How to Load Apps on Google Glass

22 Jul 2013

Google Glass is a new paradigm in the world of connected computers, and the Orbotix team was lucky enough to receive this one last week at Google I/O in San Francisco. We’ve spent the majority of that week playing with our Glass, and have since loaded some apps of our own. Here’s how we made it happen it using Google Sky as our example.

For this tutorial we will show you how install Google Sky (also known as stardroid) without rooting your Glass or swapping roms. This is the same basic procedure you would go through to manually load an app on an Android phone, but since Google Glass has a limited amount of input, the specific app you install matters. Google Sky is perfect! It doesn't require any user input other than the accelerometer and gyroscopic sensor data, but it will show you an amazing amount of information when looking at the night sky.

Before we begin it is important that you already have the Android SDK, most importantly you need ADB (android debug bridge). You also need to be somewhat familiar with opening a new terminal window. We used Mac 10.8+, but these same basic directions will work for Linux and might need a little modification for Windows. We also assume you download files to your home Download directory, but you can change this as needed. (~/Downloads)

Download and Install the Android SDK ( We find it helpful to have adb in your PATH so you can call it from anywhere (you may want to add it to your .bashrc or whatever you are using).

[gist id=5610058]

First things first, Put your Glass in "Debug Mode" in the settings on the Glass itself. Locate the device info and scroll right to turn Debug Mode on. Then plug your Glass into your computer using the USB micro cable.

Now grab a version of Google Sky that you want to install (this is the same for any Android .apk file).

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Simply load the .apk file onto the Glass with adb.

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After the .apk is loaded onto Glass you now need to use adb shell to run it. The trick here is that you need to figure out what Activity to run. You can use the adb command dumpsys to discover a plethora of information about your Glass. You can figure out the main activity for the .apk with a little help from grep, and since it was the last thing loaded we can also narrow this information down with a tail command.

[gist id=5610691]

This might take some time depending on your system, but it will eventually return something similar to this:

intent={act=android.intent.action.MAIN flg=0x10000000}

You now have the right information to start the app on Glass. We use the am command to start the app on Glass. Simply reformat the Activity call to follow the same format as the stardroid example call below:

[gist id=5610706]

At this point tap your Glass on and the app should be running. You will need to "down swipe" on your glass to cancel the agreement window. If you see the app running, disconnect, go outside, and check this out at nighttime! Warning: you may feel like a terminator with some kind of super power.

Note: this is not part of the Official Glass Mirror API that is displayed on your timeline and running apps full time like this is a drain on the battery, which is not in Google's application design guidelines. It merely demonstrates how to sideload an app on Glass in your terminal without voiding your warranty.

Why we think this is awesome:

Some people will say that you can do this exact same thing with your smartphone, and we agree you can. But what fascinates us about this is a constant stream of information about our world, in real time, with little or no effort on our part. We can imagine apps like Google Googles, and other augmented reality apps and games becoming extremely valid in a world where they were just neat to show off on a phone. Nobody holds their phone up looking through the camera as they walk around – it's just hard to do.

This all excites us when we relate it back to what we are doing at Orbotix. Augmented reality is part of our DNA, as Sphero is the perfect moving, trackable robot that allows nearly any 3D digital experience to be seamlessly stitched into our real world with little effort from the user. You see a 3D digital character like Sharky the Beaver magically appear on your living room floor and you can control it around your house.

We hope for this same magical experience from Google Glass as it is fully developed. It should naturally pop up information about the things around us based on our Google Now history and what I am looking at. If I have to manually tell it to "scan" a bar code, it's doing it wrong. For now, this is the closest we have ever felt to being in a science fiction movie. Google Glass is an incredible step toward an amazing future and we’re looking forward to being a part of it.

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