Along with a pillow menu, tandem bicycles and artisanal chocolates, Google Glass — that tiny computer you wear like your Ray-Bans — is showing up on the menu of must-try amenities at hip hotels around the country.
Google Glass — in case you’re part of the 99.74 percent of the world’s population that hasn’t used one — is a head-mounted gadget that lets you take pictures, record video and explore the world by, essentially, walking around in a virtual Google search box, swiping at your face like you’re swatting a fly, and pressing a button much closer to your eyeballs than you ever would with your smartphone.
This “wearable technology” hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm since it was unveiled two years ago — in part, analysts say, because Glass doesn’t do nearly as much as a great smartphone does, and in part because wearers have developed reputations as “Glassholes” for secretly recording and photographing other people. Pop-culture mocks Glass users mercilessly. (For laughs, Google “ The Daily Show Google Glass discrimination.”)
But the thinking by hotels is that Google Glass is a cool way for travelers to explore the city and document their trip. After all, Google calls Glass wearers “Explorers,” like Columbus or Magellan.
With thoughts of a Lewis & Clark-style expedition in my head, I booked an overnight Google Glass Explorer Package last month at the Stanford Court Hotel in San Francisco’s cardio-tastic Nob Hill neighborhood. The hotel launched the Google Glass program in May, and it will continue through the end of the year.
My plan was this: navigate the city for one night and one morning using Google Glass, take photos and video, and come back with a prize-winning, multimedia travel story. My only fear? That I might drop the $1,500 gadget off my face from the Golden Gate Bridge and have to explain THAT to my credit card company.
If only I’d made it to the Golden Gate Bridge with the thing on my head. It never made it out of my room.
See, after I booked the hotel reservation, I failed to do the most important thing — to Google “Google Glass.” To find out what, exactly, I would need to know about this modern-day technological wonder. And that is why you’re reading this story the old-fashioned way instead of viewing it as a video, shot eyeball level, from inside a cell at Alcatraz.
I suspected I was out of my element when I arrived in San Francisco, the tech capital of the universe, and immediately observed all the things sticking out of people’s ears — things with curly wires; things with no wires; things with headbands; things with neckbands — the place looked like an otolaryngologist’s petri dish.
I, on the other hand, have carried one of those Bluetooth ear thingies around in my purse for two years and have never figured out how to use it.
The Stanford Court is one of many San Francisco hotels geeking out to attract tech-savvy travelers. Recent upgrades include free lightning-fast Wi-Fi, complimentary iMac and iPod kiosks and ZipCars in the courtyard. In the lobby, an 80-inch flat-screen TV projects a live-feed video installation from the hotel’s rooftop camera that shows all the activity on the bustling street outside.
At hotel check-in (where workers, too, wear things sticking out of their ears) my companion, Mike, and I were handed a black paper bag containing the carefully packaged contraption and were sent on our way.
“Yikes!” I thought. Online, it said guests “will receive a brief tutorial” and a handout with instructions on how not to be a Glasshole. Handout? In the bag. Tutorial? Hmmm. Clearly, this was not going to be like at work, when Twitter announces a new photo feature and we “webinar” for an hour.
Up in Room 627, Mike and I carefully removed the Glass from its case. He fit it to his head, turned it on and began practicing his forward-swiping motion next to his temple; the tutorial, it turns out, appeared on a tiny screen in front of the eyeball. I bundled up for a trolley ride to Fisherman’s Wharf.
And then, like the cable cars outside our window, it all came to a screeching halt. It was time to sync Google Glass to our phones. See, you can’t just turn on the device and start recording yourself flipping cartwheels. You must “pair and tether” it to, basically, your own tiny corner in the kingdom of Google.
Mike tried first. His Android phone’s operating system was too out-of-date to hook up. He handed the Glass to me.
My iPhone 5s was compatible, so I downloaded the MyGlass app from iTunes and continued forward-swiping. But my gmail password had just expired, and because it’s a work account, I couldn’t reset it remotely from my phone. I handed the Glass back to Mike.
He had his own gmail account, but not a Google+ account, which is also needed for the Glass to sync properly. He handed it back to me.
I, the owner of a Google+ account tied to the gmail work account I could not access, set up a brand-new, non-work gmail account on my phone, planned to set up a new Google+ account and continued the tutorial.
Shazam! “Glass 300E” finally showed up on my phone’s Bluetooth settings. It was now 45 minutes into our Google Glass experience, and I could practically smell the chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf.
But then, the phone and the Glass wouldn’t sync. We back-tapped and forward-swiped, said prayers, offered mantras and dropped a few expletives, too.
The iPhone and Glass simply would not synchronize. We couldn’t “control Z” to undo the steps we’d done to get to this point. And there was no number to call for help. No Siri! No IT department! No webinar!
After an hour of set-up confusion and frustration, we gave up on the Glass. “Let’s go explore the old-fashioned way,” I said, now having a Pavlovian-like response to the thought of sourdough at Fisherman’s Wharf.
We stuck the Glass in the in-room safe, picked up the ol’ Fodor’s paperback and headed out with our “old-fashioned” smartphones to take photos, video and navigate the city.
If you’re slightly more savvy than I (which, clearly, wouldn’t take much), give Google Glass a try at your next technologically advanced hotel. But be sure to Google “Google Glass” first. According to Google, here’s what you’ll need before you go:
1. A Google account with Google+ and gmail. (Personal hint: Make sure your passwords are up-to-date, and remember them.)
2. A computer with a browser (connected to the Internet) or the MyGlass app for Android. (Personal hint: If you’re in a hotel room without a computer, you’ll have to rely on the app. You must be on the “ice cream sandwich” Android operating system or iOS 7 operating system or or higher.)
3. A phone or tablet with Bluetooth turned on.
But here’s the most important thing of all to remember, the tool that any modern-day Marco Polo worth his telescope wouldn’t leave his shores without — a bookmark at https://support.google.com/glass.