9 Challenges Faced by Google Glass Developers
Test and Monitor | Posted April 24, 2014

Developing apps for Google's Android is usually smooth as glass. Developing for Glass? Not so smooth. Here are some complications that only Glassware developers will encounter.

Google refers to the people who sport its Glass, the technology that doubles as eyewear, as "explorers." But a more appropriate word might be "evangelist." That's because the many explorers I've met are passionately enthusiastic about their tech and can't stop talking about it…kind of like Game of Thrones fans or people on the Paleo diet.

Developers of Google Glass apps, a.k.a. Glassware, are also passionately enthusiastic. Sterling Udell loves developing Glassware because of "the sense of possibility.” He explains, “This is something brand new. You have the potential to do anything with [Glass] that in all likelihood nobody else has done before.”

However, these developers do face unique challenges, and by that we mean there's a face involved. Glassware developers have to rethink what they know about designing for a phone or a laptop, because Glass doesn't have a keyboard. Glass sits on the nose of your face—even though developing Glassware isn't as plain and simple as that,

1. You have to watch your apps.

Google's app approval process is about as laissez-faire as it can get without asking, "Who is John Galt?" Once you finish creating your app masterpiece, you can upload it to the Google Play store. Google only takes it off the virtual shelf if it violates the company’s terms and conditions, but for the most part, their gates are more open than closed.

But the hands-off approach Google uses for Android app submissions is not the same with the mostly hands-free Glassware.

Glassware developer Alex Gaber says that "privacy issues" are Google's foremost concern. You know that little light on the glass that lets Joe Glassless know he's being recorded? It's there because Google wants it there. In fact, Google banned a third-party Glassware app that turned off the light. (They also banned an app that allows Glasswearers to take a picture with a mere eye-blink. Glass shutterbugs have to use either a voice or a physical command, signaling to subjects that they're not on candid camera.)

The Glassware approval process is stringent in other ways. One developer created a gallery of sex positions for Glass-wearers who don't want to thumb through a physical copy of the Kama Sutra because their hands are obviously busy. Google shot it down like the Red Baron.

2. It can takes months to get approved.

As Android developers know, after you create your app, that's it. You're done. Have a margarita. Meanwhile iOS developers have to wait about seven grueling days to hear whether they have Apple's seal of approval for the App store. But seven days is peanuts compared to Glassware's wait time. According to Gaber, "It can take five months to get approved."

It seems that Google is curating its MyGlass library very carefully, even strictly. But the company is not just harshly withholding its love like that actor you're stalking. Glassware developer Allan Firstenberg explained that Google "will work with the developers to make sure their Glassware meets their design criteria… and that what's being put into its MyGlass page is a great representation of Glassware." Firstenberg went through multiple iterations of his Glassware, with Google offering suggestions at all stages. But the results speak for themselves: "The Glassware that got released was a lot better than when it went in."

3. You're not getting paid.

My interviewees estimated that there are between 40,000 to 55,000 pairs of Glass in the world—with more to come. That's a nice chunk of potential revenue for the eager developer who gets in on the ground up (without resorting to enslaving PCs to mine bitcoin).

Except that Google won't let developers charge for Glassware. Those contributions to Glass are just that: a contribution. All Glassware work is currently pro bono. Considering the plans that Google have for Glass, that's a lot of money developers won't be getting.

Gaber said, "Hopefully in the future, Google will open ads and share revenue with us app developers as they're doing with Android developers and admob."

Gaber did manage to get paid by developing Glassware for a well-known (and non-disclosed) company.

4. Don't even think about selling your apps on your own

According to Flurry.com, Android users are less willing to shell out money for their apps than for Apple's. However, developers still manage to monetize their work on Google Play, as well as selling their apps on their own site.

Glassware developer Yosun Chang said, "Software developers, especially indies, have always used their own websites as a way to sell their own software. This goes as far back as pre-smartphone app days, classic desktop apps."

