SAN JOSE (CALIF.) MERCURY NEWS Enlarge
SAN FRANCISCO — Back when she was in college, software developer Monica Wilkinson said, 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, Ms. Wilkinson said, it felt as if that fanciful idea had become real.
Dan McLaughlin, an engineer and photography buff, uses his 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.
Start-up 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 nonemployees of Google Inc. to get their own early model of Glass, after paying $1,500 for the visorlike, wearable computer. Critics already are fretting over potential violations of privacy and etiquette even as enthusiasts are proclaiming that it could change the way people interact with technology.
“The human body has a lot of limitations. I see this as a way to enhance our bodies,” said Ms. Wilkinson, 36, who is head of engineering at San Francisco start-up Crushpath.
She conceded 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 touch pad 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 smart phone.
So far, early adopters say they’ve received friendly questions but no hostile reactions while wearing something that resembles a prop from Star Trek around the tech-friendly Bay Area. Some people have told Ms. Oshima they think Glass is cool.
And despite critics’ fears that Glass wearers might surreptitiously record someone’s private moment — or use Glass to surf the Web while someone is talking to them — Ms. Wilkinson and the others predict those concerns will subside as Glass owners develop their own etiquette.
Mr. Allgood, for example, said he removes the headset in the evening because his wife is less enthusiastic about new technology than he is. He said he slides 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,” Ms. Wilkinson predicted. But she noted that non-Glass wearers can tell when Glass is recording, because its tiny screen lights up.
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.
Glass’ introduction “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. And anything that increases Internet use, he added, is good for businesses that make money by delivering ads and services online.
For now, Ms. 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.
The “Explorers” are software developers and tech enthusiasts who signed onto a waiting list last summer after Glass-wearing sky divers at Google’s annual software conference demonstrated it.
Mr. McLaughlin, a 46-year-old Agilent engineer, said he wears his Glass all day. While he said it’s convenient for checking email, the amateur photographer loves taking photos by voice command.
Ms. Wilkinson wears hers during video conferences with colleagues in other offices. She writes code on a whiteboard and uses Glass to show them the board as she is looking at it.
For Mr. Allgood, the “killer app” on Glass is Google Now, an online service that automatically delivers information tailored to a user’s recent searches and activity on Google. If he has a business meeting listed on his Google calendar, for example, Glass will alert him when it’s time to go to the meeting and show him directions and traffic updates.
The same information is on a smart phone, but accessing that data is more convenient when it pops up on Glass, said Mr. Allgood, who is a 38-year-old executive at the health-technology firm Numerate.
Mr. Allgood said he played cyborg games and daydreamed about “retinal implants” as a youngster.