Google Glass

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Just before Thanksgiving 2013 I received a Google Glass invite into their Explorer program. This is a broader beta than the initial developer-focused beta but still not something I would deem as consumer-ready. These are the stories of my explorations.

Setting Up Glass and the MyGlass App[edit]

Sadly I needed to resort to a browser to get my Glass setup. I don't know why, probably something around Bluetooth discoverability being disabled before I figured out what was going on. Luckily the setup was pretty simple - associate a Google account, enter your home WiFi information, and have Glass scan a resulting QR code.

The MyGlass app and the website have very similar functionality. They show the Device Information and Location, they let you save contacts to your Glass (this is a subset of your Google contacts, I've got hundreds and don't want to scroll through them all to share something with the select few I care about), and they provide an interface into the Glass store. You can also use them to add a new WiFi network to your Glass, but perhaps the most useful feature is the ScreenCast. It displays what's on the Glass display and lets you interact with it. A little. You don't get the full power of a phone UI with a keyboard and a precise touchscreen, but you can scroll around as though you were using the touchpad on the side of Glass.

How Glass Works[edit]

First of all, Glass isn't recording you - you're not that interesting. The biggest invasion of privacy Glass presents is to the Glass wearer who will be stared at and pestered, a mobile phone is a better camera and there are much more subtle ways to secretly record you. Living in NYC does have the advantage of allowing me to point to a police security camera nearly any time someone asks if they're being recorded.

UI Basics[edit]

You've got a touchpad on the right. Primarily you use it to tap/select, swipe left/right to scroll through options, or swipe down as similar to the back button on an Android phone.

You've also got three buttons. There's a camera button on the top of the right stem, a power button behind the right stem near the rear, and a "Glass" button against your head that is used largely to detect when it's on your head and to be used as the bone conduction speaker.

Glass is designed around voice input, but you can often just use the touchpad to get most things going. Obviously there is no keyboard input, so eventually you'll need to start talking to yourself.

Glass is all about a timeline, each action you perform is timestamped and remembered. Swipe back from the main screen and you can see pictures you've taken, searches you've performed, and just about anything else. Swipe forward and you get effectively Google Now cards. I ended up with stock quotes, weather, and settings.

Prepare for Input[edit]

Glass is usually sleeping, the first thing we need to do is wake it up. You can do this by tilting your head up or by tapping the touchpad.

Now you can use the keywords "OK Glass" or tap the touchpad again. The former will present you with a list of phrases you can say (apps may add to this list), the latter will allow you to swipe through these options. I won't go through them individually because you can do that yourself. What I want to do is to explain how to perform tasks.

Take a Picture[edit]

The nice thing about Glass is that you can snap a picture of what you see pretty quickly, generally less than 2 seconds from full sleep using the dedicated camera button. It takes a while to figure out the framing, if you're left-eye dominate (like I am) it may help to close your left eye and see where the screen is and then pay attention to what gets captured. A common mistake I make is to align the image in the screen, in reality the screen is closer to the upper right corner of the framing.

If you can't reach the button for any reason, look up and say "OK Glass...take a picture".

The December 2013 XE12 release also enabled a Wink feature on v2 hardware that allows you to wink to snap a shot. The eye gesture sensor is remarkably accurate at not mistaking blinks for winks - even when I try to make it look like I'm winking.

That's about it. You can swipe through your timeline to view and share pictures, and they'll be shared to your Google+ account the next time your phone is connected to WiFi and charging.

Take a Video[edit]

Also pretty easy. Just say "OK Glass...record a video." If you're effectively making a panorama you get 10 seconds of video for free, if you want more you need to hit the camera button. I don't now if there's a way to do this via voice commands, remember that you're also recording audio so it would appear in the video.


Navigation could probably use some improvement. First, you need to be connected to your phone for this to work since Glass doesn't have a GPS natively. Then you say "OK Glass...get directions to...[insert address here]." It recognizes some keywords like "Home", but it failed to recognize one of my contacts. As a workaround I'd suggest creating a Google+ or calendar event with the address as the location. Sending an address in a card doesn't seem to work.

You'll also want to get Navigation started before you get in the the car. For my first attempt it didn't recognize that I was connected to my phone so I rebooted Glass. That had no effect so I rebooted my phone (toggling Bluetooth probably would have worked). That worked, but Glass wouldn't finish calculating the route so another reboot of Glass did the trick. Once that was done it worked the rest of the day.

This is one of the more useful apps despite my frustrations in setting a destination, a HUD-based GPS is certainly much more safer and more useful than fumbling for your phone when you're in a car. The bone conductive speaker also provides some tactile feedback, I can "feel" the chime of an upcoming turn a lot better than I could hear it if I was playing music in the car. Rather than glancing down at my phone, all I needed to do was tilt my head back a bit or touch the side of Glass to see how long until the next turn - I've found that this is a great excuse to check the rear-view mirror as well. In bright sunlight I tended to not be able to read the right side of the screen, but putting my hand over my right eye's line of sight let me read it (this is the time to arrival in most cases).

