Two Years Through the Looking Glassand what I found there
Two years ago today I put on Glass… and haven’t taken it off since. There are other milestone dates I could pick when talking about Glass. I/O 2012 when Glass sold me on their vision. February 2013 when I first used one. The first time I showed Glass to friends and family… and complete strangers. I/O 2013 which was nearly a Glass fiesta. February 2014 when I was named as the first GDE for Glass. The release of Vodo. When my book came out. All notable and memorable events.
But opening that box. Taking out the first pair of Sky at the New York basecamp. And realizing I’d be looking at the world in a way I never have before. Two years ago.
A lot has happened since. A lot has happened to me and to Glass. A lot has yet to happen, but this is a good opportunity for me to reminisce about a few things, ponder some lessons learned, and think about the future.Questions from strangers: Humpty Dumpty
On the train home, I was asked about Glass for the first time. I answered. It set a trend that every trip into Manhattan I would take after that - at least one person would ask me about Glass. But not just there - I don’t live in a particularly high-end part of New York, and plenty of people near me ask about Glass when I’m about town. I spend at least one weekend a month out of town, and I’ve been asked about Glass on every one of these trips. From subway riders telling me about how theirs are on order or the friend of theirs in Florida who is getting one to the people in the dry cleaning store to the kid who sent his mom to ask me what I was wearing. Literally hundreds of people have asked me about Glass. The most recent was just a week ago.
And, after I tell them about it, the reaction is always the same. Six year old kid or adult in their 80s. It doesn’t matter - everyone thinks the same thing when they see it. “That’s awesome.” And they’re right. I’ve had only one slightly negative reaction, and once I explained it to them, they wanted to know how to get one.
My favorite time? On the plane on my way to I/O 2013. Midway through the flight, one of the attendants asked me to go to the back of the plane - they wanted to speak to me. Uh oh. I go back, and an attendant is standing there gesturing for me with quite a bit of animation. I’m not even all the way back when he asks me “What is that, what does it do, and where can I get one?”The critics: The Jabberwocky
It seems like the only people who don’t like Glass are the ones who never really used it or stopped to think about it. Or they live in San Francisco.
There are some valid points they make, but most of the points come down to these two:
1. Glass is too visible.
2. Glass isn’t visible enough.
I have no idea how they can keep both of these concepts in their head at the exact same time, but they seem to do it when it comes to talking about Glass. They want it to be less obvious that you’re wearing it, but at the same time make it more obvious when you’re taking pictures. These proposals usually took the form of blending it totally seamlessly into a normal pair of glasses frames, but have a tally light when a photo is taken. I feel pretty confident that if the Glass team had done this - the same critics would be talking about how Google was helping people spy on others.
And Google addressed all these issues. It is pretty obvious when you take a picture. Creepy apps were prevented. Glass is obvious without being too weird. But critics are critics - I usually ignored them because I saw how real people reacted to Glass, and they loved it.Reciting lessons: looks matter
As I just said, Glass is a delicate balancing act, and to the immense credit of the Glass engineers and design engineers, I think they found a really good balance.
It was a good choice to make Glass available in multiple colors, but one of the questions I often got was if I could change Glass to match my outfit. I tended to change my outfits to match Glass - and people noticed and thought it looked good.
The frames were a good improvement over the original band that we had. It created a more balanced look, and I think people reacted better to that. There is no way to hide Glass (and we shouldn’t), but one doesn’t try to hide glasses frames, either.
like it comes from the future, and I hope the team keeps just the right styling as it continues the balancing act.Reciting lessons: actions, not apps
We have an obsession with apps these days. Understandable - the inclination is for people to collect things and apps are a visible indication of what you can collect.
But it distracts from something even more important - what we can do
with these apps. It has been a problem in UI design for a while - do people think about what they want to do, or the tool they want to do it with? Usually the former, but our UIs are mostly oriented towards the latter. Android changes this a little, and Glass took this a huge step forward.
