Google Glass is inching closer and closer to consumer release, and in the past few weeks, developers have seen new development tools for Glassware (Google’s term for applications that run on the device itself) and the greater availability of the Glass itself.
In November alone, Google gave a sneak peek of the Glass Development Kit (GDK), released a widely available Mirror API, and expanded the Glass Explorer program with more devices for developer purchase.
“The GDK and Mirror API are two pillars of the same platform,” said Timothy Jordan, senior developer advocate for Google Glass. “The Mirror API makes easy things easier, and the GDK makes hard things possible.”
Jordan explained that the Mirror API is a RESTful API that developers can get up and running with a prototype in an hour or two. For developers without a Glass device, the Web-based API is best for building Glassware that manage displayed content (represented by timeline cards), create actions to interact with menu items, or set up user notifications.
The GDK, on the other hand, has three main factors that differentiate it from the Mirror API: It can run offline; developers can deploy apps and respond to user feedback in real time; and it gives access to deeper levels of the Glass hardware, such as the built-in GPS.
Jordan used Word Lens, a word-for-word text translation Glassware app, as an example of the power of the GDK. If Word Lens is translating a block of Spanish text to English, developers can use the immersion mode offered by the GDK to allow the rest of the running tasks to fade away, creating a more focused experience as the translated text overlays where the user is looking.
The GDK also comes with a feature called “live cards,” which are situated on the left side of the Glass home screen and continually update in real time. Plus, by allowing high-level access to the voice menu, developers can add “OK Glass” vocal commands to control the app.
“The live cards act like a moment in time; they fade away on the timeline,” Jordan explained. “Users often only need to pay attention to recent items.”
Jordan used another Glass app, Strava, to illustrate the potential of live cards. Already an app for Android and iOS, Strava is a real-time jogging and bike-riding app. If a rider is using Glass, the app scrolls through real-time distance, speed and time information, only notifying and displaying the tracking details the user immediately needs.
The sneak peek of the GDK is available now, with a full developer preview and official release to come in the next few months.
Five lessons from the Explorer Program
Jordan and the development team have been working on Glass for years. Through the experiences of Glass explorers and the changes the product has undergone during the development process, they’ve learned a great deal about Glass, and how users and developers should interact with it.
“On top of getting users using Glass, we want developers building for it early and often,” Jordan said. “Feedback makes Glass better, so we’ve tried to let developers use it right away and contribute to the evolution of the project.”
Jordan made a point of mentioning that the majority of the GDK is stock Android code, with the modifications and Glass-specific features available in a library, so Android developers can make a natural transition to creating Glassware. The GDK and Mirror API are add-ons designed to run on top of the Android SDK.
Out of everything they’ve learned, Jordan found five principles to communicate to developers to help them make the most of Glassware:
• Glass is different: “You have to really rethink design for Glass,” Jordan said. “You need to rethink what you’re building. A tablet interface is supposed to be immersive, engaging, but the Glass interface is a micro-interaction, a more natural user experience.”
• Don’t get in the way: “Developers need to focus on the true experience,” Jordan said. “Glassware is supposed to be there when the users want it, and it should go away when they don’t.”
• Keep it relevant: “It’s about context,” Jordan said. “At a grocery store, the user’s shopping list should come up. Keep space and time in mind. What’s happening where the Glass user is right now? What do they need?”
• Unexpected = unpleasant: “We’ve found that too much information surprises users,” Jordan said. “They expect to get just what they need, so don’t overload them with way too much content, say, while they’re sleeping.”
• Build for people: “What if aliens came to earth after humans are gone and saw computers? What would they think we looked like?” Jordan mused. “You look at a hammer, it makes sense. You understand how it works. Glass has that quality. It fits people’s lives in a more natural, not distant way. It’s all about making daily life fundamentally easier.”
A rose-tinted future
“Glass is a really different platform,” Jordan said. “On Glass you don’t think about screen size; it’s a completely different interface. There’s no keyboard, it’s all about voice. It’s a more natural way to compute, but it’s still new.”
He wondered what developers could build with Glass that they could never build before.
“Think about the keyboard,” Jordan said. “The design we still use today is based on keyboard mapping for typists to slow them down. I’m interested in typing faster and protecting my wrists, which would be an incremental upgrade, a 1X. Commanding the computer with your voice? That’s a 10X improvement.”
Ultimately, Jordan sees Google Glass as a monumental step toward effortless technology, in the vein of one of his favorite T.V. shows, “Star Trek: Enterprise.”
“It’s always been a dream of mine to see the wearable computer interface from ‘Star Trek: Enterprise,’” Jordan said. “All they had to do was ask what they wanted done. It would set up, say, 10 tasks at a time and the computing would happen in this ubiquitous, natural way. Glass is a pioneer in that way of thinking, the first step toward introducing effortless technology into our lives without ever having to read a manual.”