5 ways to make Google Glass betterMay 3, 2013: 6:24 AM ET
Some early reviews call Google Glass the future of computing. But even they say that future remains a little rough around the edges.
FORTUNE -- When I ask people outside Silicon Valley about Google Glass, the company's big play on wearable computing, I get a similar response: Sounds cool. Looks geeky.
"Ugh, I won't even think about wearing that thing until they ditch the god-awful Back to the Future look," a friend and casual gadget fiend recently confided to me. (Well, now, tell me how you really feel.)
To recap, Google Glass is a pair of augmented reality eyewear due out later this year. It projects images onto the lenses and syncs up with your Android mobile device to access the web but also operates independently. On the list of things Google (GOOG) Glass promises to do: recognize voice commands, snap photos, capture video, search the Web, offer directions, and suggest nearby restaurants to check out. In short, it's poised to possibly revolutionize computing. No wonder other companies like Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT) are rumored to be working on wearable devices of their own: Gartner Research projects the market could balloon into a $10 billion industry by 2015.
A developer's version of Google Glass, dubbed the Explorer Edition, is already making its way to a lucky few. Reviewers tend to agree it's an exciting early piece of hardware with a lot of potential but one that's just that: early. There's still a lot of work to be done on many fronts, from the hardware and software to the possible price point.
We put together a list of ways we'd like to see Glass improved by the time the consumer version finds its way onto consumers' faces. But let's get this out of the way: We have not played with Glass yet. Our opinions of Google's (GOOG) futuristic tchotchke are, like many, based on the limited time it's received at company events, our interactions with those wearing it on the streets of San Francisco, and early in-depth reviews. So as premature as it may sound to some, consider ours a wish list of features we'd like to see. Here they are:
Play with the design. A few might call it trés chic. Many more like my friend will probably call Glass's current look loud and nerdy. ("Who would want to wear this thing in public?" questioned Joshua Topolsky, editor-in-chief of The Verge.) Google likely knows this. As of last February, the company was reportedly in talks with trendy eyewear startup Warby Parker to design more elegant frames. Whether negotiations pan out or not, expect the consumer version of Glass to look significantly different and, hopefully, much more understated.
Crank up the display. The early consensus around Glass's display is it's competent, but it could be much better. Google says it is like looking at a 25-inch high-definition screen from eight feet away, but Engadget editor-in-chief Tim Stevens argues the high-definition part is questionable -- image and text detail could be better. That, along with the sometimes inaccurate, inconsistent colors means Glass "almost has the look of an old-school, passive-matrix LCD [screen]." Given Google wants you to wear this all day, the idea of staring at something of this quality after being spoiled by ultra-high-resolution smartphone, tablet, and even notebook screens, and it's clear more work could be done in this department.
Beef up the battery. Although tech influencer Robert Scoble loved Glass so much he declared he would never live another day of his life without it (or at least a comparable competitor) one of the few things he did lament was poor battery life. Independently, Stevens found that with moderate use like reading emails and taking short videos, he managed about five hours before Glass died on him. For a mobile device, that's pretty mediocre however you look at it.
Keep it under a grand. Better yet, price it $500 or less. It's the first in a new wave of computing devices sure, but if Apple could peg the first-generation 16-gigabyte iPad at $499, we think Google can too. The sweet spot? $200, Scoble suggested in his review.
Toss in a recording indicator. While Glass' current industrial design may be anything but subtle, the one thing it's sorely lacking is an indicator that lets people around the Glass wearer know their photo is being taken or they're being captured on video. Toss in something -- like say, a small LED light, as Stevens suggests -- that lets others know when this is happening, and Google could head off something much bigger: a public outcry over privacy.
What other make-or-break features would you like to see make it into Google Glass, Fortune readers? Weigh in below.