Got My Google Glass

On Thursday I got my Google Glass Explorer Edition unit. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it is a really awesome device for asking Google simple questions, mapping / directions, and taking pictures or movies while I’m on my bike. It doesn’t have many apps; the native SDK isn’t available yet, but there are some interesting web APIs you can use called Google Glassware.

The device has an ok camera, ok battery life, and ok WiFi and Bluetooth. The projector screen looks reasonable but isn’t very high resolution. Along my right temple there is a touch sensitive surface. There isn’t a speaker, but it uses a bonefone for sound output (by vibrating against the back of my ear). The mic can pick put other people shouting commands at me, but it is only in voice command mode very VERY briefly so having unwanted input is not a huge concern.

Glass runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.4. All of the local applications appear to be standard apks. You can take download them to a PC using adb, uncompress them, and examine their structure. The various Dalvik bytecode inspectors still work correctly and there doesn’t seem to be anything special going on under the hood as far as software goes.

Using Glass is somewhat of a mixed bag. The voice commands are rather limited; however, the voice recognition and synthesis are VERY good. Taking a picture, recording a video, starting a call, and performing a search are nearly instant. Getting directions, making a call, sending a message, and starting a hangout tend to be good if you are on WiFi but you are at your carrier’s mercy when you are tethered to your phone. Overall the voice controls are impressive where they exist.

If you wish to do other things (ex, read a notification, configure your device, share a photo), you will probably have to use the touch controls on your temple. They are limited (you have single finger swipe left, swipe right, swipe down, and tap gestures), but once you get used to them you can navigate the device quite well.

A lot has been made about the social implications of Glass (mostly in the press which has had a nice babble head quality about the device). In general the reactions I have had have been good. Lots of people have come up to me to ask about it and get a quick demo. No body has asked me to take it off and for people who havn’t heard of Glass saying “It’s a computer” generally satisfies them. I still feel self conscious about it when I go out with it, and I’m not used to having strangers ask me questions about my tech. At the very least it has been good practice for public speaking.

From a developer’s point of view I adore this device. It is VERY different from what I am used to in terms of affordances and capabilities. Being able to have a very quick, unobtrusive, but intimate moment with my user is completely new. However, the capabilities in terms of amount of content I can deliver and receive is limited. This is a Jane. You ask it to tell a server elswhere to do something on your behalf and wait for the response. It has sensors to collect all of the necessary information it may need. Then it is my job to take that information and use my server resources to create a good response and deliver it to the user (quickly).

Currently, there are several companies making Glassware applications for the device. The New York Times has a nice service you can subscribe to. Twitter released an application, and there are some third party Facebook apps as well. Google has been on a regular update cycle for the device so it should have extra functionality rolled out over the next few months. Finally there are several I/O sessions about the device which should encourage more development.

In addition to the device itself, there is a companion Android application which helps with configuring, tethering, and demoing the device. The app includes a screen catcher so people can see what you see. There is also a web app which is used for installing services, managing your shared contacts, and viewing information about your device. Finally there is a web forum for connecting with other Glass Explorers.

I’m researching the device, its software, and its services. I am planning on making some hello world style applications and advocating the technology. I don’t know if this will change computing or consumption, but I hope it at successfully and popularly augments it. We have been promised wearable and ubiquitous computing for a while and Glass is the next step in this general evolution.