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What businesses can expect to see with Google Glass

Google Glass is coming and it has generated a lot of buzz among the consumer crowd. But what does it mean for businesses?

The wearable computer

Google Glass (aka Project Glass) is a futuristic eyewear-as-smartphone concept coming to the consumer market in early 2014.

Figure A

Basically, it's like a set of computerized eyeglass frames (Google is working on models which will go over existing glasses) running the Android OS, which features a voice-activated interface and a display which gives the wearer the ability to access and produce data. The device has internet connectivity and can look up or send information, provide directions, generate photos and video, and otherwise be used to "augment" your environment by adding a technological layer onto your surroundings. A small screen appears above and to the right so Glass doesn't block out what's in front of the wearer.

Figure B

Google released a breathtaking video showing the benefits of Glass, with participants saying "Ok, glass" to initiate commands such as asking for language translations or displaying pictures to help carve an ice sculpture. I watched the video with my ten year old son (a master of devices, he is the perfect consumer to appreciate new gadgets) who found it exciting - but anything with a price tag of $1500 had better be more exciting than all four "Mission Impossible" films put together!

Some people might feel self-conscious with these frames on, fearing they look unfashionable, only hard-core technophiles would indulge in them, and so forth. I don't necessarily agree with that (though I tend to be more preoccupied with function over form). Decades ago people were so embarrassed by having to wear regular eyeglasses that their worried their popularity and/or looks would be "spoiled." Now eyeglasses are a fashion statement. The same thing goes for hair loss - once some balding men were so upset that they bought toupees or grew ridiculous comb-overs to hide their shame. Now a bare head looks stylish, edgy, and low-maintenance. So, fashion trends can evolve and if your first concern about a new technology is how it's going to make you look, I would suggest you're missing the forest for the trees.

After all, as far as a wearable computer interface goes, Figure C.

Figure C

Is a far cry from Figure D.

Figure D

That being said, to the Google Glass wearer the most common analogy of their experience will be the visual interface used by the antagonist in the "Terminator" films. Cue the "Sarah Connor?" and "I'll be back" jokes.

I've opined words to the effect in other articles that just because something is cool doesn't mean we should necessary develop (or buy) it. With Google Glass the first question should be what can you do with it do that's new and unique - and which a smartphone doesn't offer. It has to be compelling right out of the starting gate because the price tag raises the bar that much higher.

For consumers I think the motivation will be having quicker access to important real-time information (checking flight status while hurrying through a concourse, for instance) and the ability to record life's events or interact with others (such as asking for translations during a conversation with someone speaking a different language) in ways that might be too slow, cumbersome, and inconvenient with a smartphone. I can understand this, because I am currently carrying both a Blackberry Bold and an Android phone. Despite other limitations, the Blackberry remains more convenient to me for quick one-handed operation to access and respond to a critical email - or take a photo. I am still not entirely comfortable with touch screens, especially using them to type.

The business angle

But what about businesses? The way I see it, the business benefit of Google Glass is worth exploring both from the perspective of the companies that will interact with the wearers, and the business goals of the wearers themselves.

We can probably all agree that the first benefit will be to that of Google, by gathering data about consumer preferences and habits. One school of thought states that Google Glass will be used to take a stream of pictures that will then be uploaded to Google and augment their advertising strategies (not to mention maps and location-based services). Currently Google has stated they won't insert ads into the Google Glass display but of course there are many different advertising avenues in which data is gathered and used. The notion of a wearable computer that a person can use on a constant basis while both in motion and at rest poses some interesting and ominous concepts for advertising, as well as privacy concerns.

Those privacy concerns may turn out to be a rather significant factor involving Google Glass and how businesses react to it. The fact you can record audio and video so easily may result in "No Google Glass allowed" policies in conference rooms, movie theaters, or any other venue where surreptitious recordings are prohibited. Yes, your smartphone can also record video, but the fact you have to hold it up or strategically position it to capture what's going on will give you away much more easily. Like a smartphone, Google Glass shows a recording light when this function is engaged, but it may not be apparent to those interacting with the wearer or they may not be aware what the light signifies.

Another clear benefit for business will be users that are more consistently connected and aware of their surroundings, and who therefore will make better prospective customers. When I think of a concept like Google Glass and how it might be used to locate nearby resources the first thing that comes to mind is being able to find that sushi spot, coffee house or watering hole. Sure, a smartphone does this for you as well, but no matter how the best of us may try, we can't look at both a smartphone display and our surroundings simultaneously and effectively make sense of each.

