Google Glass isn’t ready for prime time. Even Google knows this, which is why it hasn't shipped to the masses yet. Instead, Google floated a few units to “Explorers,” glorified guinea pigs who can enjoy the joys and trials of this cuttingest edge of cutting edge technologies. But nascent or not, Glass exists, and it works. Or at least it "works." Developers are still getting their feet wet, high-profile apps like Twitter and Facebook feel more like experiments than finished products, and bugs aren’t the exception, they’re the rule. But, you know, the thing turns on, and hears you say "Okay, Glass," and eagerly awaits your next command. Beyond the home screen, it’s up to Glass Explorers to wade through the good apps, the bad apps, and the broken apps, and we're right there with them. We went exploring, and this is what Glass can do; right here, right now.
And for those of you without Glass, hopefully we can help you live vicariously through our misadventures and humble GIF illustrations. Glass is a strange beast, and it can take a while to get used to and understand what it’s trying to do. Maybe we’ll make you jealous, or maybe you’ll decide Glass is a worthless piece of trash. Either way, we hope we can shed light on the mystery, the wonder, and the social awkwardness that is Glass.
We’ll be updating this list as new apps come out, and old apps are updated or made obsolete, so keep checking back. And if you see an app we haven’t covered yet, make sure to let us know!
Glass’ basic paradigm is one of a "timeline" full of "cards." Each card, when tapped, can reveal more cards, or present actions like "reply" or "delete." Some cards can be "pinned," which places them to the left of the home screen. Otherwise, cards are sorted chronologically to the right of the home screen.
While Glass’ best known interaction method is the verbal "Okay, Glass" prompt, most of the UI can only be operated by swipes and taps. Outside of the homescreen, the only time you’ll be speaking is when you’re composing a text reply to a card in your timeline (like an email message, or a tweet). While voice might seem like a gimmick, it’s actually preferable to the hypersensitive touchpad at times — we’ve accidentally tapped to share a photo with the wrong Google+ contact a dozen times, simply because Glass registers a tap instead of a swipe. At least when you’re talking you get a chance to cancel the action if you’re misheard.
Glass’ very simplicity means there’s actually a steep learning curve: You have to use Glass how Google wants you to use Glass, or it just doesn’t work. Also, you have to be really good at swiping and tapping.
When you first boot up Glass, after a long stare at the Glass logo, you’re presented with a URL to visit on your phone or computer to set up the device: google.com/myglass. From there you log in to your Google account (@gmail.com addresses only, for now), and begin a breezy setup to pair your device to that account. The big moment is when you enter a Wi-Fi network, which generates a QR code. Glass’ camera will recognize the QR code automatically and then join that network. Congratulations, you’ve set up Glass!
From now on, the MyGlass site will be your home base for Glass configuration — the device itself offers little in the way of preferences, it’s more of a viewer for the content and interactions you enable from MyGlass. It's also easy to overload your Glass with contacts and apps, and since deleting cards from your timeline is a pain, you want to make sure all your incoming content is quality.
We recommend you do the setup from a computer, because the next step is a pain: adding contacts. You have to enter a name manually, and then Glass pulls a contact card from your Gmail account. If your Gmail contacts are a mess (ours sure are), you’ll probably have to tweak each Gmail contact by hand to make sure the correct email address is at the top. And that it’s the right version of that contact — it’s all a little mysterious, but you’ll know you’ve got the right one if a profile pic shows up in MyGlass. Even then, Glass won’t play nice with everybody: for instance, the voice recognition won’t register "Jordan Oplinger" no matter how hard we try.
Confusingly, there is a second set of contacts, called Sharing Contacts, that’s simply comprised of your Google+ friends and Circles. Those require less management, but some Glass apps work only through adding themselves to your Sharing Contacts, so you’ll have to watch out for that and be sure to switch off any apps or friends you don’t want to accidentally share to.
Next you’ll want to install some apps. MyGlass offers a few apps by default, like Twitter, Facebook, New York Times, CNN, Google Now, and Path. You simply click the "on" button and the app will come alive. If you want other apps, there’s no app store to go to — you’ll have to hunt them down and install them yourself. Or you could refer to this handy little list.
