Google Glass a Hit With Early Adopters

(San Jose Mercury News/MCT) -
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Robert Scoble presents the Google Glass on April 24, 2013 at the ‘NEXT Berlin’ conference in Berlin. (Ole Spata/AFP/Getty Images)

Back when she was in college, software developer Monica Wilkinson says, she used to dream of “being able to carry a computer in my head,” instead of lugging her books and laptop all over campus. As she tried out her new Google Glass recently, Wilkinson said, it felt like that fanciful idea had become real.

Dan McLaughlin, an engineer and photography buff, has been using his new Glass to take pictures without fumbling for his camera. Tech business consultant Lisa Oshima said she likes hearing turn-by-turn directions from Glass as she walks to client meetings in downtown Palo Alto, Calif. Startup executive Brandon Allgood, meanwhile, has learned to remove his Glass headset before sitting down to dinner with his wife.

The four San Francisco Bay Area tech workers are among the first non-Google employees to get their own early model of Glass, after paying $1,500 for the visor-like, wearable computer that’s already got critics fretting over potential violations of privacy and etiquette, even as enthusiasts proclaim it could change the way people interact with technology.

“The future can sometimes be a little bit scary,” said Wilkinson, 36, conceding that some people are uncomfortable with the new technology. “But I see Glass as a way to stay connected, to capture more moments and get answers more quickly.”

Glass resembles a pair of high-tech eyeglasses, but without lenses: Its lightweight frame rests on the ears and nose, suspending a small prism in the upper right corner of a wearer’s field of vision. The prism displays pictures, video or text, including emails, directions from Google’s navigation service and answers to internet-search queries.

Along with a digital camera, Glass has a tiny touchpad built into one earpiece, and a microphone to pick up voice commands. The earpiece uses “bone conduction” to deliver sound by vibrating against the wearer’s skull. Glass connects to the internet through wi-fi or a Bluetooth link to the user’s smartphone.

So far, early adopters say they’ve received curious stares and friendly questions, but no hostile reactions, while wearing it around the tech-friendly Bay Area. Construction workers and mass-transit riders have told Oshima they think Glass is cool.

And despite critics’ fears that Glass wearers might surreptitiously record someone’s private moment – or use Glass to rudely surf the web while someone is talking to them – Wilkinson and the others predict those concerns will subside as Glass owners develop their own etiquette.

Allgood, for example, said he removes the headset in the evening because his wife is less enthusiastic about new technology than he is. He has also made a practice of sliding it to the top of his head when he enters a men’s restroom, so the camera is pointed at the ceiling and no one gets alarmed.

“There probably is going to be some drama at some point,” Wilkinson predicted. But she noted that non-Glass wearers can tell when Glass is recording, because its tiny screen lights up. “If people look apprehensive,” she added, “I just tell them, ‘I’m not recording you.’ ”

Google doesn’t expect to sell Glass on the mass market before next year. It’s unlikely to be a big moneymaker right away; analysts say Google must lower the price to appeal to more consumers. But CEO Larry Page has said he views Glass as the first in a wave of new computer devices, and others say it makes sense for Google to get in front of that trend.

The introduction of Glass “is a watershed moment that will lead to the Internet being available more often” through a variety of wearable gadgets, Macquarie Equities analyst Ben Schachter wrote in a report last month. Anything that increases internet use, he added, is good business for Google and other companies that make money by delivering ads and services online.

For now, Wilkinson and others in what Google calls the “Glass Explorers” program are among the first few hundred people to get their hands on the gadget. They’re software developers and tech enthusiasts who signed onto a waiting list last summer, after a blockbuster demonstration by a troop of Glass-wearing sky divers at Google’s annual software conference.

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An attendee of the ‘NEXT Berlin’ conference tries out the Google Glass on April 24, 2013 in Berlin. (Ole Spata/AFP/Getty Images)

Allgood said he believes Google has only scratched the surface in thinking of uses for Glass. The company is encouraging independent developers to build a variety of apps, which experts say would help make Glass more appealing to ordinary consumers. And Oshima, whose consulting firm, Socialize Mobilize, works with app developers, says she knows several who are eager to get started.