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Google Glass Gets Down To Business

Google's new Glass at Work program aims to capitalize on the enterprise's interest in Google Glass, even if consumers are still skeptical.

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After months of promoting Glass as a fashion accessory and pushing back against misperceptions, without an evident shift in public perception, Google has extended its Explorer Program to businesses in an effort to win acceptance for its computerized eyewear in the workplace.

Glass at Work, announced Monday, formalizes a pathway toward enterprise use of Glass that many developers had already explored on their own. Google says that it has noticed how some of its Glass Explorers have used Glass to advance business goals, and that several companies already have begun working with enterprise software developers to create Glassware relevant to their business processes and customers. It has asked developers working on enterprise-oriented Glassware to get in touch.

Two organizations that have embraced Glass are the oilfield services company Schlumberger and the Washington Capitals hockey team. Schlumberger partnered with Wearable Intelligence, a startup focused on wearable technology, to use Glass to enhance the safety and efficiency of workers in the field. The Washington Capitals have been working with APX Labs, another wearable technology firm, to deliver real-time statistics, instant replays, and alternate camera angles to fans wearing Glass.

[No, you won't be a cyborg if you wear Google Glass. Read more: 10 Google Glass Myths, Translated.]

"We are at the beginning of a dramatic shift in how enterprise workers will be empowered by technology," Wearable Intelligence said in a blog post over the weekend. "To-date, technology has predominantly touched the lives of knowledge workers: those of us sitting behind computers at desks. Most people don’t work this way."

The implication is that Glass and similar technology can assist people who work with their hands or on their feet -- modes of work that limit interaction with desktop or mobile devices.

Such scenarios already have been realized. For example, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center recently began testing a version of Glass that has been modified to meet healthcare privacy regulations so emergency room doctors can use the device to view patient data while keeping their hands free.

Glass at Work has an upside for Google: The perception of Glass as a $1,500 indulgence for the 1% doesn't matter much in enterprise settings, where the distance of shareholders anesthetizes organizations from vendor price gouging. This is doubly true in the healthcare industry, where the price of acetaminophen might be marked up as much as 10,000%. A healthcare-compliant version of Glass could probably go for five figures without anyone batting an eye.

But Google's interest in enterprise use of Glass might be more realpolitik than actual enthusiasm. Until consumer demand for wearables has been figured out and exploited, Glass will not provide the scale or data that Google needs to matter to its hugely profitable advertising business. Enterprise users are not inconsequential, but they require hand holding, salespeople, and industry-specific accommodations, such as privacy requirements that might preclude use of Gmail or the like. They require a level of service that imposes extra costs.

Google's enterprise business has flourished largely thanks to Google Apps channel partners and integrators. While Google continues its consumer-focused campaign to make being a cyborg socially acceptable, companies such as APX Labs and Wearable Intelligence will find ways to make Glass fit comfortably in the workplace.

What do Uber, Bank of America, and Walgreens have to do with your mobile app strategy? Find out in the new Maximizing Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2014 | 6:24:26 PM
Re: Google Glass in the field
I agree that price will certainly be a challenge for Google Glass.

It actually reminds me of Segway (the two-wheeled, self-balancing electrical vehicle).

When it first came out people believed it will revolutionize the way people walked. But the high price tag and restricted usage (e.g. some states not allowing Segway on the sidewalk) really prevented Segway from gaining popularity among consumers. Now, you only see them used by police force (niche market).
Drew Conry-Murray
Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
4/9/2014 | 10:35:08 AM
Re: Google Glass in the field
I'd feel better about a doctor using Google Glass than a random person on the street. Context makes a lot of difference when it comes to technology like this.
User Rank: Author
4/9/2014 | 8:59:32 AM
Re: Google Glass in the field
Price will remain a notable obstacle even in enterprise settings, I suspect. CIOs are getting conditioned to low-cost, disposable electronics the same way we as consumers are, as they embrace $500 consumer-grade tablets.
Li Tan
Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2014 | 10:13:35 PM
Re: Google Glass in the field
I think the situation for Google Glass is better compared to that of IBM Watson. For IBM Watson, there is no concrete business yet and it's still under research more or less. For Google Glass, some reporters already start using it when doing the live broadcast and interview.
User Rank: Author
4/8/2014 | 4:57:57 PM
Re: Google Glass in the field
Reminds me a bit of IBM's challenge with its Watson computer: We've developed this really cool technology, now we have to figure out some practical applications for it. 
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
4/8/2014 | 4:47:13 PM
Re: Google Glass in the field
I suspect that Glass in the workplace will do better when the device is capable of doing less. Pretty much every function you'd want from Glass should be instantly accessible; it doesn't work to scroll through menus while standing in a field somewhere.
User Rank: Author
4/8/2014 | 4:36:02 PM
Google Glass in the field
Interesting that an oil company is mentioned here. I met another energy company CIO recently who said his company was working on its first applications for Google Glass in the field. Field testing may spur some of the earliest practical uses of Google Glass.
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