When you wear Google Glass on a run, bystanders will stare. You might be waiting at a busy crosswalk, and the crowd of women standing next to you will be looking intently at your face. You might wonder if it’s because you’re jogging in place. Or you might hope it’s because your hair looks especially good today. Then one of them will say, “I’m sorry for staring at your glasses.” That’s when you remember — you’re sporting the most talked-about eyewear since hipsters resurrected thick plastic frames. People will definitely gawk.
On Wednesday, I had the chance to take a pair of Google Glass (there’s no “es” on the end of this Glass) out for a run along the Hudson River in New York City, not far from Google’s Manhattan offices. The experience was trippy and offered a preview of how high-tech runners might soon experience their daily rounds.
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Glass is in the “open beta” phase, and it won’t officially go on sale to the public until later this year because Google continues to refine the technology. However, people over the age of 18 can currently buy a pair for $1,500 and become part of Google’s “Explorer” program to provide feedback on the product to Google. As of now, Google offers traditional glasses frames and another set of frames that don’t have the lenses. (Runner’s World previewed the latter.)
In each case, the electronic prism screen, which is about the size of a dime, is located just off the right temple, slightly above the right eye. (Google says the high-resolution display is the equivalent of a 25-inch high definition screen seen from eight feet away.) Glass is water resistant and comes preinstalled with seven core functionalities: take a picture, record a video, navigation, send a message, make phone calls, visit Google+ hangouts, and Google. To operate most of these, Glass must be connected to WiFi or Bluetooth. As of now, Glass has mobile compatibility with Android and iOS and a battery life of approximately one day based on normal use.
As with a smartphone, wearers swipe or tap the tiny hardware box to scroll between the prism screens. Glass did have a short learning curve, though it is ultimately as easy to get accustomed to as a smartphone’s touchscreen. (Speaking of smartphones, did you know that Google Glass isn’t the only high-tech way you can track your jog? Check out these 11 Best Apps for Runners for more.)
The idea behind Glass is to give the wearer flashes of information. I couldn’t use them to watch House of Cards during a long run, but they could show me the stock market ticker, breaking news headlines, or directions from the city’s gridlock to the Hudson River.
A benefit for runners is that many of the commands are given by voice. “OK, Glass, get directions to the Hudson River,” I said, giving the standard command to Glass. The device heard me and, via Google Maps, displayed both the street-by-street directions and an area map with a real-time arrow that showed me the way to the river, complete with traffic notices. Unlike a computer screen, the prism displays won’t stay up forever, but a wearer can always tap the prism hardware box to wake the screen. Because the prism is located above the right eye, it doesn’t block one’s line of vision, though it takes some initial skill to focus one eye, or both, on the prism screen while running.
Google had preinstalled the third-party GPS app Strava, so at the river I said, “OK, Glass, go for a run,” and the screen switched to Strava’s display, which shows a digital clock timer, a real-time miles-per-minute calculator, and an overall distance measure. From the metrics, I could see that I wasn’t running all that fast, but, in fairness, I was simultaneously trying to find out the operating hours of the nearest Whole Foods. “OK, Glass, Google when Whole Foods closes,” I said. Within seconds, the Google search page showed me that the Whole Foods closest to my current location was still open. If I had wanted to, I could have given Glass the voice command to call the store just to be sure.
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As I cruised down the Hudson River path, I was thinking about the next list of stories that I would pitch to my editor at Runner’s World. I often feel like I come up with good ideas on a run only to forget them the minute I return home. So I asked Glass for help. “OK, Glass, take a note with Evernote.” Via the preinstalled, free app Evernote, a recording button appeared on the prism screen. I was able to speak my ideas — a Spandex-themed gift guide for Father’s Day, a first-person account of what it’s like to race a cheetah — before I told Glass to send the message to me through the app installed on my smartphone. Memory problem solved!
Like the company has done with other creations, Google is producing the vehicle and letting third-party developers come up with the apps for Glass. The majority of those, likely including a plethora of fitness trackers, will be available when Glass comes to market. Odds are that Google will work out the kinks, as it has done on previous products, but Glass did have a few hiccups. It can be difficult to see the prism screen display when the wearer is looking out at a bright background, like the horizon. And Glass didn’t always recognize the voice commands if the surroundings were too noisy. Glass, however, does have one great perk. I often finish my runs thinking about what I’m going to eat afterward. I can now say, “OK, Glass, find a recipe.” When the app pulls up a database of recipes, I can choose chocolate chip cookies and email those instructions to myself to make upon my return to my apartment.
Finally, Glass gives runners the ability to take pictures and videos while on the move. A quick finger click on the prism allowed me to take, midstride, the image of the Freedom Tower seen above. Then I could tell Glass to post it to my social media pages, so I could subtly brag to my friends that I was enjoying a run while they were still stuck in their offices. Because the Glass camera points outward, the only shortfall in the photo department is its inability to snap a selfie. Maybe that will come in version 2.0: “OK, Glass, let them stare — selfie time!”