August 29, 2013

My Day With Google Glass

A firsthand look at how Google's newest invention may have accidentally changed everything about how we play golf

Wearing Google Glass feels just like wearing normal glasses -- if the glasses didn't have lenses. And had a computer in them.

Wearing Google Glass feels just like wearing normal glasses -- if the glasses didn't have lenses. And had a computer in them.

Google Glass is essentially just a smartphone that you wear. It looks like a pair of glasses when you put it on, and the screen sits in the top right corner of your right eye. My plan was relatively simple: I was to go the Glass headquarters in New York City (Google people call it "Basecamp") to spend a few hours getting acquainted with Google Glass and, more importantly, learn how it can help all of us play better golf.

I met Paul Goldstein almost the second I walked through the door of Basecamp; an open, loft-like space located over the busy Chelsea Market in downtown Manhattan. Aside from it probably being the trendiest district in NYC right now (although many might disagree), Chelsea also hosts the New York headquarters of some of the most powerful tech brands on the planet-- IAC, Yelp, Apple -- with Google at its center. And I was there. In golf clothes.

But back to Paul; he's the creator of the SkyDroid golf GPS apps for iPhone and Android, and his newest project, GolfSight, is the first golf app available on Glass. Paul was one of my sherpas through this process. He, like practically everyone else I met at Google, was wearing Glass.

The first time speaking to someone wearing Glass feels like a classic elephant-in-the-room situation -- or like you're fully clothed and speaking to someone who's naked. You know it's unusual, they know it's unusual, you know they know you think it's unusual, and the whole time you're just trying hard not to stare.

"I wear glass every time I go play," Goldstein says. "My playing partners used to ask a lot of questions, but now they don't even notice it and it's practically second nature to me."

As we walked into the room where my Glass was I couldn't help but notice he was right. After the initial shock of seeing it for the first time, you notice someone wearing Glass about as much as you do someone wearing regular glasses. And like regular glasses, you're struck, when you try them, how incredibly unobtrusive the frame is on your own vision. The frame, in the case of Glass, is the screen, which I found is only really visible when you go looking for it.

By this point sherpa number two, Matt Egbert, a Google Glass guide, had given me a Glass and was teaching me how to use it. It was all pretty simple, really.

Tap to activate Glass, and from there, you can either swipe towards your eyes to see your timeline of videos and photos or away from your eyes to check things like the weather. Once you find an option that you like -- the camera, for example – you can tap it the same way you did to activate Glass in the first place and continue on from there. Or, if any of this sounds too complicated, you can just talk to it.

"Ok, Glass," I'd say. "How far away am I from Augusta National?"

About 800 miles, it turns out.

There's also a remarkable amount of philosophy that has been injected into the device that, almost accidently, makes it perfectly suited for golf. Glass automatically hibernates when it's inactive for more than 10 seconds, for example, because it's designed to be there when you need it, and to go away when you don't. When you prompt it, the video camera, too, will automatically record for ten seconds unless you push a button for longer. Why? Because Google wants you to spontaneously capture what you see in the moment, without delay or ceremony. The same goes for the regular camera, which snaps a picture almost instantaneously the moment you tell it to.

"It's not about supplementing reality," Egbert, the guide, said. "It's about using technology to engage with the world around you. Think about it, when your head is down and you're looking at your phone, you're cutting off the world around you. This allows you to keep engaging with everyone and everything all the time."

It's no coincidence that philosophy leaks into GolfSight, Goldstein's golf app, because Google worked with him as it was being developed. You launch the app with a phrase: "OK, Glass, let's start a round of golf." From there, it'll locate the course you're playing and give you yardages, tell you about any looming hazards, supply you flyover images of the holes and keep your score. And, like the camera, if it sits idle, it'll hibernate so it's not being annoying.

As I stood there hitting balls into the Chelsea Piers driving range, with exact yardages to the front, middle and back of every green in sight and barely noticing I was wearing a computer at all, I was struck by how clear it was that this, or some close variation of it, really was the future of golf.

In a game full of spontaneous moments of perfection, but where whipping out your phone is still considered taboo, it's not hard to see how Glass could fill that void. That drive, mid-flight, sailing down the fairway, or your reflective playing partner as he stares into the sunset on the 18th green are both moments you can capture by doing little more than looking.

Like almost anything, there are, of course, drawbacks.

Battery life is probably the biggest issue. It'll make it through a round of golf, but every picture and video you take cuts it closer and closer. Memory space is potentially another. Recording every second of your round, through your eyes, is a fascinating idea, but because of battery life and memory space, remains for the moment unattainable. And perhaps the most obvious detractor of them all is the look. It's not that Glass is unattractive, it's that at this moment in time -- for better or for worse -- it's a guaranteed conversation starter. People will look at it, ask you about it, talk about it everywhere you go.

For Goldstein and GolfSight, it's just the beginning. He's brainstorming what to develop next: an add-on that reads greens, perhaps? Or one that helps line you up? Or how about your own personal shot tracker that will denote the flight of your ball? Who knows: one day, pros could even be wearing them while they compete. Viewers at home could be watching a live video of what it looks like through the pro's own eyes, as he lines up his putt to win the Masters.

"I like to think that pros will wear these one day," Goldstein says. "Why not? Once you start using them, you suddenly feel so disconnected when you take them off. You wonder what you were ever doing before."