By Barry Levine / Mobile Tech Today. Updated March 12, 2013.
Google Glass, the interactive glasses in development at Google, is now a platform. At the SXSW 2013 conference now taking place in Austin, Texas, the technology giant demonstrated for the first time several third-party apps for the new device.
The apps include ones for The New York Times, Evernote, Skitch and Path, as well as several Google apps like search, translation and Gmail.
The Times app, when requested by the user, will show a headline, byline, photo and number of hours since the article was posted. The user can then request that the article be read. In Gmail, a sender's photo and the message subject line appear and can similarly be read to the wearer. A reply can be dictated.
The Evernote and Skitch apps allow images taken through Glass to be sent and shared through those services. Evernote is a note-taking/archiving software suite and services, including Skitch, an annotation and sketching tool. Social networking app Path shows selected updates, for which replies can be dictated -- with emoticons added.
The presentation at a Glass developers panel at the conference also indicated four working design principles that Google is advocating for app development. There are "design for Glass," "don't get in the way," "keep it timely," and "avoid the unexpected." There is also an API for Glass in development, whose release date has not yet been announced.
All four design principles result from the fact that the platform is worn over the user's eyes -- in other words, the apps should be polite and speak/appear only when needed. The Times app has a setting for interrupting your attention only with breaking news, and Gmail can be set to show only the high-priority messages, assuming the user has set up the Priority Inbox.
"Design for Glass" is Google's shorthand to encourage development of apps that are not merely ports of existing ones, but that are designed or adapted for this new experience. "Avoid the unexpected" is intended to emphasize that, since the device is worn as the user moves through the world, developers want to eschew anything that interferes with normal activity. The best Glass apps, the company is saying, are those that add value to your daily peregrinations, not bring you to a screeching halt while you absorb the startling info.
'Not Hard to Imagine'
Without a mouse, keyboard or touchscreen, a central issue for developers is how users navigate and issue commands. To date, the means include voice-issued commands, head gestures and touchpad input. Moving your head up while you're in the Times app, for instance, results in the full story being displayed-- headlines, text, and photos. Touching a small touchpad on the side of the device can turn on the text-to-speech function, and a swipe on the touchpad is interpreted as a navigational control.
Charles King, an analyst with industry research firm Pund-IT, said that if Google can substantially bring down the current $1,500 price, the product could find a market among consumers and even among businesses. He pointed to phone workers climbing poles, "bike messengers, UPS drivers, factory floor managers" and the like as the kind of worker who could benefit from such hands-free access to information and communication.
King also said it was "not hard to imagine" that, once the device is on sale -- expected by year's end -- there could be significant application development, especially since Android-based Glass apps could be adapted from their Android versions for smartphones or tablets.