Enterprise eye candy

The real plan for Google Glass may be to sell it to businesses, not consumers

August 29, 2013
Obsession
Mobile Web
August 29, 2013

Yesterday evening in New York City, Google’s Glass team threw a party. It brought together “Explorers” and “Influencers”—the lucky few people who got to try out the computerized glasses Google is developing. Over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, the diverse crowd gushed about the joys and dissected the drawbacks of the device, which they’ve been wearing for the last few months.

The takeaway? Google Glass is not for who you think it is. Though Google has been promoting the device with heart-warming videos on rollercoaster rides and in children’s playgrounds, for the next few years at least, its main customers will be large businesses.

Members of the Glass operations team have been on the road showing it off to companies and organizations, and they told Quartz that some of the most enthusiastic responses have come from manufacturers, teachers, medical companies, and hospitals. That suggests that they may be trying to persuade firms to buy the device and develop applications for it. (Google had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.)

Those potential uses are manifold. For example, two Explorers I spoke to gushed about inventory programs they were developing that could save manufacturers tens of thousands of dollars in compliance costs. Currently, manufacturers hire expensive consultants to help them keep track of inventory and guard against stuff going missing or being stolen. They may even shut down for a few days to make sure their books are in order. But if the employees are wearing Glass, a simple app could not only record them taking inventory, but even recognize products automatically and transmit data about them to a company’s servers, to make sure stock doesn’t run out.

Other uses of Glass would be in medicine. Both new and experienced surgeons could transmit what they’re seeing during a procedure to colleagues for advice. It could also serve as a medical device. One Glass user—a patient with brain damage—has been using it to take pictures of where he left his keys so that he can find them later.

Finance companies are already taking to Glass. We’ve written previously about how it could streamline decision-making for bankers. Boston-based Fidelity Investments has already developed an app that will help Glass users monitor markets.

This is not to say that ordinary people won’t ever use Glass. But not too many people are likely to walk down the street sporting it—at least not anytime soon. Explorers I spoke to agreed that the device can get in the way of normal social interaction. The head movements that control the device can masquerade as normal gestures, they said, disrupting conversations and making other people feel uncomfortable. Its notifications can be distracting and—though this gets better with practice—it’s still hard to navigate and control.

Moreover, even the consumer-oriented apps that Explorers said they were developing weren’t things you might use continuously, but had specific purposes. Some talked about apps that would help a shopper find a specific product in a store. Another mused that mechanics connected to Glass could help stranded drivers fix their cars.

These aren’t the kinds of uses that keep a Glass on your face 24/7. They also require a lot of investment and development by retail companies, and that may not come until a fair number of people have Glass. Right now, there are only around 10,000.

So you might one day walk down the street with Glass glued to your face. But at least in the near term, it could be your boss who makes you start wearing one.

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