However, let's move past the obvious realms of advertising and attracting customers. What else can a concept like Google Glass do for business? The flight status examples shows that it has appeal for business travelers, which should be a given in this era of meshing consumer and enterprise technologies. Google Glass could assist hospitals, insurance companies, and emergency responders by reducing the number of accidents caused by using cell phones. According to wiki.answers.com this figure amounts to 1.4 million accidents per year - 200,000 of which are from driving while texting! Yes, we have hands-free and voice activated phones already, but Google Glass takes the idea further by providing visual information to eliminate the need to look away from the road. Of course, this is dependent upon Google's ability to successfully provide visual data to the wearer without impacting their ability to drive.

Then there is a concept which I find fascinating as it might turn the argument that "technology is actually making us less social" on its head. Google Glass can offer facial recognition capabilities to let you get more information about those you come into contact with.

http://www.33rdsquare.com has a good image illustrating this possibility in an article about facial recognition (Figure E).

Figure E

In the example above, Paul is already a friend - or at least a known associate - of the Google Glass wearer, but this capability could be a great benefit at a business conference. You could identify fellow attendees with common backgrounds, mutual acquaintances or involvement in market segments which you or your company serve. It's not just about attracting customers, but building effective relationships by using background data to your advantage. Of course, the flip side to this is the creepiness factor, not to mention the possibilities for misuse by those with less scrupulous intentions. I could even envision a company marketing an anti-facial-recognition product to help people defeat this concept.

Future possibilities

From a theoretical standpoint, Google Glass could eventually serve business environments where merchandise is stored, allowing the wearer to scan items to take inventory counts. Doctors could use it when consulting with patients, to record data and access chart information. Pilots could wear it to assist with aviation. Security organizations could use it to identify potential threats, such as at a concert - another example of how the facial recognition capability could come in handy.

Educational institutions could take advantage of Google Glass capabilities to help students learn more effectively and less obtrusively than traditional textbooks or devices. Forbes magazine also suggested that Google Glass could provide some ability enhancements to the wearer such as using them as binoculars or hearing aids, making it a promising option for people with disabilities. It might even help the blind or people with memory impairments.

Google is still soliciting ideas for ways this new technology can be used, so it will be interesting to see how it evolves until its debut at the end of 2013.

Not for everyone?

Like all new technologies it may take a while for Google Glass to make inroads into the everyday person's life - or it may indefinitely remain a niche product for the uber-geeks. People who are concerned about technology - and advertising - creeping into every aspect of our existences will probably consider Google Glass an Orwellian nightmare or a stalker's dream. Those who consider the cost too high - especially when they can get by well enough with a smartphone - will also likely abstain, though of course the price could, and inevitably will, drop once the product has been on the market for some time.

The Verge has a great article with a hands-on review of Google Glass. You can also follow Project Glass on Google+ to keep up with what's happening on this topic as it moves towards official launch.

Also read:

About

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

62 comments
madion
madion

I'd love to have a pair of these for scanning license plates while I'm going through a parking lot and cross-referencing them against stolens, outstanding warrants, etc. Or to glance a driver's license and then have the DL# queried for warrants, risks, health concerns. Or to receive feeds from dispatch and command for developing situations, IMs from other officers, location instructions during perimeters without needing to use the radio. I would also imagine first responders being able to have care instructions fed to them and fire departments being able to make very good use of these as well. Huge opportunities for public servants!

4wsilver
4wsilver

On the news last night was a piece on the number of accidents caused by police including fatalities while operating the laptops present in their units. While this would be somewhat distracting, the ability to keep at least one eye on the road while in pursuit and using a heads up display with verbal inputs could reduce the accidents caused by the police needing to look down at the center of the console and type an input. I think a heads up display would be better than these units but the software would be the same. While it is still distracting, it would be better. Fighter pilots have been trained to use heads up display for over 2 decades now and they are flying a lot faster than we drive.

