Glass Field Report 1: Getting Dressed in Wearables

On February 27, 2014, in HRExaminer, by John Sumser

picture of woman wearing glasses

“I want to know how feasible wearables are as tools in HR and Recruiting. I want to understand, first hand, what it’s like. I want my recommendations and analysis to continue to be rooted in practical things.” – John Sumser

It’s an interesting time. Adjusting to a new body image is bringing an extraordinary set of insights. The view from the wheelchair is very different from the view looking down from 6’4".

I’ve been using wearable computing for five years with the current range of gadgets. Longer if you count early GPS watches and the kooky calculator watches of the mid 80s. My office electronics junk drawer is a sea of used cords and gizmos. There are four or five variations of fitbit (the brand itself). Next week, expect a piece about the benefits and drawbacks of several fitness devices.

I’m also beginning the process of becoming a Google Glass user.

A couple of weeks ago, Google invited me into their Explorer program. (It’s not that big a deal. I’ve figured out how to get you an invitation if you want one.) I’d been invited before but they didn’t have a prescription lens option. The new invite allowed me to order prescription frames.

Things have been rocky as Google figures out how to open its retail operations. Can you imagine being the kind of person Google hires and then being sentenced to the equivalent of cell phone customer service?

It shows.

As Google gropes its way into the space that used to be retail optometry, it faces a series of hurdles. The company is inexperienced in retail and eyeglass frame/lens design, The current extremely beautiful frames give the existing lens distribution supply chain fits.

The device itself seems destined to become one side (a temple) of a frame (glasses frame). The first designs do not have hinges. (Almost all glasses have hinges. Without them, the glasses can not easily go from the optometrist to the lab and back. Special shipping is required. And, glasses that can’t be folded require a huge glasses case. The Google Glass Prescription Frame Case would easily hold a stack of 6 iPad minis. It’s almost the height and width of an full sized iPad.

The first set I ordered were a design called Curve. Gorgeous and Apple-esque in their simplicity, I was delighted and excited when they arrived. I raced to the optometrist’s office. Filled with the hunger for immediate gratification, I figured he’d look at my eyes, write the prescription and I’d have the glasses in a day or so.

Not so much.

According to the optometrist (who was trained and recommended by Google), my prescription would not fit in these lovely frames. The curve of the frame makes it difficult to predict the focal plane (most glasses have a flat focal plane). He said I wouldn’t be able to see and that I’d get headaches.

Google had a different view in general (and different view depending on who I talked to). One fellow said that there was never a guarantee that a particular frame would work with my particular prescription. That’s a pretty bizarre assertion to hear from a fledging eyeglasses company like Google.

At any rate, the business of getting a new set of frames and returning the old was Byzantine and confused. Along the way, I received two different return kits (by Fedex) for the Google Glass device (the basic thing that I never asked to return). It took weeks to finally get a label in Email that I was directed to put on the fames for return purposes. (In all, four calls, three emails and three postings to the Google Plus Glass Explorers community over the course of nearly three weeks)

The poor customer service employees (remember, they suffer from being better than a customer service job) didn’t seem to be able to read the written correspondence I sent. Unsurprisingly, the various reps always encouraged me to use the phone instead of written communication.

When the replacement frames finally arrived, they were not what I ordered. Since it was close, I decided to forego the multilayer multi-week return process I just endured.

So, I headed back to the optometrist. With a bit of negotiation, we figured out how to get the frames to approach flat. After an hour or so of debate and measurement and the frames were sent to the lab.

When you buy prescription frames for Google Glass, you have to buy the entire Glass product. It includes special sunglass lenses, the original Glass device, a special ‘Japanese bag’ and a charger. In all, the stuff that doesn’t work after you install the device on the new frames (the bag, the original frame, and the sunglass lens are no longer usable) is about $400 worth of waste. Very elegant, historically significant, very bad product and supply chain design.

When asked about this, a Google rep said, "Well, keep it around. You may want to take the device off your new frames and attach it to the old to give a friend a demo." Hmmm", I thought, "Why did I go to the optometrist?”

The frames were due back from the lab yesterday. Of course, they’re having trouble getting the lenses to fit in the frames. They’re working on them and think they might have it done in a day or two.

Anyhow, I’m going to keep heading down the road with this. The optometrist is a great guy who is smart enough to know that his business is getting disrupted. It’s kind of fun (like being in a Kafka novel).

I want to know how feasible wearables are as tools in HR and Recruiting. I want to understand, first hand, what it’s like. I want my recommendations and analysis to continue to be rooted in practical things.

I’ll keep filling you in on the process. Thankfully, I have been trained in how to receive high tech customer service. After all, I am an ATT, Verizon and Comcast customer. Not everyone can be Apple.

(I also understand that Google is in the process of birthing a radical new product with a radical new approach to distribution. I’m probably a little more forgiving about this than you might imagine.)