For Google Glass in the early goings, people have been reacting in phases. First, it was awe over how impressive and futuristic the technology is. Then, worry and mockery. If Google is lucky, the desired next step is mainstream adoption, and the nirvana of ubiquity.
Assuming we get past the mockery – and really, that’s a big assumption – adoption and ubiquity are hinged on third party developers. If Apple has taught us anything with iOS, it’s that smart developers building on your platform is a bit like indoctrinating an army for world conquest.
And for every successful platform – and we’ll call Glass a platform even though it’s based on Android, itself a platform – there comes an odd, proud parent moment when outside developers become better at building on the platform than the company that originally made it. For example, Mailbox is better than the Apple mail app, and anything is better than Apple Maps.
Turns out at least one Glass developer thinks that moment is coming a lot sooner than later. How soon? Before Glass even officially launches. “I think developers will get the edge before then,” says Xabier Uribe-Etxebarria, founder of Sherpa, a natural language voice command app which the company is building for Glass.
Sherpa is an Android personal assistant app that Uribe-Etxebarria describes as a combination of Siri and Google Now. The main differentiator, he says, is how strong the natural language recognition of the software is, meaning a user can engage with it more conversationally. Uribe-Etxebarria also says Sherpa is the only personal assistant app that allows you to speak transactions, since the company has an integration with PayPal.
If you think Uribe-Etxebarria’s comments are chest-thumpy, they were originally even a bit brasher. Last week, he claimed at a company summit in Spain that his software is already better suited for Google’s hardware than Google’s own in-house apps. When I followed up with him, he walked back the sentiment, conceding that there are certain things Google won’t open up to developers.
As good as Sherpa’s natural language capabilities might be, (it’s gotten some favorable reviews) Google and its software developers still have one big lead over outside developers: familiarity with the product.
Allowing software to integrate seamlessly with hardware is no small task. Ask any connected device maker, especially those struggling to find non-hokey use cases for the marriage of wifi and mundane products. The reality, at least for now, is that Google’s developers have intimate experience working with Glass’s hardware since the time it has been in development, even before we the public ever got our first peek of the form factor.
Uribe-Etxebarria is likely right that developers will soon have the edge in building stellar glass apps. And, to be clear, this is exactly what Google should hope for. But it doesn’t give the company’s Glass software developers their fair shake to deride their efforts from the get go.
Perhaps fittingly, on the very same day Uribe-Etxebarria made his comments, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers partner John Doerr said at PandoMonthly that he believed entrepreneurs are more excited about building for Glass than they were about building for smartphones. That’s an excitement Google will have to ride if Glass is to make any meaningful strides towards mass adoption. And the company will need good apps like Sherpa to achieve it. So it will only help Google if Uribe-Etxebarria’s boastings are founded.