We recommend you do the setup from a computer
MyGlass Android app
Google’s Android app for Glass doesn’t offer anything beyond the web app in terms of device management, but it does include two very important features: tethering and mirroring. Because Glass doesn’t have a cell radio, tethering to your phone is necessary for internet service on the go, and the MyGlass app makes it very simple. MyGlass finds nearby Glass devices and attempts to pair with them. A tap on your Glass to accept finishes the job. Unfortunately, while the setup is easy, keeping a connection isn’t, and we hope the Bluetooth reliability is a software problem that future updates can solve. Until then, a Wi-Fi hotspot might be your preferred solution, if your phone can handle the battery drain.
Mirroring is just a way to show what’s happening on your Glass screen on your Android screen — a "wow your friends feature" that’s much appreciated.
While the setup is easy, keeping a connection isn’t
Glass is not an all-purpose computer, it's a Google computer. All of its core experiences are based on Google+, Google Search, and Gmail, and there's no way to change that. The more of a Google ecosystem adherent you are, the more utility you'll get out of Glass. If you're okay with that, Glass can be a really slick, natural experience. If you're not okay with that, you should probably be in the market for a different wearable computer.
"ok glass" launcher
The main screen of Google Glass shows a simple clock, and below it the words "ok glass." If you say "Okay, Glass," you’re sent into a launcher that lists Glass’ primary functions. There’s no need to pause after saying "Okay, Glass" before the next command. For instance, you could say "Okay, Glass, send a message to Joshua Topolsky" in one breath and Glass will keep up with you (if Joshua Topolsky is one of your contacts). Unfortunately, it’s easy to misspeak and watch Glass eagerly perform the wrong command — like sending a message to the wrong Joshua. Worse, Glass can hear other people talking in the vicinity, and is likely to pepper some of their words in as well. Depending on your friend set, tapping through the menus might be safer. At least Glass filters out expletives and "unsafe" searches, but a clever troll can still find ways to prompt a disgusting Google Image search if you're not careful — we only barely dodged a "horse diarrhea" query at the office the other day.
Glass can hear other people talking in the vicinity
The first option in the launcher, Google Search, prompts you to "ask a question," but Glass doesn’t flinch if you just speak a regular search term. The results are wild cards, because for certain queries Glass delivers six beautiful, Glass-appropriate results, and others are simply a list of six unclickable links with short, usually useless descriptions. Glass Search works best when you do actually ask a question, like "How tall is Ryan Gosling?" instead of just "Ryan Gosling." When Glass knows the actual answer, it speaks the result out loud. (Ryan Gosling is 6’1", by the way). If you search for "images of Ryan Gosling" you get six photos of the man, and if you ask when the Knicks game is on Glass will tell you, but it doesn’t know how fast a cheetah or a giraffe runs.
Glass Search works best when you ask questions
"take a picture"
If you say "Take a picture," Glass will take a picture. It happens instantly, without any preview of what you’re about to get — the idea is to frame with your eyeballs, so hopefully you have Glass on straight. The photo is then flashed up in front of you, stashed in a new card, and synced privately to Google+. When you swipe over to the card and tap it, you get the option to share the photo with your Sharing Contacts (comprised of Google+ friends, Google+ Circles, and apps), or to delete it. Additionally, the photo is stashed in Glass’ physical storage, and can be manually transferred to your computer over USB.
The idea is to frame with your eyeballs
"record a video"
When you start recording, Glass will automatically start recording for 10 seconds, and with a tap you can cut the video short or extend recording indefinitely. After it’s captured, the video is stored on Google+ and shareable in the same way photos are — though not every service will accept shared video, and it's not always clear which ones will.
With a tap you can extend the recording indefinitely
"get directions to…"
If your search results include an item with an address, you can tap on it to get directions. Alternatively, you can request directions to an address or point of interest by speaking, "Get directions to" and your destination. The first time you do this, Glass will sternly warn you, "Do not manipulate this application while in motion," which you will tap to ignore and then be taken through turn-by-turn directions. The compass responds to your head motions, so you know exactly if you’re pointed the right way. You can tap again to see the entire route, or swipe over to choose between walking, driving, and biking directions — there are no public transportation directions available as of yet. If you exit out of the map, the destination will be pinned to the left of the "ok glass" screen so you can resume your trip at any time.
"Do not manipulate this application while in motion."
"send a message to…"
Saying "Send a message to" presents you with your list of hand-picked contacts. Then you simply speak your message and Google will transcribe it. When you stop talking you have a brief moment to swipe and cancel, and then the message is sent automatically — typos and all. It’s sent as a regular email from your Gmail account, with a "Sent through Glass" signature, and a card will show up in your timeline. Replies show up inside that card, just like with all Gmail conversations on Glass, and you can continue the conversation at any point by tapping "reply."
