Hands-on with Google Glass’ big December (XE12) update


Gizmag runs through the big updates from Google's XE12 update for Glass Explorers

Gizmag runs through the big updates from Google’s XE12 update for Glass Explorers

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Earlier this week, Google pushed out the last software update of 2013 to Google Glass Explorers. As Gizmag is now part of the Google Glass beta-testing party, we thought we’d give you our hands-on impressions of some of the new features.

Wink wink, nudge nudge

Wink is extremely handy if you're a Glass-wearer ... and maybe a little creepy if you're a...

The biggest new feature might be Wink, which lets you snap a picture just by winking. There was already a sideloadable app from a third-party developer that let you do this, but the experimental feature now comes straight from Google, baked right into the firmware.

In my experience, Wink works just as advertised. Wink with your right eye, and about a second later, you’ll hear the chime as Glass snaps a pic of whatever you’re looking at. It registers almost all of my deliberate winks, and it also differentiates them from regular old double-eye blinks. I did set it off by mistake a few times, but it was probably because I absentmindedly closed my right eye (too much caffeine perhaps?), not through some fault with the software.

If your goal is to always be ready for that Kodak moment, then Wink is something of a breakthrough feature. It’s never been easier to snap shots, no matter where you are, what you’re doing, or what your hands are holding. If your goal, however, is privacy, then you might want to keep an eye out for people wearing Google Glass. They can sneak pictures of you easier than ever.

Gatekeeper

You'll need to pick four gestures to unlock your device (not to lock it, as Google's visua...

Another big addition is the new Google Glass lock screen. If you set this up, anyone will need to know your handpicked series of taps and swipes to unlock Glass (much like a passcode on a smartphone). If you have Glass’ on-head detection set up, the screen doesn’t appear to lock when you take Glass off; you’ll have to actually power it off (by pressing the power button for a moment) to lock it.

Unlocking Glass is simple. When you wake the device from sleep, you’ll see a lone dot sitting below the current time. Enter your unique series of taps and swipes, and Glass will unlock. You even get visual feedback, showing each gesture as a series of dots on the screens … kinda like sheet music for security buffs.

Glass gives you some visual cues when you're setting up your lock screen gestures

The new lock screen gives you a nice layer of security for your US$1,500 device, though you will have to remember to press that power button to put up the gates.

MyGlass for iPhone, Hangouts, and more

The MyGlass companion app is now available in the iOS App Store

Another huge addition is better compatibility with the iPhone. Google just launched the MyGlass companion app into the App Store, so iPhone-owning Explorers now have some extra features.

The biggest are turn-by-turn navigation on your Glass display and a screencast of your Glass display on your phone. Android users have already had both of these features for a while, but hey, it’s nice to see this make its way into the App Store nonetheless. The iOS version is still much more limited though (due to iOS’ system-wide restrictions for third-party apps), so you can’t use SMS and you’ll need to pay for a personal hotspot plan to use navigation.

Hangouts messaging is now compatible with Glass, just be prepared for it to hijack all of ...

With the XE12 update, Google also brought a few more officially-supported apps to Glass. Google Hangouts is a big one. You could already use Hangouts for video calls, but you can now use it for messaging. This includes picture messages, something Glass couldn’t do before. It also helps to fill in for the lack of SMS on the iPhone version, though your friends will need to be in the Google ecosystem with an active chat app to get your messages.

The biggest problem I have with the new Hangouts messaging is that it automatically becomes the default way of sending messages. See, Glass doesn’t let you choose how to contact a friend. You say “OK Glass, send a message to Suzie” and it handles it from there. Hangouts gets priority, followed by SMS, and then email. So if a contact has their email address tied to a Hangouts account, you can’t send them a regular email. It will always send it as a Hangouts chat message. You can get around this by turning off Hangouts integration altogether, but then you miss out on its other perks.

YouTube is also in the fold now, though maybe not in the way you’d expect. You still can’t watch YouTube videos on Glass (that would probably kill its battery anyway), but you can now share videos you’ve taken to the popular video-sharing service. After recording a video, just bring up the “Share” option and choose a YouTube card. There are separate cards for Public, Unlisted, and Private options, so there shouldn’t be any confusion about who can and can’t see your masterpiece.

