This much is certain: Google Glass attracts attention, even in shy, reserved Minnesota.
People stare. Some shout “Google Glass!” at the people who wear them. Strangers ask to try on the tiny eye-level computers, which look like a mashup of glasses without lenses and the visor that Geordi La Forge wore on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Albeit in small numbers, Glass has arrived.
“Mostly, it’s just a lot of looks here,” Katie Pennell said, wearing Glass while strolling through downtown Minneapolis during a recent lunch hour. “There was a lot of shouting and pointing in New York.”
She’s among a group of women from Nina Hale Inc., a Minneapolis-based search engine marketing firm, piloting the technology. They were chosen through a social media contest to be “Glass explorers,” along with about 8,000 other people nationwide.
It’s been a couple of weeks since they flew to New York City to buy their own Glass devices — company owner Nina Hale, also chosen to try Glass, gave each recipient a bonus with which to cover the $1,500 price tag — and they’ve been talking to curious strangers ever since.
“If one of us were single it would be a great way to meet people,” Jodie Miller said.
So, what does Google Glass do?
A smartphone before your eye(s)
Glass, controlled by voice commands and finger taps, can take pictures and shoot video, send messages and make phone calls. It gives directions in real time and runs apps such as Twitter and Facebook. In a sense, it’s a smartphone accessory that puts some features right in front of your face.
Need to settle a friendly dispute over a random fact? Looking for places to eat nearby? Google it without looking down at your phone. The answer appears on the tiny screen just above your right eye.
When the women walked around New York City, Tess Fellman used Glass to hold a video chat with her husband back home. She saw him on the screen and he saw the city from her perspective.
“It’s for quick bursts of information,” she said. “It’s utilizing technology with human interaction.”
The concept is intriguing, Angela Needham said, but “so far it’s been kind of limited in what you can do.”
There aren’t many apps yet, and many of the functions require a Wi-Fi connection, not always available unless you’re toting a smartphone turned into a hot spot.
If you wear glasses, Glass won’t fit. The voice recognition can be hit-or-miss and incoming audio can be hard to hear.
“It’s really in its infancy right now,” Hale said.
Cue privacy, safety concerns
Glass triggered privacy concerns from the start, mostly because it’s so easy to inconspicuously snap a photo or record a video.
In New York, some people put their hands up and told the women not to take photos or video as they walked the streets. But in Minnesota, nobody has said anything, so far. Is it lack of awareness or Minnesota Nice? The women aren’t sure.
Still, Hale said she takes hers off during meetings. She also stows Glass when she enters a restroom — just in case. “It shares really fast,” she said.
They’ve been handy to wear for snapping pictures or getting directions while biking, but she doesn’t wear them when driving. “I don’t even want to be tempted,” Hale said.
Glass has been both praised as a gateway to wearable technology and mocked as a tech toy for white men (see: whitemenwearinggoogleglass.tumblr.com) that will lose its luster. Google hasn’t set a date or price tag for selling Glass to the general public, but industry watchers expect it to debut in late 2013 or early 2014 and cost less than the demo models.
The women from Nina Hale Inc. don’t know if Glass will catch on. But they’re doing their best to offer input as tech-savvy women, even setting up a tumblr (breakinggoogleglassceilings.tumblr.com) to share their experiences, including entertaining pictures of gawkers.
Fellman already has one request: “Better accessories.”
Her colleagues agree.
Even on a sunny summer day, none of them were willing to don the decidedly masculine “bad 1980s” sunglasses that snap onto Glass.