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Developing Google Glassware

By Daniel Cawrey / May 15, 2013


Google Glass has the potential to drastically change the mobile space, perhaps even more than smartphones and tablets. While it may take years for people to get used to the idea of having a wearable computer on their faces all the time, Google is banking on it becoming a fact of life.

If they aren’t already, mobile developers should be looking at developing Glassware, which are third-party applications. The New York Times has already released an app for Google Glass, and thousands are sure to follow. The most exciting part of the app ecosystem for Glass is that no one knows yet what the best use for this platform will be. So let’s take a look at some of the finer details of application development for Google Glass.

It’s not augmented reality

A common misconception about Google Glass is that it’s like a heads-up display for your viewing. It’s not. Instead, users must look up at a small screen that is perched above their regular line of sight. This is a basic tenet that needs to be understood so that development ideas for Glassware spring from this concept. While augmented reality is sure to come, it hasn’t arrived on Google Glass quite yet.

Glass code runs in the cloud

The application programming interface for Google Glass is called the Mirror API. Unlike most mobile platforms, the code that is run for Google Glassware is actually executed in the cloud rather than on the device itself. That means you’re running web-based services directly inside Glassware. The platform uses web-rich “timeline cards” to show information that utilizes rich media as well as HTML. Google has developed a four-point guideline for developers to keep in mind when working on Glassware.

Design for Glass

One of the most important things to keep in mind when developing for Glass is that it isn’t like other mobile platforms. It’s a device that’s always on and a part of the user’s everyday experience. Sure, Glass is based on Android. But it’s an Android experience that’s much different from that of a typical smartphone. Applications must reflect this.

Don’t get in the way

We’ve all heard this before, haven’t we? The idea of simplicity is not a new paradigm. Phones and tablets serve a different use than wearable computing for Google Glass. The Glass experience must be designed to stay out of the way. That’s starting to be something you’re seeing more often in mobile development, but Google wants developers to keep it in mind. The technology should be there when it’s needed, but unobtrusive when it’s not.

Keep it timely

Another design aspect Google wants developers to keep in mind is time. Applications should be up-to-date and always deliver fresh information. Glass is at its best when it’s delivering the information users want, when they want it. Making applications that help extend time and make people more productive is imperative.

Avoid the unexpected

Google wants Glassware to be very clear in its purpose and what information it stores or uses. Unexpected functionality is a nasty surprise on any platform, but particularly Glass.

Location information

Knowing a user’s geolocation in Glass is important, possibly even more than on most mobile devices. It’s clear that, for now, mapping services will be one of the prime uses of Glass and could be expanded into other geo-mapping concepts later. Users must share this information with an application, at which point the data is “subscribed” to be in the app. Notifications about location can be sent to an app every 10 minutes.

Sharing

Information sharing from one Glass device to another is an interesting concept that could create collaborative Glassware. Many of us are using software to work with other people on PCs, but imagine doing so in real time while having a conversation. Glass utilizes a contacts-based method of sharing where each device is a separate contact. You can share timeline cards within an app to your contacts using the API.

Glass offers us a glimpse into the future of mobile. While it’s indeed the very early days, the prospects of this platform are tantalizing to developers. Since the Mirror API is web-based, building Glassware is going to be different than developing on Android or iOS. Glass will, as a result, require lots of wireless bandwidth. The move shows that Google believes wireless carriers will improve their data network capabilities and that the majority of Glass users will be in urban areas where data penetration is high. This gives developers insight as to what kind of apps would best fit the lifestyle of those who’ll be wearing the device over the next few years.