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.