A Firsthand Look at Google Glass

A Firsthand Look at Google Glass image google glass firsthandA Firsthand Look at Google Glass

You’ve no doubt heard about Google Glass over the past few weeks. Many have asked “how does it work for users?” But I wanted to find out what kind of experiences we could build for it as developers. After a hands-on look during Google I/O, I’m sharing my take on this big step for wearable technology.

Look and feel basics

While I enjoy a retina display as much as the next person, I barely noticed that this display wasn’t as sharp. It’s clear and easy to read, but developers will want to make sure their content has a high enough contrast to keep everything clearly visible.

Additionally, I found the card image placement didn’t distract when I was trying to focus on something else. The longer you wear Glass, the more the desire passes to stare at the card, making it easier to have a natural conversation without looking back at the display. The voice commands also work well — and completely without error — when getting directions, searching Google and taking a photo. Whenever you can use Glass without using your hands, that’s a huge UI win.

Needs to be truly hands-free

What I really didn’t like was swiping through the timeline cards. Reaching your hand up to move back and forth between cards isn’t very effortless, and it was strange to keep hunting around on the side of my face for the control pad. Glass is best when it’s hands-free, and should instead let you say something like “next” or “back” to advance through cards without swiping.

Notifications are another practical application of Glass compared to smartphones. When a notification pops up, there’s a slight alert that only you can hear, as you see a preview on the screen above you. This allows you to look up slightly to register the notification and then return to what you were doing. It’s a much more natural interaction than pulling out your phone everytime it buzzes to see what’s new.

Useful apps will be key

Out of all the baked-in experiences on Glass, my favorite app was the directions. I can see that being one of the most useful, unique things that Glass offers.

It’s probably not really necessary for driving, as a maps app or in-car GPS already does a fine job of that, but imagine navigating a new city by walking. You’d typically either have to plug in headphones to listen to spoken commands from your phone’s navigation app, or hold your phone like a compass while you’re crashing into people on a crowded sidewalk. Glass solves this problem perfectly, by putting the map up in the corner of your view and speaking soft directions to you while you’re walking. It’s a truly great experience that makes me consider other ways that Glass will solve underlying UX problems with smartphones.

While the already installed apps are important for Glass, the success of the platform will depend on the apps built by developers. Google announced the Mirror API a few months ago, and announced the new apps built on top of it at Google I/O. Apps from Path, The New York Times, Tumblr, Evernote and Elle were all demoed at I/O, and gave us a glimpse at what this platform is capable of.

Google also announced a GDK (Glass Development Kit) to build native Glass apps. The GDK isn’t available yet, but this will soon allow designers and developers to unlock the full power of Glass. The GDK will also let developers build Glass apps using familiar Android tools and frameworks, permitting access to all of the device’s hardware. Google didn’t demo any GDK apps yet, but developers are excited that native development tools are coming soon.

What’s next for Glass?

Glass won’t ship to users any time soon, but until then developers are eager to continue innovating on the platform. For those who don’t have Glass yet, but want to explore what’s possible on the platform, one way to do that is with this Glass simulator. The simulator helps prototype what an experience may look like on the device. There is also a Mirror API emulator written by Gerwin Sturm, which helps developers get a head start on learning what it will be like developing for the Mirror API.

Glass is an exciting step forward for hardware technology — giving you information when you need it, getting out of your way when you don’t. The convenience of having info at the call of your voice is very compelling, and something that we’ll all be watching carefully when Glass officially launches this fall or early next year.

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