Google Glass apps: Striving for the familiar (hands-on)

Suddenly a lot of big names are offering Glassware for Glass: Twitter, Facebook, CNN, Evernote, and more. The early days of Glass are all about not being as paradigm-breaking as you think.

Scott Stein/CNET

To hear the news today, yes indeed, Google Glass has a number of new apps available for it: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, CNN, Evernote, and even Elle Magazine join The New York Times, Path, Google+, Gmail, and Google Now, starting today.

But, what does that mean? For those who haven't worn Glass (and that's most people), hearing "apps" suggests standalone ecosystems, like iPhone or Android apps. Actually, that's not what they are at all.

As far as Facebook and Twitter on Glass go, there isn't really all that much to it: the Glass apps (or "Glassware") really just add the ability to share to either service from within Glass itself, or push tweets and posts. Imagine how Glass already works with Google+, add Facebook and Twitter, and there you have it. It feels basic and unsurprising...and that may be exactly how Google wants it.

How it works: Facebook and Twitter
From what I've seen so far, you can get certain tweets and direct messages sent to you in little pop-up card notifications, as with many other Glass apps. I see a little tweet mentioning myself and an article pop up in the corner of my eye like closed captioning on a TV.

Sharing is pretty simple: you snap your picture, then when you tap the Glass touch pad to "share," you scroll through your enabled contacts: Google+ and its circles, and also Twitter and Facebook (public, friends, or private). Adding these extra destinations and social shells happens on the Web via the Chrome-like MyGlass user page, like many Glass services do. The settings then push down to the Glass unit itself.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

For Facebook, in theory you can add captions to photos after posting, but I couldn't get that part to work. In Twitter, you can respond, favorite, or retweet tweets you receive with a tap and swipe on the Glass touch pad. Easy enough, but when I tried speaking my tweet response, it mistranscribed; it's like using Siri to tweet.

Gunning for simplicity
All these apps do one of two simple things: push news and headlines to Glass as little pop-up notifications, or link out to more ways to share photos and text.

To listen to the early developer sessions at Google I/O today, the goal seems to be "not to surprise." Which is funny, because Google Glass is an utterly disruptive concept and piece of hardware. As if sensing the social pushback on some of the fears around Glass -- some legit, others unfounded -- the approach for early-phase Glassware using Google's existing API seems to be all about simplicity.

Seven new apps are now available for Google Glass, including Twitter and Facebook. Screenshot by Bridget Carey/CNET

Right now, Glass apps appear as services that can be activated via Glassware -- if you log in to your Web account or the MyGlass app on Android, each app has a small box with its own on/off switch. It's a little like managing Chrome apps.

From there, many of these apps have their own control panels to adjust settings like how many news stories get pushed to Glass, and what type.

News: Kind of like getting summary flash cards
For CNN, the NYT, and Elle, news update cards join a flow of Google Now-like cards that flip back in time. You swipe and scroll through the stack. It's a little bit like managing notifications on a smartwatch (or, even on a smartphone), except these notifications show up as full-screen cards of information when you're wearing Glass. Imagine if every few moments a quick notification just appeared in the corner of your eye with a breaking story. The content stays simple: a few sentences, and maybe a brief streaming video. You tap to get the story read to you, or discard it with a swipe.

Screenshot by Bridget Carey/CNET

What did it mean for me? So far, I get little pings every once in a while: some tweets I'm mentioned in, direct messages, certain news stories from Elle or CNN or whatever.

Sharing: Useful but basic
For Facebook, Twitter, and Path (and Google+), you're basically allowing the Glass Web app to tie your various privacy levels and contacts into who you can reach out to and share with. A photo, when you hit "Share," now can go to Twitter, Facebook (Friends, or Public, or just you), and whatever G+ circles and contacts you've set up on the Web page.

I keep dreaming of a fully immersive Glass experience, but the current apps, created with the Mirror API, are clearly meant to be baby steps. These are all about quickly and easily sharing bits of data, and ideally in an unobtrusive way, per the development seminars at Google I/O today.

Screenshot by Bridget Carey/CNET

Again, think of smartwatches . It's like the basic way that the Pebble serves up bits of information -- except, with Glass, you can share back with photos or text...sometimes.

But to call them apps confuses the reality; they're more like connected services. You don't really launch them. They just work once you've authorized them...or, they don't.

There's still more to come, via a GDK (Glass Developer Kit) that plans to allow apps that work offline, real rich apps that can use the accelerometer and maybe do the sorts of things Glass feels like it should do: immersive, magical stuff. For now, these early apps look like a way for big companies to get on board, and for Glass to be able to connect out to as many networks as possible.

 

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