You're stuck with a heading-up view of the current location or a North-up view of the entire route. No custom zooming or rotation, but overall the views are useful. The time to trip completion appears in the lower right and is color coded. A red time means heavy traffic, yellow is moderate traffic, and green means you're no longer in the NYC area.

What also worked well is figuring we'd use the rare time we have a car to hit up Costco. "OK glass...stop directions...ok glass...directions to...Costco" and we were off to the nearest Costco.

You can also swipe through to change the type of direction from car to walking or mass transit. Despite setting the default mode of transportation to Walking and having Now claim it's 15 hours to my mother's place Glass had no issue with recognizing that I'm travelling by car by default.

In short, people trying to ban Glass in a car are idiots who don't understand what Glass is.


There's a dumb built-in browser on Glass. You can search for any content you like and pull it up in a webpage. The rendering isn't bad, but the screen is tiny and low resolution. You can scroll up and down using the touchpad, you can zoom with a two-finger slide along the touchpad, and you can aim by holding two fingers on the touchpad and moving your head around. There's a little bull's eye that lets you select links. It's fine for some basic searches and information retrieval, but anything serious would be much better if you pulled out a phone/tablet/PC. I would also recommend the Send to Google Glass Chrome extension to send URLs rather than trusting voice recognition for any specific sites.

Hacking Glass[edit]

Glass is for developers and power users right now, if you're a plain consumer don't expect to get your money's worth.

Pairing Bluetooth Devices[edit]

You can pair a number of Bluetooth devices like keyboards to Glass using this procedure. I haven't had the time to get this deep into Glass Hacking so I'll just leave the link for reference rather than doing a detailed blind writeup.

Sideloading Apps[edit]

First you need to enable debug mode. Enter Settings, touch Device Info, and swipe to Turn on debug. Now you need to install adb, frankly if you haven't done this on your Android phone you may not want to try it out here. To install an apk you just need to plug the USB port into your computer and run:

adb install [apk_name].apk

App Sources[edit]

The Official Glassware Store doesn't need anything special. You install via the phone app or website.

You can also find non-vetted apps on teh Interwebz but like most third party Android markets, use common sense when installing:

Misc Information[edit]

The user agent string for build XE11 is as follows:

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 4.0.4; en-us; Glass 1 Build/IMM76L; XE11) AppleWebKit/534.30 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile Safari/534.30

As you can see, it advertises an ICS-based core but identifies itself as Glass - it may be suitable to use this string to create Glass-friendly webpages. Note that both SNI and IPv6 seem to be supported by Glass.

Glass doesn't seem to have any open network ports by default (the way things should be).

Glass Myths[edit]

There are a lot of myths around Glass.

It's recording all the time[edit]

No, it's not. There isn't enough battery life or storage to do this.

Everything is immediately uploaded to Google[edit]

Uploads happen only when on WiFi and plugged into a charger. This is done via the Google+ app and is just like the functionality on your phone that does the same thing.

You can get a virus by just looking at a QR code[edit]

Again, not true. In the early days there was a vulnerability, but you can't just look at something - you need to take action to scan a QR code (see above about battery life). QR codes do something, open a URL or connect to a WiFi network. URLs and WiFi networks can be used for good or evil, QR codes are no different from other mechanisms for initiating actions - you need to use common sense when clicking on a link and you need to use it when scanning a QR Code. Glass no longer acts on QR Codes automatically (assuming it ever did, never trust popular press!), so make sure whatever app you use to scan QR Codes tells you what it's about to do and prompts you.

It blocks your line of sight[edit]

This is actually done very well, it's no more distracting than thick-rimmed glasses. The prism display is just outside of your right eye's line of sight and it is usually off and non-distracting. This causes issues with augmented reality dreams of superimposing data over your normal vision, but it's a nice compromise to have an always-there screen for information.

I can't tell when you're recording me![edit]

OK, this one is a little true but it's no more true with Glass than with a mobile. To take a picture I need to either look up, say "OK Glass...Take a Picture" or (more commonly) tap a button in front of my right ear. Both of these are very obvious, unlike holding my phone up and pretending to check email while I take a picture of you. The new Wink detection feature in XE12 does push this myth into the confirmed state, with this you can wink and take a shot with only a ding (possibly into an earpiece) and a glow from the screen to give the shot away. However, the idea that Glass itself is pretty obvious still applies, don't assume that someone from Glass is interested in recording you and don't assume that someone interested in recording you is wearing Glass - a button camera is much more discrete and much cheaper.