It is still difficult for people to understand, but I think it is the right direction. It is how we interact with other people, usually, and I think it will be increasingly how we interact with our machines. Wear and Android are adopting this increasingly as well, and I think this is a good sign.
Related to this is the timeline vs static cards. Static cards ended up representing apps, while the timeline ended up representing actions. This wasn’t purely true, but it was where the API support kinda stalled. Yet both can represent and report on human actions, and I’m hopeful that future changes to Glass respect both sides of this powerful UI.Reciting lessons: supplemental reality
Like many, when I first looked at Glass, I saw an augmented reality future.
But when I wore it and used it, I realized it was more. In some ways, it was better.
AR focuses on seeing and experiencing something better than the reality we can see. Glass helps you experience the great parts of the world around you that are already there. AR is one way - Glass is two way. AR may distract you from the world you’re looking at. Glass wants you to live in the moment.
It was the world on my terms. Yes, I could get those notifications and messages, or I could ignore them. If I didn’t ignore them, I could handle them quickly. More importantly, I could experience the world around me. If I saw something I wanted to capture it - I could quickly do so, and continue enjoying that world.
I’m often asked if Glass is a distraction. It is the complete opposite - it is liberating.New technology: Dinah and the kitten
When I first tried Android Wear, it was clear how it was influenced by Glass, and I looked forward to trading off between the two. It never happened - my Moto 360 is nice, but almost never used. For me, Glass does everything Wear does, and more, so it was difficult to go backwards.
But both Wear and core Android have borrowed concepts from Glass, and systems as a whole are continuing to evolve. Voice commands on both are becoming richer and more responsive. All of them deliver on promises of keeping you in the moment and delivering relevant content at the right time. More people are exposed to these concepts that Glass first introduced us to.
And Google technologies aren’t the only ones. Pebble Time introduced a Timeline - which sounds almost exactly like the Timeline on Glass. The presentations on the Apple Watch use scripts lifted almost verbatim from Glass presentations two years ago. When I talk to a lot of AR researchers, we have a lot of common ground - contextual information, non-distracting delivery, and hyper-personalization (we differ on many other things, but that’s ok).
But I’m not sure everyone gets it, still. Microsoft’s HoloLens really looks impressive, but it also looks distracting with a UI and UX that lean more on lessons learned to bring you away from the world around you. Many Android Wear and Apple Watch designers are still writing apps for a “smartphone on your wrist” without understanding how these tools are different.
What do I really want? Some of Tango’s sensors built into Glass so I can use them to get a better sense of the world around me and provide better interactions and notifications.
Glass taught us that new form factors need new ways of interaction. It is not an easy lesson to learn, and it is easy to be distracted, and I hope the Glass engineers remember their vision, because I think it is the correct path.Reciting lessons: hardware matters
One of the most frustrating aspects of Glass, for me, was that there were great software concepts, but that the hardware had fallen behind the times. Android is particularly sensitive to the latest hardware, and it must have been a monumental effort to get the latest version to work on the hardware they did. (It was such an effort that the Android team didn’t try to do it for similar hardware in a smartphone.)
I think all of us were disappointed when video streaming was taken out, but I have to believe it was because the hardware for the encoding and decoding… just wasn’t there. I have to assume that it is the hardware that causes the lagging on my device sometimes, since I’m running very few additional apps, so I wish it performed a bit better.
And yet - other hardware aspects were clever, or downright brilliant. I never thought that micro-USB charging could be done right, but they did it. Being able to recharge while using it or on the road with normal adapters is why I continue to use it instead of my wrist wearable.
Some near-future technologies are really exciting as well. A lot of people did work with Glass and beacons to try and do careful location placement. Didn’t work very well, but I’m hopeful that some of the sensors in Tango make it to a consumer wearable device soon to bring this vision to reality.
