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March 15, 2014

Reviewer: Google Glass has problems

NEW YORK — Shaped like a lopsided headband, Google Glass is an unassuming piece of technology when you’re holding it in your hands. You feel as if you can almost break it, testing its flexibility. Putting it on, though, is another story.

Once you do, this Internet-connected eyewear takes on a life of its own. You become “The Person Wearing Google Glass” and all the assumptions that brings with it —about your wealth, boorishness or curiosity. Such is the fate of early adopters of new technologies, whether it’s the Sony Walkman, the first iPod with its conspicuous white earbuds, or the Segway scooter. Google calls the people who wear Glass “explorers,” because the device is not yet available to the general public.

With its $1,500 price tag, the device is far from having mass appeal. At the South By Southwest Interactive tech jamboree in Austin this week, I counted fewer than a dozen people wearing it, including technology blogger Robert Scoble, who isn’t shy about posting pictures of himself in the shower, red-faced, water running, wearing the device.

Google, like most successful technology companies, dreamers and inventors, likes to take a long view on things. It calls some of its most outlandish projects “moonshots.” Besides Glass, these include its driverless car, balloons that deliver Internet service to remote parts of the world and contact lenses that monitor glucose levels in diabetics.

There’s an inherent risk in moonshots, however: What if you never reach the moon? Ten years from now, we may look back at Google Glass as one of those short-lived bridges that takes us from one technological breakthrough to the next, just as pagers, MP3 players and personal digital assistants paved the way for the era of the smartphone. Fitness bands, too, may fit into this category.

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