New app makes Google Glass a religious experience

JewGlass, is the first Glass application for religious Jews, which the Rusty Brick company released on Monday.

Google Glass religious app370 (photo credit: Courtesy, Rusty Brick)
Google Glass religious app370
(photo credit: Courtesy, Rusty Brick)
When Rusty Brick CEO Barry Schwartz walked into his New York synagogue Tuesday morning, he didn’t have to get out his siddur or even look up which prayers to say. A small screen hovering over the corner of his eye already knew what he needed, and handily displayed it for him.
Schwartz, among the few lucky people to test Google’s wearable computer spectacles, called Google Glass, was getting all the information he needed from JewGlass, the first Glass application for religious Jews, which his company released on Monday.
“It’s not a way of bringing people closer to Judaism, but a way to help people who are already observing do it more efficiently,” says Schwartz, whose company has released over 30 applications for Jews.
Rusty Brick boasts an iPhone siddur and Passover Haggada, a “no more hametz” application, a Bedtime Shema App to guide children through the evening prayer, and a bar mitzva learning tool to help students learn their portions.
But to Schwartz, Google Glass is a whole new ballgame.
“I think it’s going to be a game changer, though I don’t think it’ll be so obvious that you’re wearing it when the final product comes out,” he says. “I love it.”
To that end, JewGlass was a logical next step. The app sends notifications to the ever-present Google Glass screen, reminding those who are observant when it is time to pray, helping them locate a nearby synagogue, and even displaying the relevant prayers through its prayer adviser.
On Fridays it lets the user know at what time Shabbat begins and ends, and the portion of the week. For kashrut-keeping Jews on the go, the app can also locate kosher restaurants in the vicinity. The best part: It does it all through context, figuring out where the user is and what information might be useful at that time.
Though the company’s offerings are geared toward religion, he says, some of their programs also take a different tack.
“We have a lot of religious apps, but we also have holiday- related apps and learning apps, like learning to read the aleph-bet to learn Hebrew, or touring the Old City, or a Jewish radio app for Jewish music,” he says.
And while the religious application market isn’t the most profitable, the company is able to fund its projects with money it makes developing applications for the likes of MTV and Harvard.
“It’s our way of doing something for the community, and we’re glad that we can do it,” says Schwartz.
He even has a plan for getting technology to fill the gap on Shabbat and holidays in which phones and wearable computers cannot be tinkered with: Shul Cloud. That product would stream relevant data on prayers and holiday-specific instruction to screens in synagogues that are connected ahead of time and require no interaction.
“You can make it useful and Shabbat-proof,” Schwartz says. “We’ll see if rabbis think that’s acceptable.”