anue0159
anue0159

just take off when you re driving

mfrazer
mfrazer

I have several friends who, during a conversation with me, will have their smart phone in view. While I'm pouring my heart out to them, they are glancing down at their phone to see the flurry of text messages coming through. Some of them have had the courtesy to turn off the audible 'new text message' alert, replacing it with a strobe of their camera flash instead (argh!). I am envisioning what that distracted friend will look like now! They'll be wearing the dorky glasses, and I'll notice their eyes darting up to the right every 2 or 3 minutes to read the test messages. You know, I'm an IT guy and I really, truly HATE the way consumer technology has enveloped our lives. Watch Zeitgeist: Moving Forward on youtube if you want an awakening to what society and popular culture are doing to our evolutionary well-being.

jred
jred

Maybe you'll get free Glasses with every Google Self Driving Car you buy...

mike_chatham
mike_chatham

If we have people blindly following their Garmins into water and onto roads that lead to nowhere, what happens if the data being being fed into the glasses is hacked or falsely produced? Who will be the all seeing eye that protects the mindless? Seems to me we are on the road to creating a society of "Data Driven Zombies".

Becca Alice
Becca Alice

Decades of staring at a computer have definitely made me more near-sighted. I wonder how extended time reading the little popups will affect my vision.

jaimerubio
jaimerubio

Another resource for Google to use personal data to invade the people privacy, in object of advertisament and publicity. Every time more Internet is a human control tool restrincting the human fredom in favor of the social network dictators monsters: Google, Facebook

kandrolewicz
kandrolewicz

How long will it be before we no longer have free will because the waves are directing our thoughts. Seriously, give no one the benefit of the doubt!

KevinDBaker
KevinDBaker

The picture posted is of the administrative assistant for Lando in Star Wars episode 5 the Empire Strikes back. This guy did not have a HUD at all and the terminator character was a machine to start with so it was built into his vision for the audience. A better analogy from current SciFI is the TV show Continuum where the main character has contact lenses that are HUD displays used to tie into police database to identify people in her line of sight if they are wanted by the police.

Scott Drinkard
Scott Drinkard

It will be interesting to see if Google can successfully shield itself from liability when the inevitable wrongful death lawsuit comes about. It's not a matter of "if", but of "when" and how often distracted drivers take out busses full of nuns and orphans. All it will take is one slick lawyer to pin liability on Google and squeeze them for millions (or billions?) and they may rethink the technology.

caballo2000
caballo2000

You need to see National Geographic program titled "Pay me attention" where magicians explains the brain is by nature designed to focus in one thing only and this is why magicians can confuse you and make great magic art. Testing in highly multitasks guys proves they cannot drive a car togheter with a phone call without lossing focus on the driving event.

rjwinslow
rjwinslow

Not that you have much privacy now (that ship is way out on the high seas), but now you'll be watching yourself for big brother 24/7/365 and spending $1500 to do it. I suspect CIA will soon be underwriting a pair for every newborn. When Gibbs has Tim turn on some particular cell phone remotely I guess that's still NSA pie-in-the-sky, but ...

comprev
comprev

Picture D used as a comparison is from Babylon 5 (I think) and doesn't compare very well to the actual thing in Picture C (which I think was the point). However, I would recommend comparing C to Star Trek: Deep Space 9's interface used by the Vorta on the Jem'Hadar ships.

cory.schultze
cory.schultze

Great for those awkward moments when you wake-up next to someone you don't remember going home with the night before! Just pop me Google goggles on and -- AAAAH!!!