Speaking of Gmail, Glass shows some messages from your Gmail inbox, but not all of them. It seems queued off of emails that Gmail flags for your priority inbox, but that can be a little mysterious — like with all things, Glass won't become your primary Gmail interface, only a small supplement. The account we used Glass with wasn’t a high-volume account, but we’re curious how others will handle the influx of emails into their timelines.
The message is sent automatically — typos and all
"make a call to…"
If you’ve paired your phone with Glass, you can make a phone call to one of your contacts. It works fine, but you’ll have to decide for yourself if Glass’ bone conduction speaker and microphone are sufficiently loud for your conversation — much more than a quiet conversation nearby can easily drown you out.
Much more than a quiet conversation can easily drown you out
"hang out with…"
Hangouts couldn’t be easier on Glass. From the home screen you speak "Hang out with…" followed by the name of your chosen friend or circle, and they’ll be invited automatically. Conveniently, Google just unified Hangouts across its services, so your friend is more likely to notice your call — in our experience, an unsolicited hangout is typically an unfulfilled hangout. Also in our experience: Hangouts are horribly buggy and unreliable, so be sure to pick a very patient friend that doesn't mind attempting a dozen calls before one connects.
Once connected, you’re treated to a view of one of your Hangout participants at a time, based on whoever is speaking, while they see what your camera sees. With a tap you can enable the names of the participants, in case you’re chatting with strangers or your friends are wearing masks. Like with phone calls, it can be a little hard to hear Hangouts participants, especially when you’re talking to multiple people at once, but the novelty factor is high enough to tolerate the impracticality of it all.
The novelty factor is high enough to tolerate the impracticality
Our Google Now card seems mostly concerned with the local restaurants available at any moment, but every Now experience is different, based on your location, activities, and whatever web activity of yours Google is tracking and Now-ifying these days — there are at least 25 "cards" that have been developed so far. Glass also has a very beautiful, simple weather widget that’s always available to the left of the home screen. It's Glass' reliance on serendipity that's both its greatest strength and greatest weakness, and Now is the case in point.
Every Google Now experience is different
All third-party Google Glass apps ("Glassware," as Google calls them) are developed with what’s called the "Mirror API," which basically means all apps are presented in the form of cards in your timeline, not as core functionalities available from the main "ok glass" menu. No developer would be able to build an equivalent of Glass’ Map app, but they will be able to build a lot of New York Times app clones. Google wants developers to push HTML info to you, receive photos, videos, and text from you, and be happy about it. If history is any indication, developers won't be happy about it — just look at how long the iPhone lasted with web apps before Apple broke down and built a real SDK. Still, for now Glass is a content consumption and content sharing device, and it might stay that way for a while.
Of course, Google Glass can also be hacked to sideload Android apps (APKs), which can circumvent these limitations. We’ll mostly focus on legit apps, but some hacks are too good to pass up.
New York Times
Before Twitter and Facebook showed up, New York Times was the flagship third-party launch app for Glass — which was a little sad. Not that there’s anything wrong with the app: once activated from your MyGlass page, the Times will give you a new card once an hour with a roundup of new stories (there aren’t any preferences, so you can’t lower that frequency), along with an occasional lone breaking story. Inside the card you can scroll through the stories, and tap to have Glass read you a summary out loud, but that’s all there is. A share button wouldn’t go amiss, nor would an option to filter out subjects you just don't care about when you're wearing Glass — like politics, for instance.
A share button wouldn't go amiss
Twitter’s app adds a Sharing Contact, which lets you share photos from Glass to your adoring public. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t let you do standalone text tweets, and you can’t add a description before you upload. You can, however, compose text tweets when you engage with @ replies from people who you follow. But you can’t @ reply yourself, so nothing you say will be visible to all your followers — just your photos. Any tweet can be favorited or retweeted as well.
It doesn’t let you do standalone text tweets
Facebook’s Glass implementation is even more minimal than Twitter’s. Once activated, the app simply installs three new Sharing Contacts for distributing photo to the appropriate audience: Public, Friends, and Only Me — good luck never tapping the wrong one. Video uploads aren’t available, and while you can add a description to a photo after it’s uploaded (the posted photo boomerangs back to your timeline), you can’t see or respond to comments or likes. Also, Steven's name is Stephen, and we're not sure how to convince Glass of that fact.
