When Ivan Lajara goes out, he immediately becomes the most interesting person on the street. Passersby stare at him with mingled curiosity, confusion, even disdain. Many stop to speak with him.

What makes him such a spectacle? He is a member of the Google Explorer program, which means that he owns—and wears—the first released model of Google Glass.

It’s the first major step toward wearable augmented reality. To an outsider, Google Glass represents all that is unholy about technology: the seeming ability to take photos and “stalk” people undetected. To a user, however, Glass is a messenger, phone, search engine, camera and GPS rolled into one. All of these features are managed on a tiny screen right before their eyes.

Another Google Explorer, Lester Victor Marks, told appleinsider.com, “Having a screen constantly in your face can arouse suspicion among others—even loved ones. My wife was sometimes convinced I was paying attention to something else, even if I was talking and looking straight at her. To be honest, I’m sometimes guilty of that without Glass, but just having them on my head didn’t help my case.”

Thankfully, Lajara said that his random daily interactions with people have so far been “all friendly, at least to my face.” He downplayed the distraction factor, saying he disagrees with the notion that a user could accidentally walk into a pole while checking his or her e-mail.

“Glass is mostly off unless you’re using it,” he said. “To turn it on, you can touch the side of the frame or look up to a certain degree. I have mine set at 30 degrees.” For more than most of the time, Lajara is out running errands, so the Glass is off and his view of people staring at him is unimpeded.

The top concern among the general public is the possibility of being secretly photographed or filmed by a Glass user. Google has tried to minimize this fear by installing a very obvious recording light that goes on when you’re taking a photo or video, as well as a 10-second filming feature that can only be extended with a voice command or swipe on the touchpad. Rumors of facial recognition apps for the consumer version were quickly disproven, and Google will not permit them on any models.

Most people who speak to Lajara while wearing Glass are “simply curious” about the device. “People had a similar reaction to mobile phones,” he said. “I’m not discounting the possibility that someone will misuse it. I’m pretty sure some creep will figure out a way to do it.” Various bars and nightclubs have already banned the device on the basis of that creep factor.

Glass’ promise
Glass is so innovative because it’s almost completely hands-free, controlled by voice commands or a touchpad on the right side. To bring up the home screen, the user just has to say “OK, Glass…” and then a second voice command to follow through with whatever task is to be carried out. This can range anywhere from “Take a photo,” “Direct me to the nearest coffee shop,” or “Google Search images of pirates.” The user can also check things like flight times and sports scores. When a phone call, text, tweet or other notification comes in, the user feels a vibration and hears a soft “ping,” to which he or she can reply using verbal commands.

However, the practicality of Glass is a little limited in the current version. For example, you can reply to a tweet verbally after you’re notified about it, but you can’t view your Twitter feed from Glass. It also can’t operate alone: It’s complementary to your mobile phone, like a Bluetooth headset.

But its current features are something to brag about. “The voice recognition is very accurate,” said Lajara. “It understands me pretty much perfectly, and I have an accent.” Cards (notifications, to non-Glass users) can be checked with a simple tap on a touchpad located on the right side of the Glass frame, or chronologically on the user’s homepage (google.com/myglass). The photo and video features are also easy to use. Transferring data from Glass to a computer is simple, using a USB cable. Google search results are also, expectedly, “spot on,” according to Lajara.

Across blogs and forums, people are trying to predict what kinds of features and apps the consumer model will have, while they also spark debates about the product’s future. They will have to wait until it’s released, either in late 2013 or early 2014. For now, the only people who possess the current model of Glass had to be accepted to the Google Explorer Program via a Twitter contest in February. Oh, and to shell out a mere US$1,500 to purchase it.

So what did Lajara tweet to receive one of these coveted pieces? In accordance with the rules of the Twitter contest, he tweeted:

“IfIHadGlass, I would make journalism evolve at the pace that it needs to.” What he meant by this was a “reinvention of how we present news.” Professionally, he said it would be a great tool for media conferences and broadcasting meetings in hangout mode (a feature of Glass). It would also be very useful while reporting outside of an office setting. When you have something in the field that takes lightning-fast photos of your view, breaking news is easier to capture. Thinking further, emergency response could be faster with instant reporting.

