Google is aiming to make Glass even more of a hands-free wearable by adding contextual voice command support to the headset, allowing more complex series of instructions to be given without resorting to touchpad-swiping. A new aspect of Glass XE18.1, the updated firmware released earlier this week, the system should also make it easier for existing Android apps to be ported over to Glass.
Currently, while the wearable responds to spoken instructions from the “OK Glass” command at the start screen, the usual method of interacting with apps once they’re loaded is by swiping side to side on the touchpad on the eyepiece.
The new contextual voice commands, however, allows for hierarchical voice menus of nested instructions. The “OK Glass” option automatically appears at the bottom of each screen; so, for instance, you could say “OK Glass, Show me cats, Persian” and have the headset bring up pictures of persian cats, without having to tap and scroll first.
As was already the case with main voice commands – the top-level instructions – Google will have a list of approved contextual voice commands that Glass will recognize natively. Developers wanting to create their own will be able to add them, but Google will need to approve custom instructions before they’ll function.
However it’s what the system could do to streamline the porting of existing Android apps to Glass that might be the biggest improvement. Google has been careful to use the same Android menu APIs as were already in place for touch menus, meaning that with only a little effort developers will be able to cook up Glass-ready versions that handle voice control rather than the traditional menu button.
Of course, Glass apps require more than that to be usable on the wearable – the UI needs to be significantly reworked to suit the small display, for instance, and neither overwhelm nor distract the wearer – but as Google ramps up toward a consumer launch, it’ll need a decent array of third-party apps in order to persuade people to don its headset.
That’s something we’re expecting to hear more about at Google I/O 2014 in just a few weeks time.