? Sorta. Is it a novelty? Absolutely. 

I liken Google Glass to Nintendo's "Virtual Boy," which was rolled out in 1995. We were promised the first 3-D, virtual-reality game system, but when I visited Blockbuster Video to try out a pair, I was unimpressed. It was rudimentary, monochromatic and uncomfortable. While it was kinda cool to play in a retail setting, I couldn't imagine anyone actually buying one. 

The same goes for Google Glass. It just feels like the technology isn't quite ready.

Glass fits on your face like a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, minus the lenses. The frames' right arm has a thick battery that fits over your ear, while at your temple is a rudimentary trackpad. Just over your right eyeline is a square crystal. When Glass is activated, you can see a screen that seems like it's about eight feet out, not unlike when you visit the optometrist and, through tricks of mirrors, the letter-and-number chart seems like it's two or three times further than it should be. 

At this stage, the functionality of Glass is pretty limited; it's not a phone by itself, but it's tethered to whatever smartphone you have in your pocket. You get it to do things by giving commands that start with "OK, Glass." You can Google things, but it doesn't yet have a browser. It can show you text messages and excerpts from emails, as well as GPS navigation. It feeds you audio through sound transmitted through your skull. You can snap photos and shoot video quickly, of course, and perhaps one of the most impressive features is that you can run a Google Hangout through the device, where your friends can watch the world real-time through your perspective. 

There's a lot of potential for journalists who need to cover breaking news hands-free or want to broadcast action-packed events live. It would've been really useful to have had it while covering the Occupy movement or running the zombie obstacle course at Petco Park during Comic-Con.

The chief design flaw is that it doesn't fit over regular glasses very well. You'd have to remove the right arm of your regular frames just to get it to mount decently. Also, there's no way to wear it without looking like a jewel appraiser from an '80s sci-fi flick. 

I'll probably be a never-adopter. I think I can hold out for contact-lens computers.

Email or follow him on Twitter @Maassive.


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