Do I wish for a higher resolution camera or a longer-lasting battery? Sure. Do I hope more modern processors and a dedicated video encoder/decoder let us do streaming and run lots of apps smoothly and without worry? Absolutely essential. But I feel pretty confident that the next version will bring these things to the public. (At least I hope so!)What’s next? Crossing into the Eighth Square
The news about the Explorer program ending was bittersweet for me, as it was for most of us, I think. I would have liked to see the next generation announced at the same time, but I understand why they did this to focus resources. And while thinking about Glass as a Google [x] project is exciting, it was important that it be moved out of a pure research shop to a more consumer oriented division.
I don’t think we’ll hear about Glass, the Next Generation, at I/O this year, which will cause lots of people to proclaim it dead. But there are still rumors and indications that the new version is coming. I don’t like rumors, usually, but it is difficult to ignore when Luxotica talks about partnering for a new version in the works, or the FCC filings that show a Glass-like notification display for a product whose details will be revealed in October.
I’m still excited.The people: The Queens, the White Knight, and the rest.
Any list I make of people will fall short. Very short. But I have to try and mention a few.
First of all - my family. I received my invite while sitting in my Grandmother’s house, and she always expressed a keen interest in what this thing was. My father, +David Firstenberg
, was my +1 when I picked Glass up at basecamp, and we returned for the father’s day event in 2014. My SO, +Lisa Bauer
, has always been appreciative that I can take pictures at a moments notice, that work notifications end up being the briefest of interruptions at dinner, and only chides me a little when it becomes more distracting. Most importantly, my son, who has been the subject of more pictures #throughglass
than anyone else, and can explain Glass to anyone who asks as well as I can.
I want to thank each and every person who appeared in the Glass Easter Egg. I wish I could meet each of you to thank you personally, and I’m glad I’ve met at least a few of you. Those have been incredible experiences, and I hope we can chat again sometime soon.+Sarah Price
was there at the very beginning at I/O 2012 and encouraged me to sign up. At the Foundry event, she welcomed me as an old friend. And it was great to see a familiar face in the form of +Jenny Tong
when I had questions.+Noble Ackerson
and I met at the Glass Foundry event, and many times since. One of these days, we will write some Glassware together… and then y’all better watch out.
After Glass Foundry, I was approached by an engineer named +Hyunyoung Song
who asked me lots of questions about my experience with Glass. I was glad to see her at I/O 2013 where she remembered me, but more importantly gave a presentation about hacking Glass, and at I/O 2014 where we chatted a bit more. She is my proxy for thanking the entire dev team (some of whose names I have, rather unfortunately, forgotten) for their work.
I didn’t meet +Katy Kasmai
until many months after Glass got going, but it was clear she understood the potential of Glass and similar technologies, and has the drive to make it happen. I’m glad to work with her and excited to hear about what she will bring to Google.+Jason Salas
is the only one on this list whom I name, and yet have never met in physical space. Yet I think I have spent more time with him than anyone else outside my family. He has been my sounding board for two years, helping me refine my presentations about Glass, and helping us both understand this incredible tool. Oh yeah… and we wrote a book together. From opposite sides of the planet.
I have been a part of, and studied, online communities for decades, and it has been my pleasure to be part of this one. I can’t think of such a diverse set of people who have both rallied around something, yet maintained our diverse reasons for doing so. There are many people whom I have talked to about Glass - from how we use it in our daily lives, to how our families feel about it, to using it for work or medicine or for the theater. I’m glad to play some small part in this #GlassFamily
And last, but certainly not least, +Timothy Jordan
continues to be at the leading edge of Google’s ubiquitous computing efforts, eloquently explaining this new world to everyone, and inspiring me every time we talk.And as for
Alice me? Who dreamed it?
I still wear Glass every time I leave the house. It is no dream to me - I still use it as the best way to send and receive text messages, to take pictures and reminders of the world around me, to quickly answer the question before anyone else has pulled out their phone, and to glance and see if I just received an important message.
I’m still on the other side of the Looking Glass… and I’m not sure I can ever leave.