If you were one of the many people who watched that Google Glass video on YouTube earlier this year and got all excited over the possibilities, you might now find yourself, several months later, a little confused about what Glass is, what it can currently do, and where it's headed.
Glass exploded on to the tech scene, teasing consumers with its ability to recognise voice commands, place video calls, capture pictures and video hand-free, provide navigation directions, compose and send text messages, translate voices and serve up information based on location and history.. But 10 months after the Explorer Edition of Glass rolled out to testers, there's been an obvious haziness about what the device can really do now.
Google has promotional videos and websites that detail Glass in full, and it has given reviewers - such as Pocket-lint - plenty of time to give the device a whirl, though monthly updates make it hard to keep up with all the changes. As of 17 December 2013, there have been eight XE software updates since the original Explorer Edition of Glass released. That means there are far more bells and whistles available than what was originally shown off in that promo video from earlier this year.
If you'd like to find out more about what Google's XE software updates brought to Glass in terms of snazzy new features and signification improvements, read on. We've compiled everything you need to know, and we’ll continue to update this article as the updates release.
What is Google Glass?
Glass (short for Google Glass) is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display. The developer version costs $1,500.
Google X, which is a secretive facility overseen by Google-founder Sergey Brin, is working on Glass as part of the "Project Glass" research and development project and began testing it in 2012. In fact, Brin was often spotted wearing a prototype of Glass at events around Silicon Valley.
Later in 2012, Brin publicly demoed Glass at Google I/O. His presentation streamed live POV footage from skydivers, abseilers, and mountain bikers as they donned Glass. As a follow up to the well-received presentation, Google published a video in early 2013 that showcased Glass' abilities in the first-person POV.
The "How it Feels" Glass video quickly went viral on YouTube, generating excitement among consumers and spawning a slew of press coverage and parodies. Here's the original video:
What is the Glass Explorer program?
The Glass Explorer program is basically an early adopter program that began in early 2013, and it's available to both developers and consumers. They can test an "Explorer Edition" of Glass, and then report feedback to Google at their leisure. Glass testers are known as "Explorers."
Google also launched a complementary Glass website, where the company claimed it would make Glass available to a wider group of Explorers in late 2013, with even broader availability in 2014. Google's ultimate goal is to produce a mass-market ubiquitous computer. The consumer version of Glass will allegedly cost "significantly less" than the $1,500 Explorer Edition.
What is XE?
"XE" stands for Explorer Edition. And the original Explorer Edition of Glass debuted with software called XE4, likely because Glass rolled out the update in April (the fourth month in the year).
Google releases monthly software updates to Explorers, with each name changing in chronological order to reflect the progress (XE5, XE6, XE7, etc). All Glass software updates are collectively known as “XE software updates," and they usually roll out within the first two weeks of every month.
The first XE update released on 7 May - just a short while after Explorers began receiving Glass.
While this update brought a lot of general usage improvements, it also included much-welcomed support for Google+ notifications, Specifically, XE5 included support for incoming Google+ notifications like direct shares, comments, +mentions, as well as the ability to comment and +1. It also brought incoming Hangout notifications.
Other features included a change to the syncing policy (power and Wi-Fi were required for Glass to conduct background uploads), the inclusion of crash reporting, speed enhancements to transcription of queries, new On-Head Detection calibration flow, and a more reliable estimation of battery juice.
Explorers could also long-press to search from anywhere, use international number dialing + SMS, find the device Serial Number on Device Information card, and view a new recipient-list mosaic.
Google published a Google+ post on 4 June to discuss XE6, marking the first time the company began publicly announcing XE software updates. Google's announcement focused on all the photo changes. As for release notes, they weren't public at the time. Android Police provided a detailed breakdown on XE6, though.
The entire change-log included tweaks for improvements to photos through Glass, the ability to voice annotate photos and videos when sharing, better Sports cards in Google Now, a new Birthday card in Google Now, general enhancements to On-Head Detection, and unspecific fixes for several issues.