Even more minimal than Twitter
Evernote lets you share photos with your Evernote account, which show up in your inbox as a "Note from Glass." While that’s the extent of the sharing functionality — you can’t tag or comment on photos after they’re uploaded, though Evernote can run text recognition to transcribe your handwriting — it’s kind of a relief to have a service on Glass that’s not dedicated to publicizing your life. Perhaps more interestingly, from Evernote you can push a note to your Glass timeline — like a shopping list, for instance — which could help sync up your Glass life with your real life.
A relief to have a service not dedicated to publicizing your life
Like everyone else, Tumblr adds a Sharing Contact to beam photos to. Unlike everyone else, Tumblr actually offers a preferences pane on its site to customize your experience: you can pick which of your Tumblrs you’d like to share with (the name of that Tumblr is what the contact will be), and set the frequency of Dashboard updates. Unfortunately, if you follow a lot of Tumblrs, your timeline will be inundated with posts, even if you select the "some" option instead of the "all" option. At least GIFs work, which beats Google's own apps — even stills don't show up in Gmail.
Tumblr actually offers a preferences pane
When the Elle app installs you get a preference pane to pick what news you want to receive from the fashion magazine. You can also input your sign to receive your daily horoscope. Elle’s updates come in various forms, from the basic single news item (which can be read aloud), to a gallery of photos (you can add clothing items to your "wish list"), to a fancy horoscope card. Coincidentally, our first horoscope? "Geek is chic today…" Boy, we sure hope so.
Our first horoscope? "Geek is chic today…"
CNN offers news alerts on Glass, much like New York Times, but with more customizability. The CNN preference pane lets you pick which topics you’re interested in, set a range of times to receive alerts, and even shows you how many alerts to expect per topic. What sets CNN apart is the video it delivers alongside the report, which loads when you scroll over to it. As bizarre as many of Glass’ functions are, CNN video news pushed to your eyeball really feels like you’re living in the future.
CNN video news pushed to your eyeball
Despite the name, Glassagram isn’t an Instagram-connected service, it’s simply a method to apply Instagram-like filters to your photos before you share them with others. After you install Glassagram, it shows up as a Sharing Contact. Once enabled, it allows you to share a photo with Glassagram, which will then reply with a batch of cropped and filtered photos. You select from one of those photos and share it in turn with another Sharing Contact, like Twitter for instance — it's not elegant, but it works. Too bad Instagram will never see the results.
Apply Instagram-like filters to your photos
While you can’t tweet text, GlassTweet makes it dead simple to tweet photos from Glass’ so-so camera. Once you’ve authorized the app and enabled it as a Sharing Contact, you simply tap to share a photo with it and it’s tweeted with the traditional #throughglass hashtag. The app feels pointless now that there’s an official Twitter app, but as we’ve seen on other platforms, people always like options in their Twitter clients. Perhaps GlassTweet can differentiate itself with the true Twitter killer app we're all waiting for: the one that makes text tweets.
Tweet photos from Glass' so-so camera
This is a YouTube upload app, which adds a Sharing Contact to upload your videos to YouTube through the typical tap-to-share interface. Fullscreen BEAM is one of the few sharing apps with "features," which is to say it has a preferences screen on the website that allows you to choose your timezone, default your videos to public or private, and tweet a link to the video once it’s uploaded.
Upload your videos to YouTube
Glass To Facebook
Like GlassTweet, Glass To Facebook couldn’t be simpler… or more limited. Once enabled, you simply share a photo with Glass To Facebook and it will post the photo to your timeline with a "Posted through Glass" description. Another app made irrelevant by the introduction of official apps.
Couldn't be simpler… or more limited
While unofficial, the Facebook updater app ThroughGlass easily outstrips the functionality of Glass’ official Twitter and Facebook apps. The features sound simple and logical enough, but they’re a breath of fresh air on Glass: You can send photos and text status updates to Facebook, and you can also see and reply to comments on the items you post. All you need to do differently is pin the ThroughGlass card so it stays next to your homescreen, ready for your submissions. Hopefully the big boys are taking notes, because so far none of the official sharing apps let you pin them as a card, and we're getting tired of scrolling through our Sharing Contacts.
Reply to Facebook comments on the items you post
Glassnost works exactly like every other single-minded photo upload app, except instead of uploading to Twitter or Facebook, it shares photos to its own nascent Glass-only social network. Perhaps a fully fledged app experience is forthcoming, but for now if you’d like to +1 or comment on a photo, you have to visit Glassnost in a web browser, which sort of defeats the purpose.
