Glass Just Got Way More Interesting

It feels like over the last year, Google Glass went on a roller coaster ride that spanned the first half of the infamous hype cycle. It went from rumored prototype to completely overhyped object of one of tech’s most spectacular demos to the butt of jokes on late night TV. Until this week, however, we never quite saw what Glass was really capable of because Google had purposely kept many of its capabilities back from developers. The way developers created apps for Glass until now was more akin to writing a web app than writing an app for the Android operating system Glass runs on. With the “sneak peek” release of the Glass Development Kit (GDK) this week, however, Glass can finally live up to its full potential.

While it was always fun to get alerts for breaking news, Field Trip notifications about cool stuff around you and use Glass’s built-in navigation tool, the field is now wide open for way more interesting applications. None of these apps, however, run on the device itself. As Google notes, if your app needs real-time user interaction and access to hardware, the new GDK is the way to go, while the older Mirror API will remain available for all other kinds of apps (and developers can combine both, as well).

The GDK makes augmented reality apps on Glass a reality, for example. At the GDK launch, Word Lens for Glass also made its public debut, for example, which is probably the coolest Glass app available right now. Just like Word Lens on your phone, the Glass app can take any text you look at and translate it word by word. It’s not a Google Translate-like machine translation but simply a dictionary-like experience that doesn’t take context into account, but it’s still a really cool way of using Glass and shows the potential of the technology.

I’m not much of a golfer and barely ever venture beyond par 3 courses, but SkyDroid’s GolfSight rangefinder, which also launched this week, is probably something most avid golf fans would happily pay for, while runners and cyclist will want to try the new Strava apps for Glass.

Until now, Glass was a glorified and expensive smartwatch and was often compared to them. The apps you could run on them really weren’t any more interesting (and in some ways more limited) than what Pebble owners could experience for far less. There won’t be a Word Lens for Pebble, though, and there won’t be any augmented reality games either. But now, augmented reality user manuals don’t seem all that far off and I’m sure the developers at metaio and other augmented reality firms are looking at what they can now do with the Glass platforms.

It’s not just about augmented reality, though. Virtually any cool app on your smartphone that uses advanced graphics can now run on Glass (once it’s been optimized for the small screen, of course). If Flipboard wanted to do a Glass app, it could now use its signature animations. Rovio could make a 3D version of Angry Birds where you decide the slingshot’s angle by tilting your head. But given how new the Glass platform still is, there’s room for really basic utility apps, too. Google just released a timer, stopwatch and compass app for Glass, for example. Even those kind of apps weren’t possible before.

It’s worth noting that for the time being, Google isn’t letting any of the new apps into its “Glassware” directory and you still need a Glass unit to actually start coding these new apps. Once the GDK officially moved into “developer preview” status, we’ll likely see quite a few more apps in the directory. Over time – and once Glass goes on sale to everybody – Google will surely add options for paid apps and other features as well. The company clearly wants to make sure it has a full set of interesting apps available at that time, though, and the GDK sneak peek is the first step in this direction.