Recording video is a little more tricky since I can start it before you even see me. The prism will display what the camera captures, so you can see the light from it while I'm recording but you will see the same light if I'm doing anything with Glass or just happen to look up. But again, if I wanted to record you without your permission I'd take off Glass and use my phone. Or if I wanted to do it right I'd get a more subtle spy cam.

What Glass really brings about is it's there and aimed. If something picture-worthy happens I reach up and snap a shot instead of pulling out my phone, unlocking it (before I remember that I don't need to do so to take a picture with WidgetLocker), open up the camera app, aim, wait for focus, and shoot. But really, you're not that interesting so unless you get mugged and I want to get a picture of the thief there's no point for me to take your picture. Especially if you're a celebrity - I'm a New Yorker and you guys just get in my way and block my sidewalks.

First Impressions[edit]

First impressions are great, but I'll keep them near the bottom of this Wiki because they're usually wrong.

My first impressions were pretty much spot-on compared to what I would expect. The steep price tag is really just an investment into the idea of Glass, not much different from my donation to the Museum of Natural History. I don't expect to get the full value back, but I want to show my support for the promise behind the technology.

Glass needs apps. There are only a handful of apps for Glass and the ones that exist are not overly compelling. Battery life is questionable at best (something you're supposed to wear all the time needs an all-day battery). Some basic features are lacking and the UI could be more intuitive. Some people see this as evidence that Glass is DoA. These people apparently don't remember what they said about Android when it first came out. Most of the problems I have with Glass can be fixed through software. While the price is steep, the build quantities are low. Don't expect this to be a $100 item anytime soon, but at consumer levels the $500-1000 range seems practical.

The Display[edit]

Normally the display is off. When it's off it's nearly invisible, certainly no worse than thick-rimmed glasses. There's a slight loss of peripheral vision on the right but some sunglasses I've owned have a much worse impact. The display itself is just outside your line of sight, you need to look up to see it. While working in a dark room in front of a screen you can see the screen reflected in the lower part of the prism but it's not bad at all. In short, people who think Glass is like wearing a little TV in front of your eye are dead wrong.

The display itself is surprisingly easy to read considering the translucent nature of it. Obviously it's a very small screen, so think of what it was like when you were browsing websites on your phone in 2002.

The Audio[edit]

It's not really designed to be a high-end headset. The bone conduction speaker is actually not too bad, but realize that people around you can hear it as well. The mark 2 version has a standard earbud speaker which adds a bit of privacy and quality, but of course needs to be in your ear.

The UI[edit]

Here's the issue, all you've got a basic touchpad as an input and voice commands. And I hate talking to my devices. You can turn on Glass by looking up about 30 degrees, at this point you're presented with the time and a hint to say "OK Glass". Say this keyword and you're presented with a list of commands like "Google", "Record a video", "Get directions to", etc. So let's take a simple example of trying to get home. The conversation looks like this:

"OK Glass...(beep)...Get directions to...(beep)...Home"

It's a bit stilted since you need to pause every so often, but it's not bad. Unless you're in public. Now you're just some jerk with a camera strapped to his head talking to himself. But I'm sure that will pass as Glass goes public and people get used to it, after all there are all the Siri lovers to help normalize the insanity.

But what else can you do? Pictures and videos are of course one of the key components. But remember they're all Point of View images. The video app isn't bad. It defaults to a Vine-like 10 second video but you can record longer easily. Pictures are a little tougher. It's much easier when possible to hit the dedicated camera button, but the problem is there is no preview so you're just guessing what the framing of the shot is. And anything artistic means you're putting your head in that position so your phone is still a more creative camera.

You can also send quick messages. Once again, your phone may be a better choice unless you need to do voice dictation. One could argue that it's better to use Glass than voice dictation on your phone when you're driving, but this kind of ignores the idea that it's better not to bother with messages at all when you're driving. In public, I'd much rather type on my phone than announce my message to anyone within earshot.

You can also do video Hangout chats. This is actually a pretty great feature since the vast majority of the time I do a hangout it's so my mother can watch what my daughter is doing (who wants to see my ugly mug?). If your reason for video chats is "hey, look at what I'm seeing" this is a perfect way to make those calls.

You can also browse websites, but this isn't exactly a great use case since it's a tiny screen with limited inputs.

Beyond that, it's apps. Some are really just a proof of concept (there's a compass app that is really just tapping into a single sensor). Some are pretty cool (there's a translation app that will take a picture of something, find some text, and translate it). But most are just missing (I'd love an Ingress app to show me what Portals are around, or some way to get digital media content). But that is the life of an early adopter and I may try to get some things running myself.