rikonjohn
rikonjohn

When I first became aware of Google Glasses and it's capabilities I made it a point to tease the managers where I work. For the record, I work for a large international Fortune 500 manufacturing company, specifically a 75-person operation recently acquired by that Fortune 500 company. I'm a lower echelon, non-IT employee. I enjoy telling me management friends things like the following: "Pretty soon you're going to be wearing Google Glasses. Never heard of it? Well, this is a huge company and you can bet somewhere in the world Glasses is being tested for general use by management personnel. Once you're at work you'll be required to wear them until the time you go home. Every single thing you say and do will be recorded and uploaded to the "cloud" where every single upper management superior of yours will be able to view and listen to everything you see, hear what you hear, and listen to what you say. Remember those ISO 9001 documents we have? All 1,054 pages of them? Any time an employee asks you a question about how to do something, your reply will be compared to the relevant section of the ISO docs - and you'd better have the right answer or it's points off. You'll be reminded of your failure by the little glass thingy next to the camera. It won't give you the right answer, it'll simply tell you that you've failed in your management responsibilities toward the company and to review the relevant documentation. Safety is a huge concern at our company. If you should issue a directive to an employee that violates any of the firm's 8,423 pages of safety documentation derived from 143,019 safety violations world-wide in the last five years that could remotely result in a bruise, cut, abrasion, minor burn, cracked toe, jammed finger, dust exposure, chemical contamination (Elmer's Glue on an extremity (yes, really)), OSHA violation and State OSHA violation, and many many more, then you will find yourself required by Google Glasses to report to your superior for disciplinary action, coaching and re-training in corporate safety policies. Plus points off. It's been a busy morning and it's time for a bathroom break. The company doesn't allow cell phone use anywhere in the plant including the rest rooms, and newspapers and magazines are not permitted in the rest room stalls. You're wearing Google Glasses so you WILL comply with the regulations. You will do your business then back to work. You are management and required to wear your Google Glasses while on the clock. Technically speaking as management you are on the clock twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. That brings us to the next subject which is Company Privacy (not yours) and Trade Secrets. You may under no circumstances, except under certain approved channels, criticize the company you work for. You may not denigrate, criticize, disapprove of, or otherwise defame the products your company manufactures. You may not explain why your companies products excel or suck except within company approved channels - and only within the company. Google Glasses, when required to be worn by management personnel, will remove legal's dream of accountability for these actions from a dream to very real achievability. Every single move you make will be witnessed in the cloud. Every single thing you say ditto. All of it, thanks to Google Glasses in the corporate world, will be completely private - for the company. You, however, will be accountable for anything you say or do that can be witnessed through Google Glasses. I've witnessed the erosion of worker's rights for forty years. I've watched the influence of unions disappear. I've seen lobbyists in Washington working for the corporate world stripping the workman of every right fought for and won with blood and tears over the last 150 years. Google Glasses is going to be an interesting equalizer of that trend. All of a sudden management, starting at the line level but eventually moving on up, will be experiencing the loss of privacy and rights their workers have for half a decade. Under no circumstances would management of any level undergo the scenario I've provided above if worker's rights had remained without violation. Google Glasses will be very much one of those rare cases where shit rolls uphill. I hope the proper management levels enjoy their enhanced capabilities with Google Glasses. These capabilities were certainly addressed by the article above.

Riaanh
Riaanh

Just stumbled across an old e-mail of mine, which featured this product: http://www.motorola.com/Business/US-EN/Business+Product+and+Services/Mobile+Computers/Wearable+Computers/HC1 Perhaps that is where the hardware is coming from. Remember Google buying Motorola ? (Just been made somewhat cooler) I will definitely be looking at the glasses when they come out - having manuals and drawings available for our engineers on-hand would be very valuable.

333239
333239

The picture of 'Paul' make me think that we could become so reliant on this type of technology that we'll forget everything and rely on using our devices as our memory. I think this is already happening with smartphones to some extent. Now let me just check what I'm supposed to be doing today...

NickP2012
NickP2012

Do you think today world is ready for this technology? And would you wear them?

carteran
carteran

I can't seriously accept that the author believes Google can "successfully provide visual data to the wearer without impacting their ability to drive". Driving + distraction = death. Very cool.

lrohrig
lrohrig

Seriously, If you have something playing for your right eye to see, and your left is "watching the road" Guess what your brain will be paying attention to? I have come very close to being hit twice by people I can only assume were texting. Once I had to drive off the road. I really doubt this is going to "fix" the problem.

SKDTech
SKDTech

I think this could be very useful in Warehousing & Distribution where work is done by hand instead of machine. I remember watching an episode of Undercover Boss where they were using an audio cue system with voice recognition and barcode reader. Would be much easier to train someone to fetch orders if they are able to see a path or section and shelf codes displayed in front of them rather than having a box rattle off a string of alphanumerics in their ear. Could also see this in use in pharmacies and hospitals for pill recognition and to display patient information to doctor's and nurses as they carry out their rounds. In public I see it as being to much of a privacy invasion and creep factor.

eCubeH
eCubeH

I am looking at that image of Paul with the attached info box, and wondering ... Really? I cannot think of a common person wanting something as intrusive as this! If the information is so important, I would figure some way to access it without overwhelming my primary sense organ. But of course, these Google guys are quite bright, so I would probably want to try it before rejecting outright.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Last year I wrote a blog post questioning why anyone would ever want to wear a Google Glass device and so far no one has given me a good reason beyond certain niche uses. So I ask it again - why do you think Google Glass is a good idea, what would you do with a pair if you had one? What is the business angle for Google Glass?

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