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Google Glass: Continual Improvement and the Consumer Experience

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Should you become a Google Glass Explorer? Opinions on the latest in wearable computing vary, from backlash reports to quirky first-hand experiences. Mark Scheel took the plunge and summarizes his experience with the Google Glass product from May 2012 through August 2013.
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June 2012. Google I/O, the annual Google developer conference kicks off with a bang. Sergey Brin oversees the first, and probably most epic, of many publicity stunts for the newest evolution in wearable computing.

To introduce Google Glass, stunt men jump out of an airship and skydive to the roof of Moscone Convention Center. The stunt is broadcast by live streamed video, captured in first person with Google Glass.

Attendees willing to become Glass Explorers (early adopters of the product) queue up to provide credit card information. I get a commemorative Glass block as a placeholder. Etched in the glass is #117, to indicate that I am the 117th of an eventual 2000 Explorers.

Later, another 2000 Explorers sign up through an online contest. Glass is still not publicly available for sale. Not unlike Willy Wonka’s golden tickets, only a select few are privy to this bleeding-edge experience. The inherent mystique in such a product rollout is a genius marketing move, perhaps an homage to the long-running manufactured scarcity Apple has perfected.

It is May of 2013 before the first substantial wave of Explorers get their hands on Glass-a wearable computing device with a small glass block that sits above the user’s line of sight and offers a 640 x 360 pixel display that mimics a 25-inch television screen at a distance of 8 feet.

Google Glass comes in four colors, uses bone conduction audio technology, can shoot 720P video. and take pictures with a 5 Megapixel camera. It has a multitouch swipe interface on the side of the user’s head, and can also take voice commands and head tilt gestures as controlling commands.

The first launch comes with an operating system code named XE4 for Explorer Edition 4. It is a minimum viable product that would make the most stoic agile coach jump for joy at the expertly executed vertical cake slicing.

For example, the device requires sound for almost every feature, yet there is no volume control. Google Hangout functionality exists and works sometimes, but not always. You can add contacts to share with from Glass, but are limited to a measly 10 total contacts.

Still, the team at Google X has shipped a product. Cue the agile coach applause. All praise vertical slicing and shippable work products.

Google will iterate at a furious pace over the next several months. Almost immediately, devices automatically upgrade to XE5 when plugged in to a power source and connected to WiFi.

XE4 was launched on May 2, 2013. XE5 releases on May 7, 2013. More than a dozen enhancements and features are included, headlined by better hangout functionality, international number dialing, better battery charge level estimation, and speedier transcriptions of spoken commands.

XE6 came out June 4, 2013, and it makes the process of adding contacts to Google Glass much smoother. You no longer have to go to a website on your computer to enable them. The camera is improved, with always on HDR. Shared images can now be captioned. Yet still, no volume controls.

With XE7, released on July 2, 2013, Glass has a web browser. A new action for search cards (see the explanation of timeline cards below) is View Website. Scroll a web page by swiping forward on the touchpad. Zoom with a pinch gesture. With two fingers pressed on the touch pad, use head movement to pan and change the visible area of the web page-a centered cross-hair lets you click links by tapping.

Glass has always had some hands-free functionality. Now it has even more. You can interact with incoming SMS messages, share that picture you just took, and manage incoming calls with new voice commands.

Finally, the already amazing search functionality powered by Google Now is contextually aware. Ask where the Eiffel Tower is; then next ask how tall “it” is, and Glass will know that you are talking about the famous landmark.

The latest release as of this writing, XE8, arrived on August 18, 2013. As of XE7, you could awkwardly view video by going to a YouTube website and watching video within a web page, but now there are more native and better video playback features.

Tap to play and pause; swipe to advance and rewind. New voice actions with Evernote integration are available and are a harbinger for more custom command for glassware in the future. And finally, volume controls! They’re in the settings cards, accessed by scrolling backward from the home (clock) screen.

Hashtag functionality, reservation timeline cards, and multitasking during hangouts are just a few of the many features I have skipped in this overview. I think you can see what I mean when I say this product is evolving at a rapid pace. I dare say it might even be good enough for consumers by the 2013 holiday season although all public information still points to a 2014 wide release.

Since receiving my Glass at the presidential suite in a fancy San Francisco hotel, the product has evolved greatly. I recently engaged in a Google hangout with a friend at a Glass event in San Francisco. I could see Jenny Murphy, a member of the Glass team, while he could see the downtown Denver skyline from a hilltop west of the city. I have taken advantage of Glass as the ultimate navigation assistant, good while on foot, on a bicycle, or in a car.

I have spoken about Glass in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Denver, and Boulder. One of the most common questions is this: What do I do the most with Glass?

For me, Glass is a Go-Pro killer. Its capability to take first-person sports action photos and video is incredible. And it’s durable, too. I have crashed on my mountain bike on multiple occasions and even sunk in a pond I was skimming on a snowboard run (do not try this at home!).

And that’s just my favorite feature; there are obviously a practically unlimited number of things you can do with Google Glass as a consumer user.

In my next article, I will focus on what developers can do with Glass.

The Mirror API, the initial way for developers to write software for Glass-glassware-was first released on April 15, 2013. Glass has a primary interface known as the timeline, a series of swipeable cards that can be anything from a received message (SMS, email, other) to information from a query, to navigation directions.

Since the release of XE8, Google has started to more overtly encourage Android developers to get in on the fun. Glass is running Ice Cream Sandwich Android underneath the covers, and it is possible to side load APKs (android applications) onto Glass.

It’s not quite a full-fledged Android phone or tablet, and my next article will go into more detail about this, exploring the possibilities for native Android development on Google Glass.

Google Glass is an exceptional product. Its iterative improvement has astounded me. Its marketing has been incredible. The experience as a consumer user of Google Glass has been top notch.

Still, opinions on the latest in wearable computing vary, from backlash reports to quirky first-hand experiences. But for me, it has been a wild and evolving ride, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

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