XE7 released on 1 July. Google again published a Google+ post to discuss the changes, such as the addition of “View Website” links and wider voice command capabilities. It also began publishing release notes for the first time.
Other new features included more chances to say “OK Glass," and the ability to browse the web and send a message to 10 or more people. There were also search improvements, a new touch menu from the Home screen, new Google Now places bundle, the usual On-Head Detection tweaks, additional changes for reliable video-uploading and battery life detection, and several My Glass enhancements.
Specifically, XE7 brought MyGlass: Default contact information, MyGlass: Email and phone number badges, MyGlass: Simple Sharing, and MyGlass: Better contact selection.
Like clockwork, XE8 released on 12 August. The most notable changes were a new video player, more voice commands, and an audio controller via a new Volume card in Settings.
Beyond that, with XE8, Explorers could post an update or take a note, simultaneously check their timeline while in a video call, use contextual voice commands for navigation, and add a voice caption after snapping a picture or video (including using #Hashtags in captions).
The update further bundled more intuitive voice commands, betters SMS support, Google Now cards for Reservations, Events, Movies, and Public alerts, and the ability to wish a happy birthday by message.
Released on 9 September, XE9 notably brought "vignettes" and Shazam-like capability. In other words, you could sound search.
The update also featured the ability to play videos through search and view News results in search, as well as the inclusion of Glass searches in search history. So many search things!
Other changes ranged from more Google Now cards (like Transit, Reminders, Nearby attractions, Nearby photo spots) to a method of setting up Google Apps accounts. Google further included the MyGlass app 1.7 for Android – Remote control.
XE10 released on 7 October with the following small improvements: transit directions, links in notifications, and the ability to see who you’re talking to. Yup. That's it.
XE11 released exactly one month after XE10 and brought new navigation and search-related features. Specifically, the update include Home and Work directions, a personalised Calendar search, new Glass setup options, a shortcut to screencast, and "so long, long press" (no more long presses).
XE12 released on 17 December, and it was huge. Many of the previous updates were not very significant, but XE12 showed the world that Google plans to get more serious with software changes as the new year looms around the corner. After all, Google has to get Glass ready for a commercial release in 2014.
Pocket-lint covered this update in full, but here's a quick summary of which features debuted with XE12: an iOS app, Google Play Music (new touch menu), screen lock, Hangouts Glassware, YouTube Glassware, and...Wink. Explorers just need to wink in order to take photos, though the feature is available to version 2 of Glass only.
Explorers could also Google things like “How far to Brooklyn?", “How many calories in a banana?", etc, and then Glass would serve up relevant answers. The update further removed signature from messages and added an "Au revoir Guest Mode GDK" for developers.
Where can you find the XE release notes?
We've summarised the release notes of every XE software update, but you can visit Google's Release Notes Archive hub if you want to browse the full changelogs for yourself.
What is MyGlass?
Google's MyGlass is a companion app that lets Explorers configure and manage Glass. It has been available exclusively on Android, but Google said MyGlass will officially land in the Apple App Store "later this week."
The iOS app already appeared in the App Store on 17 December, presumably to coincide with the latest monthly XE software update for Glass, but Google pulled shortly after. Like the Android version, the iOS app will let Explorers set up their Glass hardware, get navigation directions and screencast content to their device.
Beyond working as a control centre for Glass, MyGlass doubles as an app store for Glass. Kind of. You can use it to view apps like Google+, Twitter, the New York Times (via the web or MyGlass app). MyGlass also allows Explorers to enable or disable specific Glass apps.
What are Google Glass apps?
Glass launched with only a small selection of official apps, though Google has sporadically announced new apps and updates since Glass' release. For instance, on 18 December, Google confirmed the addition of a Wall Street Journal app, and other apps like Weather Alert, Winkfeed, and Hangouts.
Although Explorers can use MyGlass to find and enable Glass apps, it's worth noting that brave Explorers can go into the depths of the web to find unofficial, non-partner apps (if they so desire).
Stay tuned for next month, when Google will most likely release XE13. We’ll continue to update this article as the updates release. We'll also let you know when or if Google ever releases a Glass app store.