10 things the perfect Google Glass news app should do

Posted by – June 25, 2014

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Google Glass was noticeably absent from today’s Google I/O keynote address, but Google’s vision for Android and the wearables that it eventually powers was the chorus for the event. And I’m excited to see where that vision goes next, whether or not I become a smartwatch person.

I’m still holding out hope for Glass, though, and I’ve got an idyllic imaginary lifestyle in mind that could make use of it regularly—if it only had the right apps. Right now, the games are fun in a beta-version, novelty kind of way. The camera and sharing functionality is fine. And I dig the Tumblr and Twitter options. One thing persistently bugs me, though. (Sorry, two things. The one I’m not writing about in this post is how crippled Glass still feels when used with an iPhone.) The one I am going to write about here is the news app situation. CNN, Mashable, The New York Times and others have all put considerable efforts into their Glass presences, but none seem to have found recipes that look like they’re ready to define the Glass news experience just yet.

Here’s what the app that rules this space is going to have to do.

1. Realize that Glass isn’t naturally a home for clickbait. I’ve turned off a handful of apps just because—quite honestly—they’re useless. I like Buzzfeed and Mashable viral content as much as the next Internet user, but I don’t want an RSS feed of lists and hollow humor reads on Glass. That’s just not what I want to use this tool to experience. I’ve even checked boxes for the types of news I want only to get entertainment features and in-depth, not-necessarily-timely stories that frankly, I just don’t want to interrupt my midday behavior to examine (I’m looking at you on this one NYT).

2. Don’t make me read the full thing on another device. This drives me crazy. I’ve seen headlines that don’t give me concrete ideas of what their stories are actually about. Even worse, I’ll click through (or do the equivalent on Glass), only to find out that I’m not even looking at an article that I can experience. When I first downloaded the NYT app, it basically just seemed like an RSS feed of short advertisements for articles I could experience if I were looking at my phone, tablet or laptop—it wasn’t even giving me useful, absorbable information.

3. Give the reader useful, absorbable information. CNN actually has the seed of a really solid idea going with its app. Glass is a great platform for short videos. And video with audio is an excellent way to communicate news stories in a little window. Give me a clean, straight news headline with a 30-second clip of an intelligent reporter talking any day. (Just don’t give me garbage filler content with fluff items and uninformed reporters talking about how they don’t understand a topic. In other words, don’t just put cable news programming that I’ve already run away from in other places on Google Glass.)

4. Offer customizable breaking news options. The Breaking News app is one of the only things I give push alert access to on my iPhone—and for good reason. The second I see an app try to fill my opt-in feed with things I didn’t opt in expecting or wanting to see, I will shut it off. Don’t spew clutter. Offer a service.

5. Write for the medium. This may be redundant, but it gets back to the bad headlines and providing a compelling product beyond the click. Some people may want feature-y longreads, and there’s probably a market for that kind of app, but mixing up content written for print or the Web in a feed with content that actually reads or watches well on Glass only pollutes your product.

6. Give a regular and/or reasonable expectation for how much content you’re going to put out. There’s an alternative to this one, which is just to post all good breaking items under a give topic or topics. But most publishers I’ve looked at so far are fairly irregular and post combos of hard/fluffy news items, old/breaking news or mobile/Glass-friendly and non-mobile/Glass-friendly content. It makes it hard to judge whether I want the app turned on, and in most cases, I’ve found it’s just not worth the hassle.

7. Offer sharing options. This is the easiest one on the list to nail, and some apps are warming up to it (but not all of them, for some reason). Your Glass app may be more a part of your social strategy than your distribution strategy, but either way, put a share option in there and play to the medium’s strengths to help circulate your work and attract users.

8. Make the experience feel personal. This is going to sound bland and encompasses some items from above, but Glass is a screen that sits closer to the user’s face than anything else they’re reading (and it likely will until Google’s crazy contact lenses hit the market). Single-reporter video is a great example of what I mean here. But the advice could be applied to tone in any of the news apps that are in the Glassware store.

9. Know your Glass reader. This echoes something every publisher needs to consider, and maybe it’s something news apps just don’t know yet about their Glass audiences. But all too often I feel like I’m getting news items that aren’t what I want on my menu. I may be spoiled by my sprawling Feedly and Twitter lists, but so far I can’t find an experience on Glass that helps me skim the most important headlines out of those soups in an efficient way.

10. Make some clear, objective-oriented design decisions. Google obviously did with Glass. The cards and feed have been sculpted in ways that make lots of sense, and they’re evolving. If apps like Flipboard and Circa can innovate and make homes for themselves on mobile, someone out there should be able to make something work on Glass. And when they do, it’s going to help define the next era for Android in ways I look forward to seeing.

