Looking Through The Glass

As an attendee of Google I/O 2012, I was able to sign up to purchase Google Glass as soon as it became available.  My excitement ramped up when I got the email telling me Glass would be shipping soon. After I placed my order, I may have brought down the UPS tracking website by pressing refresh for two straight days.

I have been waiting for this moment for years.  You see, when I was a teenager, I read lots of Cold War military novels (think Jack Ryan and Jason Bourne, etc.).  In these books, there were vivid descriptions of how fighter pilots had complex heads-up displays (HUD) that let them see the “dashboard” of their plane without looking away from the sky in front of them. I always wondered what it would be like to see life in a different way.

Finally, my Google Glass arrived, and I realized I could have HUD wherever I go!  My initial impressions? Glass is very lightweight and comfortable to wear, and after a while, you just forget you have them on.  The screen sits above your right eye just out of your direct view.  While driving, the Glass screen appears to be on the ceiling of the car on the folded-up sunshade (not blocking my view of the windshield at all).  With Glass, it’s easy to get directions, send simple messages, do basic web searches, take and share photos without taking my eyes off the road (or pulling my phone out of my pocket!). My initial Glass experience was in a word, amazing.

How can you leverage this amazing experience in your business?

The disruptive potential of wearable mobile devices

Beyond my personal experience with Glass, I have some thoughts on its future implications as a disruptive technology:

A whole new perspective.

Although Glass is obviously beta hardware, I would say it delivers tremendous promise. Last week, we adopted a new dog (think 77 pounds at 8 months ).  It would have been impossible to get good photos with my phone while holding onto his leash for dear life.  With the hands-free mobility offered by Glass, I got some amazing photos and videos of our dogs meeting for the first time.  Searching directions, restaurants, and nearby places while visiting new areas is a great asset, and offers promising opportunities for businesses to add to their mobile presence.

Disruptive tech, but not disrupting your life.

You hate it when the person you are talking to is on their phone reading e-mail of texting.  There is a possibility that Glass could end up the same way.   When you build for Glass it is important to realize that you have a very intimate connection to your customer.  Make sure that you utilize this connection in a positive way.  To help developers with this, Google has laid out 4 basic design principles:

Design for Glass.

Glass is fundamentally different. You cannot just simply ‘port a website’ to Glass, since the user interface is dramatically different, and the view is radically different as well. (On the same note: test on Glass to make sure what you have designed really works on Glass.)

    1. Don’t get in the way: Glass should enhance the user’s life, not pull them out of their life.
    2. Keep it timely: Glass is a “now” interface. It is not an interface to check on things from the last week, or a few days ago. Keep the content fresh and for the current time (or very near future).
    3. Avoid the unexpected: While this holds for any interface you create for your customers, Glass is very intimate – it is something they are wearing.  So make sure that you are honest with what your app does, and that it behaves as is intended.

Battery life

If you use Glass only occasionally, the battery will last the whole day.  On the other hand, if you’re a more frequent user, the navigation requires constant ‘screen on’ and Bluetooth syncing, so it is a quick drainer of power.  Also, taking long videos seemed to do my device in more quickly (default video length is 10s). In the future, I expect wearable device manufacturers to improve battery life.

Smartphone support

If you become a Glass user, make sure your device supports Bluetooth data tethering.  My smartphone does not, so I could only use Glass as a headset (that takes photos) unless I turned on a Wi-Fi hotspot. This forced Glass and my phone to use two radio connections, which adds to the battery dilemma.  I now have Glass connected to an LG Optimus G Pro (as it supports Bluetooth data tethering) and have greatly improved the battery life and extend Glass’s usefulness.  If you plan to deploy Glass to your workforce, make sure the handsets in the field are compatible NOW, or you will have big upgrade cost in the future.

A must-have business accessory?

In conclusion, Glass is an amazing first step towards a production device.  As developers tweak and build more applications, it will gain more functionality and become the must have mobile accessory that adds value to our personal and business lives.

Just as many look fondly at the Apple Newton as the first handheld computer (the grandfather of all smartphones), I think that in 5-10 years we will all look back at Glass as the first wearable mobile device that created a revolution.  I would suggest that all companies building mobile presences consider how they might integrate Glass into their enterprise.

What business applications do you envision for Google Glass and other wearable mobile devices? Does this technology have a place in your mobile strategy?
Doug Sillars Principal Technical Architect AT&T About Doug