Despite his original intention to experiment with the potential use of Glass for journalistic endeavors, Lajara finds he’s using the Glass mostly in his personal life, as high-tech entertainment. But for a beta-level product, he is satisfied with it. “The functions that it has are very good.”

If Google wants Glass to be a successful product, it needs to be perfected before its consumer release. Any immediate problems with the device will create an instant write-off by skeptics and competitors. This means fixing any minor issues that have been noted by Explorers, like bugs with already existing apps, as well as developing more apps to make Glass more applicable to everyday life. Some ideas bouncing around: a BAC calculator, a translator, or a cookbook. Lajara suggested a barcode scanner.

If the market for Glass is successful, Lajara will be one lucky guy. Not only will he be a pioneer of a major technological advance in history, he also won’t be getting any more funny stares for wearing his computer on his head in public. Unless he likes the attention, in which case he’ll perhaps have to consider eschewing all technology.

What is bone conduction?
Glass is structured similar to glasses—as in, resting behind the ears against the skull. So, how does one hear the “ping” of a card or driving directions without headphones? Through bone conduction technology, or vibration against the skull. The sound this creates travels directly to the inner ear, leaving the outer and middle ear free. This is the same technology used in modern hearing aids to skip over any problems with the outer or middle ear.

Stones thrown at Glass
Not everyone sees Google Glass as the next uber-cool, absolutely-have-to-have technology. In fact, many people are speaking out against Glass. We’re not sure if they’ve actually gotten their hands on Glass, or are merely commenting on what they hear, but a compendium of their comments follows.

“People are irrationally excited about Glass, despite seeing a long list of problems—nobody wants to be the person that was wrong about the future. The tech elite have decided that Glass is the future, dammit… If you don’t say something nice now, people will remember it, they will mock you, and you will be a fool. It’s better to be safe and say something like, ‘It is undoubtedly a game-changer,’ despite the fact that you only see problems with Glass.”
—Jay Yarow, businessinsider.com

“Glass will last longer than 24 hours if you don’t touch it. The question is, how often do you touch it? When Glass is new, and you want to play with it all the time just for the novelty, the battery will last anywhere from 1-2 hours, which is terrible… If Glass were ever updated to be able to support only my communication needs, I suspect the battery would last around 4-5 hours, which is still terrible.”
—Ron Amadeo, androidpolice.com

“That unbroken titanium band looks nice and provides flexibility, but it also means that Glass doesn’t fold up like a traditional pair of glasses, so it won’t dangle from the front of a shirt or slide easily into a pocket. That’s made worse by the seeming fragility of the exposed refractive display, which we were told shouldn’t be touched. Google thoughtfully includes a microfiber carrying case with a hard plastic insert to protect everything sensitive, but the resulting package is hugely bulky. Better bring your big purse.”
—Tim Stevens, engadget.com

“The Segway. The Bluetooth headset. The pocket protector. What do these three technologies have in common? They all pretty much work as promised. They all seem like good ideas on paper. And they’re all too dorky to live. Now, far be it from me to claim that nerdiness equals lack of popularity potential. But I contend that dorkiness and nerdiness are two different qualities. While nerdiness implies a certain social awkwardness that’s ultimately endearing, dorkiness connotes social obliviousness that opens you to deserved ridicule. Guess which category Google Glass will fall under when it goes ‘mainstream?’”
—Marcus Wohlsen, wired.com

“The common knock on Google Glass has been that it’s far too dorky-looking for normal people to want to wear.”
—Brad Reed, bgr.com

“The quality of the final product is also not cutting it for me, especially given the price point. It’s mostly made out of plastic, and while Google has done a good job at making them as light as sunglasses, I think they have done so at the expense of quality. This thing looks like it will not survive the first time you drop it.”
—Megan Patterson, torontostandard.com