2014 status check

Posted by – March 26, 2014

Dupont Circle fountain

Aside from the overabundance of snow in D.C. in Q1, 2014 has been a great ride so far. If you’re looking for me on a day-to-day basis, check out InTheCapital, where I stepped on as managing editor in January. It’s a daily news site for info about tech, innovation, politics, education and lifestyle goings on in Washington.

As always, you can find me on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook as well.

Google Glass mini-games: A review

Posted by – March 2, 2014

Google Glass has been a little short on new toys to play with in 2014. The latest news from the mother-hive is that there won’t be a software update this month; however, an upgrade to Android KitKat is in on the way (interesting!), and that could bring some help for Bluetooth support and battery life management. As those new items bake at Glass HQ, I’ve been nodding and swatting through the five mini-games that the Glass team has released. And though they feel extremely demo-ish, it’s interesting to see what they bring to the platform.

Google Glass game menu

If you tell Google Glass to “play a game,” you’ll see a menu with the options to try games called Tennis, Shape splitter, Balance, Clay shooter and Matcher. If I had to rank them from most fun to least fun, I’d probably keep them in almost the same order:

  1. Tennis
  2. Shape Splitter
  3. Clay Shooter
  4. Matcher
  5. Balance

Each one is an interesting exercise in the Google Glass interface capabilities, and as someone who really enjoyed the WarioWare games for the Nintendo DS and Wii, all five of these games made me curious to see what something similar could look like on this headset.

What follows is the good, the bad and the ugly of what’s beyond that menu as of March 2.

Google Glass tennis

Tennis should be a concept that come naturally enough to most users picking up Glass. The ball and the court are both familiar, though if you have played real-world tennis before, you are going to be tempted to throw out your neck in a fit of futile attempts to put spin on the ball. Nevertheless, after you fully grasp how simple the head-tilt controls really are, things get easy.

Google Glass Shape splitter

Shape splitter will make you feel much more like you’re in a Wii- or Kinect-like experience. Actual hand-waving is involved, and once you get a couple of seconds into the gameplay, you will realize (SPOILER WARNING) that you are actually just playing a simplified version of Fruit Ninja. Good grief, though. If Google Glass actually did turn into a full-on portable version of Fruit Ninja on Kinect, I think this puppy might finally have a single app that justifies the hardware cost.

Google Glass Balance

Balance is the epitome of a game I thoroughly do not enjoy but just sat through to see how it made use of the Glass controls. Blocks fall on your dotty-eyed character’s head. You have to tilt your head back and forth to try to balance the block. My recommendation for breaking your high scores on this one is to just line the Glass screen up with some flat-line reference points (like the edges of a shelf or door) and keep your head as still as possible. The controls are extremely sensitive, though, so don’t waste too much time on this one (unless you’re into that sort of thing).

Google Glass Clay shooter

Clay shooter is a lot more fun. It is a shooter after all. You use voice commands to launch your targets. Officially, you say “Pull” to launch your targets and “Bang” to shoot, but Glass is super-forgiving, and you can ultimately make up your own stand-in commands if you like. The targets explode into little rainbow fragments when you hit them, and you’ll find some motivation in trying to hit them all. Again, the concept is very basic (reminds me of a game on the old black-and-white RadioShack system I played in the ’80s), but inspiration is there.

Google Glass Matcher

And then there is Matcher. It’s a memory game in a 3D beehive full of hexagon tiles that flip over to reveal shapes and colors. The coolest thing about it is that you’re playing within a 3D space that you have to turn around in to advance. Like the rest of these mini-games, the experience never comes remotely close to Flappy Bird levels of addiction. However, the timer will give you something to return to as you attempt to get higher scores.

At the end of the day, I’d love to see any of these game evolve into more fully-formed concepts. Then again, that’s kind of what the Glass experience has been like on most front thus far. And that’s not necessarily a complaint; after all, everyone using a Glass set as an Explorer now is a beta-tester and/or developer. In the meantime, these games were enough to get my curiosity bubbling. I can’t wait to see what happens once we get into KitKat Land.

Google Glass: The verdict for now

Posted by – February 2, 2014

Google Glass vignette

Here’s the bad news: Google Glass has not yet become a magical life-changing piece of hardware for me. A few problems linger, and a few apps are still downright baffling for me. The good news, however, is that the software is evolving. I’ve played around with a few new apps since my last Glass post, and I still see the potential. It’s not a device that’s ready for a wide consumer audience quite yet, but it’s finding its way.

MYGLASS FOR IPHONE

Functionality for with iPhones has improved significantly since Google released this iOS app in December. Nevertheless, some frustrations persist. You can now get step-by-step directions with Glass when linked to an iPhone. Unfortunately, you need to have wireless hotspot functionality enabled on your iPhone to do that, and for many users, that privilege requires paying your carrier (in my case Sprint) extra money. I haven’t done that, so cannot yet bask in the wonder of a hands-free guide as I walk around D.C.

