What's new with Glass since it launched?

New features and fixes have quietly arrived on Glass headsets since its launch. Here are the highlights.

Credit: Image via Wikimedia commons.

Google Glass made some big waves when it was launched in the late winter of 2013. Depending on where you looked and what you read, it was: the end of privacy, a stunning play for the future, a sign of our information addiction, a great capture tool for skydivers, a sign that Google has no idea what people actually want, or a bit of all those things.

Since its launch, Glass has quietly iterated with each new software release. It is still not available for public purchase and use, but more people are trying it out, sending feedback, and quietly improving it. More on that after I set the scene a bit more.

But really, at the time of its launch, Google Glass was a visor that could take pictures and video, give directions, search the web by voice, and respond to phone things, like messages and email and Hangout invitations. I wore Google Glass heavily for 24 hours, and then wore Glass for a week straight, and I came to this kind-of conclusion:

After the initial testing, Glass has become an "extra thing." It's something I might wear if I know keen photos are a possibility, or if I'll need heads-up navigation, or just want to freak people out. It's nowhere near a part of my everyday life. Until it somehow breaks its chicken/egg lack of ubiquity, there will not be much demand to bring it along.

Since then, what's new? Quite a few things. Bring on the bullet points:

New apps: When I picked up my Glass headset, there were just a handful of apps available to activate: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Path (the social media aggregation/sharing tool), news alerts from CNN and the New York Times, Evernote, and, of course, Google+ and Gmail. Oh, and fashion news from Elle. Since then, a few new toggles you can tap to get messages and share things:

  • Google Now, for all the contextual weather/sports/calendar items you get on your phone.
  • Evernote, for all those things you want the internet to remember for you.
  • Fancy, a seemingly cool and hip shopping app.
  • KitchMe, an intriguing step-by-step cooking companion that I'm eager to try (but can't figure out how to really use).
  • Mashable Velocity, which "alerts you when news stories start to go viral." So you can immunize yourself, I suppose.
  • SportsYapper, which sounds like a 30 Rock's parody of sports shows, but is in fact a source for "scores, schedules, and game data"
  • Thuuz Sports, which is yet more sports.
  • Field Trip, Google's "guide to the cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you" (which also has a semi-hidden tie-in to Google's augmented reality game Ingress.

A "full" browser: You wouldn't want to skim the Washington Post with Glass, but if you search for something and want to see the results in your eye, you now can. It's an interesting finger-based navigation system, with a kind of crosshair you move around to select and click links.

More hands-free operation: One of the big disappointments on the journey from "Cool Glass video" to "I'm using Glass" is how often you have to raise your head or tap the headset to get it responding to you. With each release of the Glass OS (Glass XE), you get more hands-free options. Now you can tell Glass at any time "OK Glass, read aloud" to hear a message or email or search result, or "OK Glass, reply" to skip the two taps that get you to a reply. Eventually you'll see universal voice listening—if they can keep it from further limiting the battery life. Speaking of which:

"Vastly improved" standby battery life and accuracy: It's still not an all-day driver, but Glass is supposedly much better at not eating battery life when it's not doing much at all. I need to do some tests.

Better low-light photos (through automatic HDR): When you're snapping a shot that doesn't have a lot of light in it, Glass will automatically snap an HDR copy of your subject, so it might improve the exposure and other aspects when it uploads to Google.

No need for Bluetooth tethering (on Android): I haven't been able to make it work quite yet, but you can now connect your Glass to mobile data directly through the Glass app (at least on Android). That's a good $20-$40 per month off the already hefty cost of Glass.

What else is intriguing around Glass these days? For a while, you could follow the GlassXE blog, though it has been quiet since August. Engadget has been following along pretty closely. And, you know, we do our part, too.

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