The First Six Months Developing For The Computer On My Face

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Editor’s note: Jon Gottfried is a Developer Evangelist at Twilio, Co-Founder of the Hacker Union, and a StartupBus Conductor. Follow him on Twitter @jonmarkgo.

Being one of the first cyborgs in the world, I have been privy to a unique set of bizarre experiences that have led to some early observations and theories about the future of Google Glass and wearable technology.

At Glass Foundry SF, among the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, the New York Times and Hearst, was a rag-tag group of independent developers building Ice Breaker: myself, Song Zheng, and Rajiv Makhijani. When I pitched the idea of creating a Google Glass version of the dorm-room game Assassins, I thought it would be an interesting tongue-in-cheek jab at the Terminator-esque form of this new piece of technology. I could not have imagined it would turn into a six-month secret project slated to launch at one of the largest tech conferences of the year. We were building the first (and only) game for Google Glass. We had a six-month head start, early access to the Google Glass Mirror API and Glass devices as early as they were available.

Developing applications for Glass is actually more similar to building a website than it is to building an Android application.

Let’s start off by talking about the reality of what it is like to develop applications for Google Glass. Like many of you, I expected it to be very similar to building mobile applications for Android. In fact, I began learning to build Android applications in preparation. My efforts were for naught, because the Mirror API is a RESTful web service. This means that developing applications for Glass is actually more similar to building a website than it is to building an Android application.

Once a user logs in to your application, they grant you permission to push “cards” to their Glass devices and to receive responses from it. It is purely asynchronous, and is not designed for real-time applications, such as an augmented-reality game or a Call of Duty-style, heads-up display. This will likely change with the upcoming release of the GDK, but for the moment you are restricted to building asynchronous applications. No problem for Twitter or Tumblr, where there is no need for instantaneous interactions. However, it certainly puts a damper on many of the science-fiction-esque predictions for Glass.

But there are still many reasons why I am excited about Glass and will continue to develop applications for it:

1. It gives us all a “nerdgasm.”

Developers love technology for the sake of technology. People flock to line up for product launches with the same excitement that a tween feels when they spot Bieber for the first time. Glass is exclusive, mysterious and futuristic. As the first wearable-computing platform to have even a hint of mass availability, it makes us feel as if we are truly living in the future. You could meet a thousand Valley founders all creating the “next big social network,” but no amount of SoLoMo innovation can match the excitement or fear that we will all soon be addicted to The Game, only to be saved by a young Wil Wheaton.

We have the opportunity to create the canonical user experience for wearable computers.

2. We are defining the future.

As developers, we have the unique opportunity to quite literally define the experiences that consumers have with technology. The first third-party applications for the iPhone set the stage for all mobile apps to follow. The same rings true for Glass. Whether or not the product itself is successful, we have the opportunity to create the canonical user experience for wearable computers. In the future, when there are both iGlass and Microsoft Senior Professional Heads-Up™ Displays for Business, they will all be modeled off of these initial applications for Glass – consciously or not.

3. There is money to be made.

While it is unclear whether there will be mass consumer adoption of Glass, it is obvious that this will be a valuable platform. Imagine being a real estate agent walking down the block and seeing information on all of the homes for sale without having to shuffle around with folders and papers. Imagine being a doctor who can immediately see the medical history for an unconscious ER patient without having to manually look it up on a computer and waste precious life-saving seconds. We are not yet comfortable interacting with these new cyborgs in social situations, but I have no doubt that there are an immense number of professional uses that will prove to be more valuable than the potentially awkward social stigmas surrounding them.

4. It is exclusive and attractive.

We are nerds. We have traditionally been at the bottom of the social pyramid. Sure, nerds might be the new rock stars in some circles. But the only thing cooler than a rock star nerd is a rock star nerd wearing a $1,500 pair of glasses that very few people in the world have even heard of, let alone seen in person. A friend of mine described it as the Air Jordans of the 21st century. Whether you are trying to network or get a date, Google Glass is truly one of the best conversation starters I have ever seen. And I promise you, the Glass Explorers are doing both.

This is a new frontier and we are still defining the social norms involved with wearing a computer on your face.

5. There is hype.

The press loves Glass. For now at least, every application is the first X for Glass. My app GlassTweet was the first Twitter client for Glass. Ice Breaker was the first game for Glass. And what reporter doesn’t want to be first? It is a perfect opportunity for a developer to build a reputation as a Glass expert, and I have already met many developers attempting to do exactly this.

There are always skeptics. And they would be right to be skeptical – this is a new frontier and we are still defining the social norms involved with wearing a computer on your face. Some have even proposed that providing developers with Glass before the general public will make it seem too nerdy or awkward – what average person concerned about their appearance wants to be associated with a naked geek in the shower?

I would argue that Google took the only option available to them. The only truly scalable products of the future will be developer platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Twilio, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Arduino – all of these products have been successful in large part by embracing and empowering their developer communities. No company is omniscient enough to imagine every potential use of their products.

This gives developers an immense amount of power to define the success or failure of an entire product line. If they innovate and create amazing experiences, it can pave the way for mass consumer adoption of a product, and if they fail or are mistreated by their platform providers, they can create a product wasteland. It is a symbiotic relationship, and ultimately these developers in the Explorer program will define the consumer success of Glass. People will forget about Showergate if the applications on Glass are useful or fun enough to outweigh the initial awkwardness associated with any new product.

All concerns aside, the hard truth that skeptics must face is that this is an inevitable evolution of computing. We will continue to debate the pros and cons of wearable technology for decades to come, but one thing is crystal clear: wearable technology is coming, it is inevitable, and Google is steamrolling a path to this unavoidable future.

Will you join me in defining this future or will you be defined by it?