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Branded Google Glass Apps Emerge Despite Tiny User Base

Developers and Agencies Experiment with 'Glassware' to be Ready if a Mass Market Opens Up

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Google Glass may have just 10,000 users, but that hasn't stopped a handful of brands from developing apps -- or "Glassware," in Google speak -- for the wearable computer.

Advertising is banned from Google Glass apps, per the terms of service for the Google Mirror API that lets developers build experiences for the device, but that prohibition doesn't extend to branded apps.

A cross-section of brands are now dabbling in Glass, starting with the usual suspects. During the Google I/O developer conference in May, a big batch of "Glassware" from tech companies like Facebook and Evernote and media entities like Elle and CNN was introduced.

A more recent and unexpected marketer to develop for Glass was Fidelity, which introduced an app to let investors get stock quotes from the major indexes last week. And Coupons.com launched a "recipe and meal preparation" app in June that can search for recipes using keyword voice recognition and also read cooking instructions aloud.

The question then is why put effort into making something for a tiny subset of tech early adopters who aren't likely to be representative of most consumers?

"Right now, there are only two reasons for a brand to invest in 'Glassware,'" said Adam Kleinberg, CEO of the digital agency Traction, in an email. "The first is to send out a press release -- there are definitely opportunities to get stories written about how innovative you are. The other is to do a little bit of experimentation to familiarize yourself with how the APIs work and start to learn about how you might actually create value for customers using this technology in the future."

Mr. Kleinberg's agency isn't developing any Google Glass campaigns at the moment, but others are. In work for New Orleans Tourism, 360i is capturing city footage from Glass-wearing "influencers" that will be posted to the Follow Your NOLA website for potential visitors to see. (The agency isn't actually building Glassware for the campaign.)

Meanwhile, DigitasLBi has been developing Glassware prototypes for clients. But it's mainly about mastering the learning curve at this point in the device's limited adoption, according to Itai Asseo, VP-group creative architect and North America lead. He observed that the development itself is straightforward because of the Google Mirror API; the challenge is in figuring out a way to make experiences for a wearable device useful and not merely replicating what a person could do on a smartphone.

"The main challenge is context," he said. "You can check things on your phone, but you don't necessarily need to have something on your face the whole time."

Mr. Asseo noted that footage recorded behind the scenes at events by celebrities or relevant notifications sent to wearers of the device while they're watching a TV show could make for compelling content on branded apps.

'Glassware' ecosystem
Separate from agencies, an ecosystem of Google Glass developers is starting to emerge and experiment. In one instance, a developer unaffiliated with Tesla reverse-engineered the official Tesla Android app to produce Glassware that can perform actions for Model S owners like display the vehicle's charging status and show interior and exterior temperatures.

Formed in the spring, a Washington, D.C.-based shop called Silica Labs has gone into the business of developing applications for Google Glass and other emerging wearable computing devices, like smart watches. Currently boot-strapped, the startup is looking to raise venture capital in the fall, according to its CTO Antonio Zugaldia, who previously worked for the Pan American Health Organization.

The most notable app in its portfolio thus far is called SimpleWing, which news organizations can use -- free of charge, for now -- to display content on Google Glass. It's conceptually similar to the app CNN launched in June, and National Geographic is using it.

While developing for Glass is straightforward, Mr. Zugaldia still sees advantage in being among the first. By studying anonymous data from users that maps out behavioral patterns on Glass, it becomes more clear what kinds of apps will be desirable if and when there's a mass market for the device.

For example, he pointed to the enthusiasm around Google adding web browsing to Glass and characterized it as misplaced. People like him who are using the device daily aren't reading Wikipedia pages or watching YouTube videos on it, he said, so developing apps for the browser on Google Glass would be a waste.

"You want to understand why people are using [wearable devices]," Mr. Zugaldia said. "If you put them in the same package as mobile or tablet users, you're going to be making a mistake."

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