Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Google Glass: My First Few Weeks

When I put my name on Google's Glass Explorer Program list about 4 months ago, I never thought I'd hear back from them. I re-entered my name several times hoping that might count for some measure of enthusiasm above just a typical must-have-it gadget-head. I'm an artist, a photographer, a writer too. Surely Google could figure this out about me. After all, they are Google. I even asked an old friend/coworker who had worked with me at TheGlobe.com ages ago, and now resides at Google, if he could somehow get me on the list. He could not. Google was strict with them, he told me. He could not even get one for himself.

Darn, I thought. I truly wanted Google Glass but there was no direct route towards getting one that I could see. I was not going to buy one second-hand or pay a markup on a device that is, for all intents and purposes, already too expensive for rational people. Google Glass, if you do get an invite, is not free. It will set you back $1,500. That's $1,620 with tax. They ship it for "free" if you can't get to one of their three pickup locations here in the United States. They are in New York City, LA, and San Francisco, if memory serves.

So one day, quite randomly back at the beginning of December 2013 I got the email from Google inviting me to be a part of the Glass Explorer Program.

Fast forward to today and I've been with the new technology for about a month now.

What is it? What can it do? Can you make a phone call with it? These are just a few of the questions I've been getting. Up here in Albany right now it's been in the 20s on and off all month. When I go out I usually wear a heavy winter hat. This obscures Google Glass, mostly, and up here people have not noticed it much. I was approached by one excited guy working at the cellular section in my local Target. I also only ran into one other person wearing Google Glass at my local Gaming Store Flights of Fantasy. That they were at a gaming store up here in Albany, like me, says a lot about the minds this product is attracting right now. I know for sure that not everyone who wants Google Glass is a writer/artist but I know from online G+ groups that many of us are. Some of us are gamers too. :)

It's the artist in me—the photographer specifically—that's interested in Google Glass. When the iPhone came out I wanted it because it meant less to carry. Phone + MP3s + camera = more pictures. Any photographer will tell you moments are fleeting and missing a cool picture is common. Once I had the iPhone with me I missed fewer shots. Sure, it's not a high end camera capable of all sorts of wonders, bokeh, and Leica lens miracles, but the most important camera is the one you have with you.

For me Google Glass is first and foremost a new type of camera. One that's with me and ready as long as it's on my head and charged. Is it a great camera? No it's not. It's good enough though and more than sufficient for online sharing. It is possible to even get artsy with it.

As a camera it can now take pictures one of three ways. You can press the button atop Google Glass to easily snap a picture. If the Google Glass prompt screen is up you can talk to Glass and say, "OK Glass, take a picture." I do not like talking to my tech, especially in public around strangers. I imagine the social embarrassment for such behavior will diminish over time as this becomes common for all. For now though, I feel like an ass. The third way to take a picture, my personal favorite, is to wink with your right eye. Now sure there are tons of privacy issues here with Glass and I'm sure they will, by hook or by crook, eventually get worked out. Photographers, though, have been taking candid street shots and shooting from the hip from the moment small cameras became available. All this does is make taking candid shots in public easier. I decided right away if any establishment asked me to remove Google Glass I would do so at first request, without argument. So far no one has asked. As far as candids go, well with Glass and with traditional cameras, I have yet to get a complaint in over 30 years of taking pictures. I'd not shoot pictures in a public restroom (with people present) with a traditional camera, and Google Glass is no exception. I already use my cell everywhere to take pictures. I shoot products at Barnes and Noble all the time, only to later find and buy the book cheaper from Amazon. With Google Glass all I need do is wink.

A red light added to the front of Glass has been suggested by many as a way for the public to know if they are being photographed or videoed. I agree with this, especially because now most people do not even know what on earth the device is. A red light is sort of the universal "on the air" symbol that most people know.

Glass as a camera still needs some work. While I can not find exact specifications online as to what the 35mm lens equivalent is of Google Glass, my guess is that it is about a 28mm equivalent. It's definitely wider than a 35mm equivalent. Since I do not shoot with anything wider than 35mm currently, Google Glass pictures are distinctly different than those I shoot with my iPhone or better Sony camera. I like the wider field of view. It gives a POV aspect to the Glass shots. The you-see-what-I-see aspect of it is fascinating to me.

So what are the problems with the camera? For one, framing pictures is for the birds. Glass sits on everyone's head differently. Because I have a large head the battery on the right does not go back as far as it should, and so Glass rests a slight bit crooked on my head. Pictures I take tend to be cocked slightly. The display, insanely, does not show until after the picture is shot. Taking 2, 3, or even 6 or 7 shots to frame the scene correctly has been common for me, especially if the subject is close. Google will have to change this going forward unless they want typical consumer Glass photos to appear off-center or with heads cut off. If Google added the ability for a slight bit of camera customization it would go a long way. This way people who want a live view so they can frame a still shot first could just turn the feature on or off. When shooting video you already see as you shoot, so all they need to do is add a two-second delay or a live view for still pictures that just stays on until you use the three ways to take the shot. One extra button on Glass would go a long way to giving users a second level of customization that could be activated or deactivated in menus.

As the technology improves and the kinks get worked out I can see wearing Glass more and more frequently. Once it is like shades I can take off and hang from my shirt, well the sky's the limit then as far as photography goes.

What else can Glass do? Well it can do a lot more than just take pictures. It displays the time, which makes life a whole lot easier. It's great to access information quickly without using your hands.

You can look up stuff on Google by talking to it, similar to Siri on an iPhone. You can send email. You chat. You can make phone calls, get turn-by-turn directions, and with the growing list of apps and clever developers out there, the list of what it can do is growing day by day.

This will not be my only post of Google Glass. Since the device is relatively new, I'll be posting more blog entries about it from time-to-time. Stay tuned to my thoughts on it as a gaming device for pen and paper RPGs or for video games.

For now though here are some pictures I've taken with Google Glass. More artsy ones to follow soon. Enjoy.

Google Glass vignette with location data added

In my local supermarket

A reflection selfie

At the Albany Rural Cemetery

Cropped and converted to black and white on G+