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Tech Thursday: Google Glass—Half Empty or Half Full?

Google Glass

Blending in with the locals. For most travelers, that’s the goal. We know that pulling out a guidebook never helps. But what about sporting funky headgear?

That’s what I was trying to figure out as I did a test drive yesterday of Google Glass at the company’s New York offices. Lens-less glasses with wraparound arms and a tiny screen above your right eye: Glass isn’t obstructive (that’s the whole point, after all), but it’s also not unobtrusive. And as my Google handler—who has worn hers in public—told me, you have to be prepared for some stares.

So do the benefits outweigh those stares?

The bottom line: it’s too early to tell. My demo version didn’t have some essential travel functionality (i.e. asking Glass for directions) that the full version does. And searching for “nearby restaurants” was supposed to be working, my handler said, but wasn’t.

But I did tell Glass to take some photos and share them on Twitter; shooting what’s already in my line of sight—and doing it with a couple voice commands—was pretty cool. Google Translate was working, too. “How do you say ‘find a bathroom’ in Japanese?” I asked it. The characters and phonetic pronunciation popped up on my screen while a mellifluous female voice spoke the phrase out of the tiny speaker near my ear. Helpful, but given my poor pronunciation of any language, showing someone this info (on, say, my phone) would probably be a better option.

So yes, it’s still early. Google is hoping to launch Glass at the end of this year, which gives them time to keep tweaking. And the inevitable rush to create Glass apps (right now, just CNN and the New York Times have them) will change the game.

But as with anything 1.0 (1984 Macs, 2001 iPods), we’ll look back on this early version of wearable technology and think how primitive it was. Very soon, no doubt, we’ll have cool functionality like this and be able to blend in with the locals.

Rich Beattie is the executive digital editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy Rich Beattie

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