A Year With Google Glass: ‘I’m Not a Huge Fan of It’

Those picked for the search giant's "Explorer Program" weigh in on the pros and cons of the wearable technology.

Image via Associated Press

Photo via Associated Press

When Google announced that it was introducing a wearable, hands-free gadget to the market, capable of taking photos, videos, and helping people navigate a city’s streets, there were concerns voiced from privacy advocates about the potential abuses that such an innovative piece of technology could have.

But if the experiences some Boston-area testers have had with Google Glass over the last year are any indication, then those who rallied against the release of the company’s latest attempt to enter the smart-device arena might not have anything to worry about.

As user Matt Karolian put it, Google Glass is “an excellent idea that’s missing the mark.”

Karolian, who works at the advertising firm Arnold Worldwide in Boston, was one of just thousands of people selected last year to get their hands on the wearable gadget as part of the “Explorer Program” before it hit the general market for purchase. He was excited, of course, to be on the forefront of such a bold project, and to add his voice to the conversation about where technology is headed and how it could improve.

But as the months ticked on, like others chosen for the program, Karolian felt the device fell flat, and in some cases even became a hassle, rather than a helpful commodity. “I just think it’s a poor execution of a wearable device,” he said, adding that he ran into some problems when trying to navigate the Google headset.

We asked Karolian and another Google Glass Explorer, Rosalia Cefalu, who works at HubSpot, to detail their experiences with the product, now that they’ve had almost 365 days to test it out. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Perceptions of Glass Are Polarized:

Whenever Cefalu strapped on her Google Glass, one of two things would happen. “I wore them at a HubSpot conference and I couldn’t walk down the hallway without being stopped. I met a ton of people as a result,” she said.

On the other hand, however, people often judged and sneered at Cefalu as though she were just another “Glasshole.” At other conferences where she had the product on her face, she would monitor Twitter during the events and watch as the comments started flowing through social media streams. “I would see people saying, ‘uh oh, I see people with Glass at the conference.’ And people would always go, ‘do you really use that thing?’”

Karolian’s experiences varied, too. “While wearing them, when people see you, they automatically start pitching you their business ideas,” he said. “That has happened more often than not. They just start pitching you their ideas.”

He suspects the “exclusivity” and tech-savvy look of Google Glass played a part in the awkward encounters. “There’s a nerd-cool factor to it,” he said. “Even people who are skeptical still want to try it. There’s a certain amount of like, ‘it’s cool to not like Glass,’ but when people try them they think they’re neat and entertaining.”

2. They’re Way Too Expensive:

In their current form, Google Glass, once available, will cost consumers roughly $1,500. For most people, dipping into their pockets to pay the full-price for a smartphone at retail value is often difficult enough. Karolian said expecting people to pay the high price attached to Glass—although it’s still in its infancy—might break the bank. “If they were $200, and honestly they feel like they should be $200 or $300, I would maybe tell people that they are worth buying. But not for $1,500,” he said.

Although both Karolian and Cefalu were both picked to be part of the pilot, they still had to pay the cost for the product, and with it being such a delicate object that didn’t offer too much more beyond the capabilities of their current smartphones, they couldn’t otherwise justify walking into a store and picking up a pair on a whim. “If people didn’t have to drop $1,500 to get a pair, there may be more of an incentive to buy them,” said Cefalu.

3. They’re More of a Hassle Than a Luxury:

“The device out isn’t great, and the voice recognition on it—because it sits above your head and not right where your mouth is—it gets a lot of background noise. It’s also hard to go back and correct words once you say them,” said Karolian.

Add to that the awkward moments he runs into when trying to find a spot to place Glass at bars or restaurants, and the advantages of carrying them around quickly diminish. “The Glass isn’t that small when you place them on a table, and they don’t collapse— they aren’t as small as a phone and you get stuck with the conundrum of ‘what do you do with this thing,’” he said. “They end up in my girlfriend’s purse. It’s more of a hassle to bring them with you.”

Cefalu would also find herself putting her Glass away in her “large purse,” inside of a Bose headphones case. But one time, she said, that led to her crushing the device. Luckily, Google was quick to replace them for her.

4. OK, So They’re Not That Bad:

While for the most part, both Karolian and Cefalu didn’t find Google Glass that life-changing, there were some perks that came with owning a pair. For Karolian, using the hands-free device was helpful when following directions using the GPS-enabled onboard system in the car. He said that functionality was even more enjoyable during trips on his bike. “It’s super awesome. You can do turn by turn without looking at your phone. It’s easy to have your directions pop up in front of you,” he said. “I see the relevant information I need there on the screen. I don’t need to take my eyes off the road. For those types of applications, it makes sense.”

Cefalu likes using Google Glass for extracurricular activities, such as seeing Justin Timberlake in concert. Her use of the device at a recent Timberlake show garnered national attention after she snapped photos and some video of the singer’s performance, proving that there was an emerging market for this type of technology. “I have been filming all of these VIP experiences that you would look like a newbie if you were holding a phone in front of the face, but wearing Google Glass, it makes you look important,” she said.

The Bottom Line?

I don’t want to make it seem like they haven’t delivered on any promise. There is a ton of cool technology involved,”  said Cefalu. “When it comes to freeing up my hands, it’s been a help in both the business and personal fronts. … I’m very excited to essentially be a pioneer in that area. More than that, I see it going somewhere at some point. Knowing the track record of Google, this isn’t some random Kickstarter to throw money into. I have faith in the future in this type of technology.”

Cefalu said if asked, depending on who she was talking to, she would likely tell people to hold off on purchasing a pair when they become commercially available. “The value isn’t there for the cost,” she said. “And unlike new pieces of technology, there has been a stigma attached to Google Glass.”

Karolian agrees. “I’m not a huge fan of it,” he said.