If you have not yet heard of this technology already, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has been allocating a portion of its annual, multi-billion dollar R&D spending to the development of what has come to be called Google Glass.
Google Glass is the name given to Google’s new eyewear products, which happen to be computer-powered and allow consumers to view a miniature screen to the top-right of their vision. With the device, you can do all sorts of things, including checking your messages and taking pictures. What’s more, you can do all of this by voice command.
Science Project or Consumer Product?
Some people consider the project to be innovative, revolutionary and futuristic, while others think it is nerdy. Both groups are probably right to a certain extent, but Google sounds serious about their new piece of hardware. Skeptics would say that Glass is just for geeks, but Google has its eyes set on the mass market.
It has been recently reported that Google is in talks with VSP Global, a national eyewear conglomerate, about coming up with new designs for the product and developing prescription lenses specifically for Glass. Google hopes VSP will also encourage optometrists to adopt the product and train them to set up Glass for their customers.
The VSP strategy sounds like a logical way of recruiting some early adopters for Glass. With its already-growing nerdy stereotypes, Glass will certainly need a strong base of initial supporters who are happy to wear their glasses out and about. Google has actually released developer editions in the past, which sold for $1,500. It is not totally clear how much consumers would be expected to pay, but it will likely be under $1,500.
The Future of Wearable Computing
Remember, Google is only in talks with VSP and nothing has been confirmed as of yet. However, it is likely that wearable computing will indeed take off in the future, simply because of its potential to increase efficiency in professional environments, though it is unclear whether consumers will adopt the technology. Having access to useful tools hands-free could prove to be extremely useful for certain professionals, including optometrists, even if their consumers are not using the equipment themselves.
Ultimately though, Google sounds like it really wants consumers to buy into the product. Google hopes that consumers will be able to get their hands on the devices as early as 2014. The company is very entrepreneurial and always wants to stay on top, but perhaps the technology is coming too soon and people might just not be ready for it. But if Glass did take off, the product could potentially be a huge financial success for the company. As always though, time will tell and Google will likely need to stay patient in the early stages.
There are clear health and safety concerns regarding strapping a computer to your head for extended periods of time, not to mention the privacy concerns associated with being able to take pictures and videos in public whenever and wherever you are. Additionally, many agencies in the USA and around the world are looking to ban drivers from using Glass; some have already done so in fact.
Changing the World versus Selling Ads
Since the Glass can connect to the internet and actually has a small screen, it might be worth questioning Google’s motives. There are videos already on the internet of Glass in action, but parodies of Glass have since gone viral on YouTube. The parodies show scenarios in which users are blasted with obtrusive ads everywhere they go. Do not forget that well over 90% of Google’s total revenue is derived from advertising sales: it’s what the company does – they are a glorified advertising medium.
If the Glass initiative is successful, Google will likely have a large impact on the world once again, but it is worth thinking about how they plan to monetize such a project. They might make sales on the devices themselves, but Google would likely try to sell ads on top, or at the very least apps specifically made for the Glass.
There might be millions and millions of Americans wearing corrective eyewear on an everyday basis, but the question is whether or not many of those people would be interested in switching to computer-driven eyewear. Glass will be available to everyone of course, not just those who require lenses, but the devices are certainly unlike anything we have seen before.
Is Google All on Its Lonesome?
Other startups are already starting to emerge in the space for wearable computing for consumers, but perhaps more notably Samsung has already filed a design patent in South Korea for its own device which looks strikingly similar to the Glass. The patent has already been registered and could potentially develop into a direct competitor for Glass.
Perhaps we are all getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but wearable computing has certainly sparked interest in the recent past, especially with the introduction of the “smartwatch” concept. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has already been reported to have filed tens of patents relating to its anticipated “iWatch”. Wearable computing looks to be moving onto the scene very quickly. Even if you think this stuff is just for nerds, in a few years time you could well be reading your emails from the corner of your eye.
Does Google Glass interest you? What about the Samsung smart watch or a potential iWatch? Where do you think the future of wearable computing goes?