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Getting Acquainted With Google Glass for Travel: First Impressions

Jul 29, 2013 10:58 am

Skift Take

Glass’ impact on the travel industry is non-existent now, but as wearable computing becomes more widespread we should expect changes to how people navigate and gather information in ways nearly as radical as the emergence of the smartphone.

— Jason Clampet

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Robert Patterson  / MMGY Global

Stills from Patterson's Glass device. Robert Patterson / MMGY Global


About this post: Skift and MMGY Global have been having conversations about how social media and technology are changing the travel industry. So when Robert Patterson, MMGY’s Vice President of Social Media & Influencer Marketing told us he was going to pick up Google’s new Glass product, we told him that we wanted to hear all about it.

The following is a shorter version of a first-person account on MMGY’s website, and begins shortly after Patterson has picked up his Glass device in San Francisco.

The day after picking up Glass, I visit San Francisco Travel, the organization responsible for promoting San Francisco tourism to speak with Christopher Clark about Google Glass. Clark is the vice president of integrated marketing services and has spent his entire career working with emerging technology. After a brief walkthrough of how to use Glass, I allow Clark to try them out. His experience is similar to mine. There is immediate delight followed by sight confusion about how to navigate the operating system, but soon he is comfortable and issuing commands to Glass like “take a picture,” “record a video” and conducting Google searches.

» The One Related Link You Should Read: If Airline Passengers Had Google Glass…

We start to discuss the implications of Glass on the tourism industry and whether consumers will adopt this technology. There is buzz around the product, but are people ready to wear a computer? Clark thinks there will be slow consumer adoption, but is happy that San Francisco is ground zero for this emerging technology. He believes that San Francisco is forward thinking and locals will be adopting Glass quicker than visitors to the city, but that visitors that come to San Francisco are looking to see cutting edge technology at work.

I asked Clark if his organization would utilize Glass and he touts his organization’s successes with video with a local perspective. “My staff is going to love to have something like this just to hit the streets,” Clark goes on to describe that his team likes to get into the neighborhoods, speak with locals and interact with visitors on video.

He foresees a time where his staff equipped with Glass can go to Fisherman’s Wharf or Pier 39 to meet with visitors and record testimonials of their San Francisco experiences. We concur and leave the San Francisco Travel office in search of visitors at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 to provide a Glass demo and discover traveler insights on Glass.

We arrive at Fisherman’s Wharf and begin meeting and talking with visitors. Some of the people we meet have heard of Glass, most have not and the majority did not want to be bothered with an interview. However we do find a handful of visitors who are willing to take a moment to try out Glass and discuss their feelings on wearable technology. Veronica Volborth, from Charleston, South Carolina likes that you don’t have to have your hands occupied, but when asked if she would purchase Glass states, “I would like to see a variety of designs to choose from.”

Saara Vanhanen, from London also wants to see Google allow more personalization of Glass beyond just colors. When I asked about her time with Glass, Vanhanen says, “It wasn’t as distracting as I thought it might be.” and that she is most interested in using Glass for local discovery to find things around her.

As we walk to Pier 39 we met David Lopez Hernandez, from Spain who is in San Francisco on his honeymoon. He is carrying a large DSLR camera with him and upon trying Glass states that he likes the convenience of Glass and ability to take photos. “It is not convenient to carry a large, heavy camera,” said Hernandez. We met with other domestic and international visitors all of whom mention the hands-free photo and video capabilities as an attractive reason to use Glass.

Several others like the navigation feature, especially when you are in a city you are unfamiliar with. When asked what concerns they have with a technology like Glass, we heard a variety of answers that included looking awkward, being perceived to be always recording video, being distracted while walking or driving and as Vanhanen said “The fact that I am being tracked all of the time and everything I do is monitored. I think that is the most scary part.”

As we pack our rental car, I issue Glass a navigation command to the San Francisco Airport and begin our journey home. I use the drive to the airport as an opportunity to see how distracting using Glass navigation can be while driving. I find Glass to be no more distracting than looking at your GPS, adjusting the temperature or changing a radio station.

The navigation will display your route, but goes to sleep shortly and you can rely on voice commands to guide you along. This is in no way an endorsement to use Glass for navigation, just my insights into my test. Ultimately it will be up to individuals and states to decide whether it is safe to use Glass navigation while driving.

As we drop off our rental car and head into the airport, I become increasingly more conscious of my appearance with Glass. At the basecamp event I was surrounded by people wearing Glass. I start to understand better why Google is holding these events. Google certainly wants to provide explorers with information on how to use the technology and an opportunity to meet the Glass team, but it is just as important to indoctrinate explorers into the cult of Glass before releasing them into the public.

In the terminal I catch people staring, hear murmurs about “what is he wearing?” but I have committed to this exploration and I soldier on with Glass on head. I am able to go through the TSA screening still wearing Glass and soon enough we are at our gate and boarding.

Once onboard, I am immediately put at ease as two women who are sitting next to me recognize Glass and cannot contain their excitement to learn more. I feel cool again for a moment. I allow the women to try on Glass and I answer their questions as best I can. They are both educators and extremely enthusiastic about the potential of Glass in the classroom. Our flight attendant is also intrigued, I provide him with a demonstration and allow him to try Glass on.

He says he sees opportunities to use the technology to service customers and hopes he can get a pair soon. It is clear to me now how brilliant Google is. Besides creating an air of exclusivity and buzz for this product they have turned every one of their early adopters into advocates and educators. Even after the plane has landed and I have returned to my office and life, there has not been a day that has passed since I received Glass that I have not explained what it is and allowed multiple individuals to try it out.

After spending some additional time with Glass, I am excited about the future of wearable technologies and its impact on the travel industry. There is substantial freedom afforded by being hands free and having information pushed to you versus seeking it out. I believe that it will make people more productive and connected with each other on a personal level.

Being able to capture moments through photos and videos instantaneously has made me take more photos and videos without being taken out of the moment. I have taken photos and videos with my children that I would never have recorded with a camera or smartphone. Being navigationally challenged, Glass navigation has allowed me to explore cities I am not familiar with without having to hold out my smartphone and look like a “tourist.” But it is not all great.

I have had connectivity problems with Wi-Fi networks that require passwords like those found at hotels and airports. In most cases you have to buy an additional data package from your mobile provider in order to Bluetooth tether your phone. And while bone conductivity sounds great it really doesn’t. The volume is too low and outside of low noise environments you either have to plug your ear or abandon your call. There is also a lot of work that needs to be done on Glassware. Some of it needs to come from Google and some of it from third party developers.

For instance you can post a photo with a caption to Facebook and Google+, but you can only post a photo to Twitter with the accompanying “Just shared a photo #throughglass” default message. However, Google has committed to monthly updates for Glass, with the latest XE7 update expanding on voice command support and allowing users to navigate websites.

My biggest complaint though is in the content management of Glass. As you take more photos, videos or create communications, more “cards” are added to your “timeline.” The problem is that you have to manually manage your data storage on Glass. There is no way to use the website or mobile application to clear out photos and videos that have been automatically backed up to Google+ after connecting to Wi-Fi. This is a chore, but Glass is still a beta product and months from a public offering.

If Google Glass can rectify these issues, continue innovating, offer more style choices and obtain growing consumer adoption, I believe the implications of Glass and similar wearable technologies for the travel industry will be significant.

Follow Robert Patterson #throughglass on MMGY GlobalTwitter and Google+.

Robert Patterson is the Vice President of Social Media & Influencer Marketing at MMGY Global.

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