Look sharp, visionary marketers: Google Glass is upon us, offering innovative businesses the potential to reach customers in an entirely new way. Eventually.
The new technology, trickling off the presses with 124,000 units expected in the hands of eager early adopters this year, is essentially a spectacle frame with a built-in computer that emits a display in the upper right corner of the wearer’s field of vision, courtesy of a prism screen.
The practical applications are myriad. Glass can provide real time transcriptions and translations, and has the ability to scroll and send on-the-go emails as dictated by the wearer. There’s also a camera for snapping stills and sharing point-of-view video, all triggered by voice or simple motions to a touchpad.
As with smartphones, though, it’s not the base technology that’s got technophiles and marketers so excited; it’s the customer-engagement potential of its apps.
And there will be no shortage of apps. Three major VC firms Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers have combined their considerable heft to form Glass Collective, a deep-pocketed partnership to support entrepreneurs developing apps for the smart glasses.
It’s early days yet so it’s difficult to predict how first-to-market advertisers will want to engage wearers, or how successful they’ll be. Experts agree, however, that overwhelming a user with simplistic location-based ads and coupons won’t hit the mark.
“Nothing could really be worse in that format than having spam offers flood your view,” said Michele Turner, chief product office for mobile solutions firm mBlox, in a recent interview with digital advertising site adotas.com.
Turner predicts enterprise companies will wait until the market share is large enough to warrant the work involved in developing a more engaging app, one that will deliver personally relevant offers at the right place and time. That’s at least a few years away, but likely not much more.
Industry forecasters predict global shipments of smart glasses to reach 6.6 million by 2016. But the current price tag of $1,500 will have to come down considerably before a broader audience will be willing to scoop them up.
For smaller businesses, ingenuity may be more critical than a large budget. Scott Briskman, chief creative officer at interactive strategy firm Extractable, imagined the creative applications of the technology in a recent interview with adotas.com. “What if you are playing golf with TaylorMade clubs? When you’re on the course you call up the Taylor app and info for that course and the actual hole you’re playing appear customized based on your play and your clubs?”
Some businesses, too, will find a more natural fit than others with the technology’s virtual sense of place.
The travel and tourism industry, for example, is an easy partner to Google Glass, with walk-through capability of new locations, a tour of a vacation spot’s amenities, a theme park’s attractions or a cruise ship’s multiple decks.
Another consideration for Glass will be the unprecedented window it will offer into customers’ habits something that might be more valuable to third parties than any direct business from an app. The number of data points per user has the potential to be staggering, industry experts note, including a questions asked by a wearer, places visited, purchases, distance walked, social interactions, photos taken and more.
Bill Maris, managing partner with Google Ventures of the Glass Collective says the revenue potential for third parties isn’t clear just yet, but it’s definitely there.
In a recent interview with engadget.com, he said, “People have been asking [the revenue] question about YouTube for years and now, but it’s okay. Now there is a revenue model. And Google was in the search business and search was not attractive.”
“If it’s obvious, then someone else is going to do it and it’s probably not that great an idea,” said Maris.
Maris envisions plenty of profitable applications for the technology in the very near future, including shipping companies able to record deliveries more simply and medical staff able to view real-time patient information upon entering a hospital room. It’s the longer-term potential, though, that has Maris most excited, predicting a version of Glass ten years down the road with exponentially more power and with a much more significant impact on the way we live.