But when it comes to Glass, Google isn’t having any of that.

Chang said, "You're actually not allowed to sell your own apps on your website, even using all Google services from Google Wallet to Analytics to AppEngine. When I tried selling a simple shooter game I made on Glass, my API keys were banned last October."

You've been warned.

5. You sort-of need Glass before you start developing.

Although you can develop for Glassware without Glass, thanks to its operating system —an add-on to the existing Android OS that allows developers to use the usual Android development tools—there are still, according to Glassware developer Yosun Chang, "design considerations." Even with an emulator, Chang says, "Your font may be legible on your computer, but on Glass, with the difference being projected in front of your eye, the look and feel might be different." That means you have to wear it if you want to share it.

Firstenberg said, "It's difficult to understand the UX and the UI without having a device. I can describe [Glass] to you, but it isn't until you put it on and use it that you begin to get an appreciation for the difference. I can understand [Google's] initial desire not to release emulators."

Luckily for the people who don't have access to Glass, or just plain can't afford it, "The user community has stepped up to provide emulation-like services, and there are people who created emulators for the mirror API," Firstenberg says.

6. No, really, you need Glass before you start developing.

Let's say you have your emulator running and you're ready to develop another sex positions app. But first, you need to scope out the competition. You can browse the list of Glassware at MyGlass. Oh, but wait, you can't see it until you synchronize your Glass first. Which means you need Glass.

As Udell pointed out, "You can't even see the list of apps [emphasis mine] that are out there without owning the device first." (Currently, the only "official" Glassware apps you can peruse can be found here.)

In other words, unless you have a friend who will loan you their Glass, you have to shell out $1,500 plus tax just to determine whether or not the app already exists. Damn, that's dumb.

7. All of your hard work can be easily undone.

Udell said, "There's two sorts of Glassware: the mirror API, a web-based API that has been around for a year and is far more mature; and the Glass development kit (GDK) that they just released in November and is in a state of flux." Udall is of course working on a GDK-based app—and right now, Google isn't accepting those apps into its official MyGlass list.

Fistenberg explains Google's reasoning: "We know that the foundation that Glass is built on in the software level is going to be changing at some point in the near future. Google don't want apps in the [MyGlass list] that will break in the next release. Not they may break. They will break.

"We can be working on something, and tomorrow they release an update, and everything we're working on can be changed. It's an exciting time to be a Glass developer, but it's also challenging."

As Firstenberg points out, "Glass is still very much in its infancy," and so is development. And everyone anticipates growing pains.

8. You have to think about every interaction.

Glassware is different from any other app you may develop, and it's not just because your users are free of the confines of a mouse and keyboard. Or the screen resolution is a mere 630 x 360 pixels. Or you're developing apps for hipsters.

No, Glassware is different because it's not meant to engage the user. Glassware is supposed to be used and ignored like a bad one-night stand.

Udell said Glassware "is a different design philosophy. The user isn't immersed in the same way; it's at the periphery of their vision. The word Google likes to uses for it is 'glanceable.'"

Firstenberg, who says that most Glass interactions happen in five seconds or less, says Glass is much more personal than a cell phone. "It's on your face. It's very immediate and very direct." While he can ignore email on his cell phone, "If it's in my face it's more of an interruption. As a developer you need to manage how the user is going to deal with it and not interrupt as often."

Google has offered UI advice on design to future Glass developers, including:

  • "Don't try to replace a smartphone, tablet, or laptop by transferring features designed for these devices to Glass. Instead, focus on how Glass and your services complement each other, and deliver an experience that is unique." And
  • "Focus on a fire-and-forget usage model where users can start actions quickly and continue with what they're doing."

9. It's actually harder to find Google Glass information than you think.

There are, of course, unofficial apps. But if you're looking for more, you may have to look harder: As Gaber put it, "Everytime I search for Glassware on Google, it comes up with a Bed, Bath, and Beyond registry."

Is it worth it to create Google Glass applications? You tell me.

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