Commentary

Coming: More People Who Live In Google Glass

Google’s tantalizing rollout of its Glass device is moving into new waters with a four-story barge that someday may be a “floating marketing center” garnering eyeballs in San Francisco Bay, as KPIX reports, and the company announcing an expansion of its Explorers market test and a hardware swap-out for interested current users of the $1,500 wearable computers that are not suitable for operating jackhammers or playing pick-up basketball.

Sources tell KPIX 5’s Allen Martin that the barge currently sitting off Treasure Island will someday be “a kind of giant Apple store, if you will” that is intended to be anchored off Fort Mason. Other reports, such as Daniel Terdiman’s newsbreaker for CNET, suggest it may eventually be a “floating data center.”

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Whatever and whichever, Martin cites a number of regulatory obstacles the “barge-and-container structure” faces. Barring any permits, construction work has stopped, and Google has no comment about what it may or may not be doing.

But the company isblogging about an expansion of the Explorer program over the next few weeks whereby existing Explorers can invite up to three friends to “have the opportunity … to buy Glass online and … have it shipped to their home, office, treehouse or igloo.”

There’s no mystery about its intentions. “More Explorers means more feedback, and more feedback means better Glass,” the blog goes on to say.

“According to sources familiar with Google’s plans, it is aiming for a ‘substantial’ increase of Glass’s manufacturing volumes in the run-up to Christmas,” reportsFinancial Times’ Tim Bradshaw. “Until now, little more than 10,000 of the Glass ‘Explorer Edition’ products have been distributed to competition winners, developers and other early adopters.”

Google has said that Glass will not be available to the hoi polloi until 2014. GigaOm’s Kevin C. Tofel points out that it had “limited the program to gather feedback and improve the product; something it does monthly with software updates.”

“At least this time you don’t have to send a plea to Google explaining how you’ll use the device,” Time’s Jared Newman quips, referring to the previous requirement, as reported by Bianca Bosker in Huffington Post, that testers qualify themselves and their intentions. “You just have to know someone who did.” 

Google also posted a 1:12 YouTube video yesterday showing all 50 states, “from Fairbanks to Fargo,” as captured by “Glass Explorers, through Google Glass." As travelogues go, let’s just say it’s concise.

Of course, not everyone is enamored of wearing an accessory that makes them look dorky, at best, or like a “dentist, a diamond-cutter, or an amateur lobotomist” as Forbes puts it in an amusing slide show of early adapters proudly (for the most part) wearing their trophies. 

The young woman in image 10/13 is prima facie evidence of one of the device’s shortcomings to date: it doesn’t play well on those who already wear spectacles. Well, the company also announced a one-time optional swap out of the original device for anyone who purchased it before Oct. 28, 2013, and wants the “hardware update … to work with future lines of shades and prescription frames.” Or, presumably, if you just want a color that better matches your eye shadow. A mono earbud is also included.

“That addresses at least two sets of common complaints about Glass, that it doesn’t work especially well for those who already wear prescription glasses, and that the bone conduction audio system can be patchy at best,” writes Chris Davie on Slash Gear. “Google has been trialling prescription lenses for some time now — we got up close with some at Google I/O earlier this year — but has been quiet on when, exactly, they might be offered.”

ZDNet’s editor-in-chief, Larry Dignan, says Glass has come a long way since its launch, with a pair having sat dormant at his offices for some time. After checking out a few software updates over the weekend, he says the apps were more useful, Glass connects with smartphones more easily, and navigation has improved. “But,” he cautions, “the devices still seem far removed from being a mass market effort.”

As might be expected, “dozens of enterprising individuals took to the web, putting their Google Glass invites up for auction on eBay” within hours of the announcement, reports Phandroid’s Rob Jackson. Who says you can’t buy friendship?

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