Battery Life[edit]

Battery life is one of those things that's hard to tell from a first impression standpoint. While initially I was projecting a three hour life based on light use and the battery stats I'm now looking at closer to a respectable 8 hours. But really, Glass isn't doing anything most of the day so aside from looking up to check the time and to test things out in my down time it's just sitting idle.


I knew what I was getting into. I think there's a lot of promise in this technology and I'm certainly much more interested in this than some silly watch. It needs a lot of work, but part of what I'm trying to do is to help define that work and provide some solutions.

Feature Requests[edit]

There are a lot of little things I'd like to see that can make Glass a much better device for me.

  • <strike>Authentication</strike> Authentication was added in XE12 using a touchpad gesture-based system. This is reasonable in my opinion, but far from strong protection. Sadly, they also removed the Guest Mode which is ideally paired with the login process.
  • A2DP Support My phone connects to Glass using Bluetooth, adding an A2DP profile would let me stream music from any phone app to my Glass headset and encourage me to wear it more often.
  • Chromecast Support Even better would be Chromecast support, use my phone as a remote and have Glass stream the music/video directly. This would also let me access my Play/Netflix content, being able to watch a movie without disturbing everyone else would be fantastic.
  • Wireless Charging Something like Glass just begs for a wireless charging system.
  • Better Phone Notification Integration I don't like Glass as a standalone product, I'd much rather see it as an adjunct to my phone. When I get an email or a Hangouts message I should see a notification pop up on my Glass UI without needing to install a special app on Glass. Instead Glass is an odd hybrid, not really able to be a standalone device but also needing apps installed on Glass itself rather than a Chromecast-like API that other apps can interface with. UPDATE: Glass now supports Wear notifications which solves this problem.
  • Inputs on Glass ScreenCast You can view what's on your Glass display on your phone, but you can only interact with it as though you were interacting on Glass. I'd much rather be able to grab the Glass UI and use my phone to type an input or even to just touch a link instead of the aim-and-tap UI on Glass.
  • Weatherproof It doesn't need to be submersible, but it should be able to withstand a rainstorm. I'm guessing it's a lot more weather resistant than Google claims, but at $1500 a pop it's not leaving the house on a rainy day. There seems to be an issue with high humidity environments and the silver film over the prism.
  • Auto Sign-In on Google Pages When browsing the web on Chrome for Android it pops up a little window asking if I want to sign into a Google webpage. A similar popup should be enabled for the Glass browser, without a keyboard logging in is tough otherwise.

App Requests[edit]

  • Google Goggles This seems like a perfect fit, take a picture and identify it.
  • Skyline Identification Living in NYC, I'd really appreciate something that would turn on the video camera and identify buildings for me by floating a little flag above them. Perhaps Skyscraper Page could be used for some seed data.
  • Third Party Camera Apps Whether they're more feature-rich or think they have better algorithms than the stock camera I'd like to see what other people can do with a head-mounted camera.
  • Driving Apps I don't drive often, but it would be great to have some apps to counter the general fear around Glass and driving.
    • Something simple like if the angle of your head indicates you've nodded off play an alarm. UPDATE: DriveSafe has done this.
    • Similarly a HUD-based dashboard showing current speed would be nice, better would be Torque integration for other sensors. Perhaps using the phone app to set up the Glass dash. UPDATE: We now have SpeedHUD which is a speedometer/compass.
    • I really want iOnRoad to come out with a Glass app.
    • Develop a "Driving Mode" that silences alerts from most applications. This becomes a bit tricky, ideally a user should be able to whitelist applications individually since no two people will agree as to what's "safe" to do while driving. I'd also like to be able to whitelist contacts who can call/email/text while in driving mode, having something context aware would also be great so if I'm driving to person A's house his calls would be whitelisted even if he normally wouldn't be.
    • ZipCar integration so I could say "Directions to ZipCar Home" and have it plot a course to the ZipCar garage.
  • Ingress I'd love to have Glass pop on when I'm close to a portal and show me the ownership and level. For example, if I'm walking past the 72nd Street subway cluster and they're all L6/L7 green portals I may decide to hack. If they're blue I may decide to attack. Having to pull out my phone to do actions is just fine, I'm more looking for a HUD, perhaps with the Intel map.
  • No Media Apps Frankly I don't want to browse media on my Glass, I want to do so on my phone and stream it to my Glass. Sure, incorporating a voice search of my cloud media or my phone would be great, but the primary UI should be my phone. Barring that, the standard requests of Play, Pandora, Plex, NetFlix still fit. Video would be interesting on Glass, I can see paying attention to the video would cause eyestrain and headaches, but most of the time I feel the video isn't necessary - like watching TV while I'm doing other things having the option to look up whenever something interesting happens is great. Obviously some things would be much better on a big screen - thank you Chromecast!
  • They Live Of course, we really need an AR game based on They Live.