Google Glass for Older Adults

As the first article about my grandparents using Google Glass received a lot of interest, I decided to delve a little bit more into the topic.

My grandparents conducted a longer Google Glass usability study for me. I’m happy they agreed that I can use their images and insights to share here.

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Evaluation of the Current Google Glass

My grandparents mentioned that the current functionality of the device is quite limited. This might be due to the English only menu and bad to no Internet connectivity during usage. The experimental setup seems unobtrusive, as both of them are used to wear glasses, they got easily accustomed to carry Glass. All confirmed that the head-mounted display was not hindering them performing everyday tasks. Only my grandmother mentioned discomfort as the device got unusual hot after a longer usage session of recording video and displaying directions. During the simple reading test, they could read text of font sizes of 40px and higher on the 640 x 360 screen if a white font on a black background was used (best contrast). However, other font colors were problematic and needed larger sizes to be legible. Especially the light grey font color sed by some standard Glass applications was hard to read. For example, they could not read the night temperature for the weather card. Participants were able to use most speech commands and the “head wake” feature (tilting the head back to activate Glass) without problems. Only the “google search” speech command was not recognized, probably due to German accent ;)

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While both were able to activate the photo functions easily, they had difficulties to take the picture they intended. Glass seems to be optimized for taking photos in a slight distance (e.g. taking tourist pictures). However, my grandparents mostly wanted to take pictures to remember what they were doing (e.g. what things they had in the hand). It took a while for them to realize that the camera won’t make a photo of what they see (depicted in the both pictures above).

It was difficult for the two to use the touch panel for navigating Glass. The activation tab and scrolling usually works, yet the cancel gesture (”swiping down”) is more problematic and often not recognized. We assume this is due to fingers getting dry when getting older.

The active card display of Glass – swiping right to see cards relevant right now (e.g. weather, appointments), swiping left to see older events (e.g. taken pictures) – was intuitive. Yet, they had difficulties to use some of the hierarchical menu structures (e.g. for settings and doing a video call). They mentioned that it is hard to realize in which context they are currently operating, as Glass gives no indication of the hierarchy level.

Usage Patterns

Already during the two days of system use and the shopping tour a number of usage patterns emerged. They used the camera feature the most. A common use case was memory augmentation. Making pictures of things they don’t want to forget. For example, taking a picture of medication, so they can remember that it was already taken or taking pictures of interesting items while shopping.

Both preferred the “hands free” operations using the speech interface (although it was in English) compared to the touch interface during house work. Yet, being in town, they switched to the touch interface. During cooking and house work, my grandmother appreciated the timer provided by Glass. However, it was difficult for them to set the timer using the current interface, as this involves a hierarchical menu. It was not clear if they currently change the hours, minutes or seconds while in the respective sub menu. Wearing the timer on the body is highly appreciated, as it’s not possible to miss the timer going off.

For gardening and cooking, they would like to do video chats, for example to ask friends about tips and get their advice. Unfortunately, the limited internet reception at participants’ place did not allow video chats during the test phase.


Through the initial assessment of the system’s functionalities and through the observation we found a number of requirements. The focus on readability is even more crucial for older adults. Although Glass was already designed with this in mind, it seems font size is not the only thing that matters. Contrast seems equally important, as participants found it very difficult to read the light grey fonts used in some of the screens provided by Glass.

My grandparents request intuitive, hands-free interactions. They appreciated the speech interface if they are not in public or the “blink to take a picture” feature as they don’t need to interact with the touch panel. They also did not want to make the device dirty, especially during cooking and gardening. The touch interface was sometimes difficult to use for them. A potential reason is that they are not used to capacitive touch devices such as current smartphones. Scrolling worked, yet the cancel gesture (swiping down) was difficult to perform. It needed 2 or 3 tries every time they wanted to use it.

Application Ideas


Short Term Memory Augmentation – As we described above, participants frequently took pictures to use them as reminder (e.g. taking medication). Using the time card interface of Glass, it was already easy to check if they performed the ac- tion or task in question by browsing through the taken pic- tures. Each picture has also a timestamp with it (see Figure 2). However, this only works for the last couple of days, as other- wise the user needs to scroll too far back. The most requested feature was Zoom for images. While shopping, users took pictures to remember interesting items. Prices from items can be recorded, yet as the device does not support zoom for pic- tures, it’s impossible to read the price on the head mounted display (see Figure 5).

Long Term Capture and Access– The participants saw po- tential in having a long term capture and access interface. Checking how and what they worked on/did a couple months or even years back. Search on specific activities (e.g. bak- ing a apple cake) should be possible for access. Participants thought other types of indexing (e.g. location or time) would be not so useful.

Timer and Reminders – Although the interface was not op- timal for them the users already found the timer application useful. The raised the need for several simultaneous timers and reminders. Right now the installed timer application just supports a single task.

Instructions – For the gardening, cooking and workshop scenario, my grandparents would like to get instructions (e.g. ingredient lists, work steps) for more complex tasks they do not perform often. They prefer the Glass display to paper or instruction manuals, as they don’t need a context switch, clean their hands, stop what they do. Yet, they emphasized that the instructions need to be easily browsable. They would prefer the ”right” information at the ”right” time. Participant 2: ”Can’t Glass infer that I’m backing a cake right now and show me the ingredients I need for it?”


These application scenarios are very similar to applications discussed for maintenance and, in general, industrial domains. Yet, as seen from the requirements usability and interface need to be adjusted significantly before wearable computing can be used by older adults without help.

Finally, see you @ UbiComp

This is a serious of articles about our UbiComp Submissions if you want to read more, check out the Poster paper: Wearable Computing for Older Adults -Initial Insights into Head-Mounted Display Usage. Kunze, Kai and Henze, Niels and Kise, Koichi. Proceedings of UbiComp'14 Adjunct. 2014. Bibtex.

If you are attending UbiComp/ISWC this year please drop by at our poster. Oh and if you found the write-up useful, please cite us or share the article :)