GOOGLE PLAY MUSIC

This app is fun. It’s sort of like a voice-activated Spotify. It may not understand everything you tell it to do — and consequently play you some Thai pop music when you request “Pixies” tunes — but if you’ve got an ear piece, it’s decent, and I like using it while I’m doing household chores.

As soon as the weather gets a bit nicer, I want to try out the Strava apps. I also just downloaded the Glass team’s new set of mini games, so expect to see some reactions to that in the near future.

Christmas in Seoul

Posted by – December 26, 2013

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I snapped this right before a flash snowfall near the Namdaemun Gate in Seoul this afternoon. The edits came via Big Lens and VSCO Cam.

Google Glass Review: The best and worst of it right now

Posted by – December 22, 2013

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Google Glass has kicked my expectations to two opposite ends of a spectrum since it was first announced. On one hand, it looks like an overpriced beta product that could potentially become little more than one more screen for receiving push alerts. On the other hand, there’s a sprawling world of augmented reality possibilities that it could eventually host.

Want to know what I’m talking about? Gary Shteyngart’s novel Super Sad True Love Story showcases a wide range of examples we might eventually see from Glass or a Glass-like device: instant Hot or Not-style breakdowns of everyone around you at a bar, online shopping distractions while you go about everyday life, and even credit score or life expectancy readouts of people you meet. I even wonder if an app like SocialRadar could be a bridge toward that kind of crazy environment in the not-too-distant future.

Anyhow, thanks to some successes at Industry Dive this year, as well as an invite to join the Google Glass Explorer program, I now have a Glass unit that I’ve been testing out in D.C. and Seoul over the past couple of weeks. Here are my initial reactions based on firsthand experiences.

WORD LENS
The World Lens translation app looks like it has a lot of promise (though I wish like heck that it supported Korean). I tried it out on a Spanish songbook the other day, and the way it seems to instantly Photoshop text to visually switch what you’re looking at to a new language is remarkable. The catch is that it may not always recognize text, depending on a variety of lighting and/or font conditions.

PICTURES
The new wink-to-shoot functionality that Google just rolled out is super fun. This isn’t a camera that’s going to provide you with shutter speeds or manual options that put your handheld cameras out of business. But it’s better than I might have expected. At times, it seems to take a while to back up to Google+, which is where you’re really able to access what you shoot for other purposes. But the social sharing options are very usable (if at times delayed).

TUMBLR
You may not view Tumblr in the same way after using it as a feed on Glass. Depending on how you have your account set up, you may literally walk right into experiencing a daylong flood of GIF animations and distractions as wide-ranging as the Tumblr users you follow. I’m actually contemplating setting up an extra Tumblr account right now, just so I can better refine what Glass shows or doesn’t show. Also, it is way, way too easy to accidentally re-post something with this app. I had an incident the other day where none of the images in my Tumblr feed were loading (probably a slow network connection); my Glass screen had stalled, and I only discovered about an hour or two later that I’d inadvertently re-Tumbl’d something I hadn’t even been able to see. So watch out for that.

THE NEW YORK TIMES
The New York Times has an interesting app in the Glassware library. I’m not totally sold on it right now, because it tends to deliver bundles of stories from all over the place. In an ideal world, I’d love to just get quick breaking news snippets, rather than seeing short descriptions of long features and human interest pieces that I’m not going to be able to read in full on Glass anyway. Still, the ability to get Glass to read those short descriptions to you as the photos and headlines come in is kind of neat. [Update: The CNN app seems to offer more of the kinds of customizations I wanted.]

JUST RELEASE THE iPHONE APP
Most of my Glass activity thus far has been with a portable hotspot that I picked up for the Korea trip. That’s been way better than my experiences tethering with my iPhone, but I’m hopeful that the impending iPhone app release will dramatically improve my Glass capabilities stateside when I return. I’ll post an update here after I get some time on the street with that. [Update: I've got the iOS app installed now. I'll have some more to say on that in a future post.]

Happy holidays from Seoul

Posted by – December 16, 2013

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For those who don’t follow me on Instagram, we discovered this killer cup of coffee at Takeout Drawing in Itaewon yesterday.

At long last

Posted by – November 17, 2013

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I’ve never seen Gwar or been to the 9:30 Club. Tonight, all of that changes. Advice is welcome.

48-hour vacation

Posted by – November 8, 2013

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If you need me this weekend, check the beach in Florida. I’ll be the guy by the water reading Alex Segura’s new novel Silent City.

Autumn in Dupont Circle—catch it while you can

Posted by – November 5, 2013

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I grabbed this shot on the way to work last week, but it already looks like it was a lifetime ago.