Enterprise adoption of Google Glass is nothing new. Surgeons have been taking Glass into the operating room, professional athletes have used it in games, and a host of other businesses have been experimenting with Glass almost since its inception. But now, Google is officially getting behind these use cases.
Google announced in a post late Monday night that it was bringing its Glass Explorer program to the enterprise. The post mentioned The Washington Capitals' partnership with APX Labs to create an app for fans and Schlumberger's partnership with Wearable Intelligence to create an app for its field employees.
"Today, there are thousands of consumers out there enjoying Glass in ways that are both practical and inspirational," a Google spokesperson said. "At the same time, we've also seen many in the enterprise world — from pro sports teams to hospitals — begin experimenting with Glass. We wanted to create a program that made it easier for them to get started on implementing Glass in their businesses."
It seems that Google has finally realized the market potential for Glass in the enterprise, but what took them so long?
"I believe that it is the developer community that has dragged them in this direction," said J. P. Gownder, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.
Most developers want to build something that people are actually going to use. While Glass does have a growing community of "Explorers" and it is slated for release later this year, it's still not a publicly available product. You can't walk into a store to buy a Google Glass, and there isn't a high demand for custom apps. Glass developers want to flex their muscles and, more importantly, they want to get paid. The Glass for Work program doesn't solve that problem, but it has the potential to ease some of the tension.
"By sanctioning enterprise usage they are going to unleash the creativity that is out there for enterprise applications," Gownder said. He added, "It's going to open up the possibility for people to do what they already want to do."
The Glass explorer program was announced early last year, but consumers are still struggling to get it. Certain enterprise verticals, however, were clamoring to get their hands on it and see what it can do, and Google may have finally come to terms with the possibility that this cannot begin as a consumer product.
Google has likely held off on backing an enterprise play for Glass because it is an admission of the fact that Glass holds too much social stigma for a consumer adoption at this time. Google's partnership with Luxottica and their snarky blog post addressing how not to be a "glasshole" shows that they are trying to address the issue, but it hasn't made a tremendous impact.
In addition, Glass sits well-above the average wearable price of $370 and it may need a lower price point to make it available to mass market, and that isn't happening any time soon. But, even if Google manages to capture the enterprise for Glass, that could create new problems with their original target audience.
"The dark side of this is maybe it starts to be perceived as an enterprise tool by consumers," Gownder said. Gownder said that Google doesn't want consumers to end up viewing Glass as they would view a stethoscope.
Google made a bet on glanceable technology instead of immersive, so some applications aren't available on the Glass. Google created a consumer product that they are now trying to market to the enterprise. Google's voice recognition software has helped differentiate Glass, and the developer community behind it has sustained it, but ultimately it wasn't designed specifically for enterprise or medical uses like other products, such as the Epson Moverio.
For those unfamiliar, Moverio is Epson's smartglass product that looks like a set of goggles with a mousepad dangling from it. It sounds goofy, but the technology is enterprise-tested, and it is much cheaper than Google Glass. When it is on, the Moverio is more immersive than Glass because it puts a screen in both eyes and occupies your entire field of view. The Moverio can do things such as overlay veins on a patient's arm so phlebotomist won't miss.
Epson has actually been in the smartglasses space since before Google even announced their first video on Glass. The Moverio began as a consumer product overseas, but pivoted to focus on the enterprise when it was brought stateside. Moverio is more focused on extensive augmented reality (AR) overlays, and product manager Eric Mizufuka said that this is part of their value proposition.
"The display being large and immersive is key for being able to overlay data and provide a lot of information," Mizufuka said. He doesn't consider Google Glass to be a competitor to Moverio, as he said that they serve different needs. "They are complementary products to a smartglasses rollout," Mizufuka said.
While they may not be direct competitors, Epson was able to quickly identify clear ROI opportunities in the space and build a product to fill those needs. Epson is also partnered with APX Labs, who built the Skylight platform for smartglasses, and they are working with them for some pilot deployments at Fortune 100 companies. As they pivot to serve the enterprise, Google is also working to gain traction and trust with business customers.
"The key differentiator for Epson in the enterprise is that we are available now. We are a brand you can trust and we have delivered enterprise solutions for over 40 years," Mizufuka said.
Moverio runs on Android, so it will be interesting to see if they move to Android for Wearables. According to Gownder, "Google is essentially creating tools for it's competitors."
If Google is serious about making Glass work for the enterprise they need to address guidelines on product use in certain industries. Issues such as HIPAA compliance and integration into other IT systems are crucial to the success of Google Glass as an enterprise product.
"I believe in the long run smart glasses will prevail in the marketplace, but whether Google Glass can make it work in the short run remains to be seen," Gownder said.
Businesses that are interested in signing up for the program can do so here.
- Google courts enterprise developers for Glass (ZDNet)
- At Google, Bid to Put Its Glasses to Work (New York Times)
- Google wearables: The face vs. the wrist
- Apple v. Google: The goliath deathmatch by the numbers in 2014
- Android smartwatches: Google Now for your wrist, with style
- Wearables have a dirty little secret: 50% of users lose interest
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.