Its own nascent Glass-only social network
Glass To Do
A simple to-do list app which installs two cards in your timeline. Glass To Do’s "Add a New To Do Item" card lets you "reply" to it with a spoken message, which is then added as a to-do item in the "Your To Dos" card — the to-dos are stored in the cloud somewhere, but only accessible from Glass. To complete a task, you simply delete it. Unfortunately, while the "Add" card can be pinned, the list of to-dos doesn’t pop to the front of your timeline when updated, so it’s quickly lost in the hubbub of Glass life. Hopefully that’s a bug, and we’ll keep an eye out for an update.
It's quickly lost in the hubbub of Glass life
Thirst, a Flipboard-like virtual newspaper already available in web and app form, delivers news that’s trending on social networks, based on which topics you want to track. We set it up to track Google Glass news, naturally, and have received a handful of stories in our timeline over the past two days. Despite the "trending" status, the selections and represented publications feel a little arbitrary, but Thirst makes up for it in quality presentation. With Thirst you can have Glass read an entire article aloud to you, like or dislike the item, and email it to a friend. Only one word of warning: Glass can fall asleep while reading to you, so you’ll need to tap the touchstrip on occasion to keep it awake.
You can have Glass read an entire article aloud to you
Like all Android devices, Google Glass has a "debug" mode, and once that’s enabled it’s relatively easy to run unapproved apps on your device. Obviously, there’s always the chance you could mess up your unit, but that’s what "Factory Reset" is for, right? At this early stage, you might have to compile these apps yourself, or run them on Glass from the Android development kit, but it’s nothing you can't handle with a couple hours of how-tos and tinkering. There's also a Glass root available, if you're feeling really brave.
The most controversial and interesting app to come to Glass so far, Winky allows you to take a photo at any time with a simple wink of your right eye. It relies on a little-known "gaze detector" sensor on the inside of Glass’ frame, pointed right at your eye. For a "hack," the app is surprisingly slick and reliable. When it’s first run, Winky offers a configuration screen where you wink a couple times to calibrate Winky’s wink tolerances. From then on, whether Glass is awake or not, a similar exaggerated wink will set it off and a picture will be snapped immediately.
It relies on a little known "gaze detector" sensor
Final thoughts on first impressions
We know Glass is still in its early stages. We know "the apps aren’t there yet," so we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. We know Google is just getting started with this experiment. Still, as of May 20th, 2013, we can’t help but be judgmental. It’s sort of our job, and so we’ll let you know what we think anyway.
Glass is a slick implementation of the wrong idea. Google has worked so hard at making the device simple that it has succeeded too well — Glass simply can’t do anything Google hasn’t allotted for. Right now there’s little room for innovation by developers, because all third-party apps are trapped in a simple API that’s only capable of pushing and pulling data to and from the device. The API could grow, and Glass doesn't have to be this limited forever, but without the ability to process information on the device, most of the true power of apps on smartphones is lost here. Yes, most of the popular apps on mobile devices are games and social services, but the whole point of a wearable computer is that it should open up new opportunities: augmented reality, serendipity, ways to comprehend your surroundings, way to improve interactions with the people in front of you, and at least some sort of notetaking capability beyond sending emails to yourself. A game like Ingress should be Glass’ killer app, not Google+ sharing. Services like Google Search and Google Now will have to be smarter, not just simpler, on a device like this.
A game like 'Ingress' should be Glass’ killer app, not Google+ sharing
For a device that’s so likely to induce ridicule for the mere fact that you’re wearing a computer on your face, Google seems unconcerned with disabusing people of the notion that you’re a self-absorbed nerd who's fading from reality and becoming part of the Borg. There's not much of a "Hey, look what I can do!" feature, it's more like: "Hang on, let me wait for a push notification."
We expect many of Glass’ practical issues and bugs to fade over time: the lack of an app store, the unreliable connectivity, the constant computer usage required to manage your device, and the confusion between contacts, Sharing Contacts, and apps masquerading as Sharing Contacts. And we have to compliment Google on building a wearable computer that’s truly usable. But when will someone build a wearable computer that’s truly useful?
For now, Glass is the only viable consumer wearable on the horizon, our greatest hope. We’ll be watching carefully, updating often, and installing apps indiscriminately. We want to be proven wrong about Glass, but it just hasn’t happened yet.
Photography by Michael Shane and James Chae. Art Direction by James Chae.