You can also now share your Glass-recorded videos to YouTube, including with public, priva...

There are also a few extra apps added to MyGlass’ Glassware section, like Weather Alert and Wall Street Journal. I don’t live in an area with much severe weather, so I haven’t been able to test that one yet. But it could be a handy feature to have onboard, especially if things like tornadoes, blizzards, or icy roads are concerns in your area.

Winkfeed is another new app that puts RSS feeds on Google Glass. You can read them on the device itself, have them read aloud to you, or save them to Pocket to read later on another device. Winkfeed doesn’t really fit my workflow, but if you only have a few feeds you follow, it could be a handy way to get news alerts from your favorite sources pushed to Google Glass.

We’re going to have much more on Google Glass in the coming weeks, but don’t expect to see any big software updates from Google for a while. Google says that this month’s big batch counts for both December and January, so these will have to tide you over until February.

 

BBM Finally Launches For Android And iOS, Years Too Late (Download here)


If this was 2010, RIM launching BBM on Android and iOS would have been viewed as a nod to open communication and a platform-agnostic product strategy. If this was 2010, it would have been marked as a win for RIM and a sign that company is here to fight. If this was 2010, RIM might still have a chance.

But at the close of 2013, BBM launching on Android and iOS is a swan song for Research In Motion-turned BlackBerry. And the 5 million downloads are just a hint of what could have been.

BlackBerry finally launched BBM on Android and iOS today, leaning on a reservation system likely to prevent the issues that plagued the first launch. And just eight hours after launching, BlackBerry took to Twitter to proclaim 5 million users had already downloaded the app. As of writing, BBM is the top free download in the App Store. The demand is there, but the future is not.

BBM was once the king of messaging platforms. Hit Me Up On BBM. It was iMessage and ChatOn before either one existed. And even five years ago it seemed to work better than its modern day counterparts. It was RIM’s secret sauce and had the company been willing to share a few years back, things could have been different for the Canadian smartphone maker.

RIM’s decline was clear a few years ago, yet the company proceeded as business as usual. BBM could have been a type of Trojan horse, showing Android and iPhone users the strength of RIM’s platform. But the company took too long to launch the messaging app on competing platforms. BlackBerry is now seeking a corporate buyer. Canadian wireless companies are not carrying the latest BlackBerry. And it won’t be long until BBM will be just a footnote in the company’s storied and sad history.

 

BBM Android app available to download, install, chat today


BBM for Android is scheduled to launch today, but missed the release time. Originally, BlackBerry planned to make the BlackBerry Messenger app on your Android phone available today to chat with your long-lost BBM buddies, with the BBM iPhone app set to come in a few hours.

“Thanks for your patience Android users!” says BlackBerry. “Working hard to get you the real BBM ASAP. We’ll let you know when it’s live.”

Head over to the Google Play app store and you should be able to download BBM for Android at some point today. Install the app and you’ll be chatting with your old BlackBerry buds before you can say “WhatsApp? What’s that?”

The BBM app for other devices lets you swap instant messages with other app users, with voice chat to come at a later stage. If you’ve defected from BlackBerry to Apple, the iOS app will be available from the Apple App Store at midnight.

BlackBerry has certainly made us wait for the instant messaging app to arrive on other phones. Sadly scammers have taken advantage of the wait to fill Google Play with fake BBM apps, targeting eager ex-BlackBerry owners with ads, spam or worse.

BlackBerry Messenger was the main reason that teens became as addicted to their BlackBerrys as the most business-minded executive, mainly because — unlike texting — it’s free. You can also write much longer messages and see when someone’s read your missive.

But with the rise of the iPhone and more affordable Android phones, the shine wore off BlackBerry devices — especially with the arrival of IM services like WhatsApp or Samsung ChatOn that work across different devices, so you can chat with friends and family even if they have different phones to you.

Are you excited to get back on BBM? Will this encourage people to come back to BlackBerry, or have the folks at BlackBerry just killed off the last reason to actually buy one of their phones? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or chat away on our Facebook page.

Update: The BBM app was scheduled to appear at noon, when this story was first posted. We’ve updated the story to reflect the delay.