When Google Glass first appeared on the scene in April 2012, I knew I wanted a pair. But, I’m not a developer so I had no way to contribute to the program. For some time now Google has been hinting at a consumer version to be released in 2014 but there’s no hard information in public yet about that. And so, with Google offering the Explorer version to the public today, I went online and bought a pair.
I was an early adopter of the PC, carrying a personal laptop on my travels as far back as 1989. Then, one day in April 1996 I was on a flight from St. Louis to Houston and the guy next to me pulled out a US Robotics Palm Pilot. I got off the plane, went straight to CompUSA and bought one for myself. In 1998 I moved to Paris, France. I upgrade my Palm, added a modem, and developed a habit of downloading my e-mails before leaving my apartment so I could read them on my bus commute to work.
For quite some time I resisted the BlackBerry as the Palm’s of the early noughties had much broader functionality in their application landscape and BlackBerry only really mastered e-mail. But, since my company wasn’t going the Treo route, I eventually caved and retired my Palm.
I avoided the early iPhones. Again, my employer wasn’t buying and I didn’t want two phones. When I left that employer I was allowed to take the BlackBerry with me and so I stuck with it. While my wife bought an iPhone 3, I tried the T-mobile G1 – a rebadged HTC Dream. I never really liked it and after a few months I returned it for another BlackBerry.
Then Apple announced the iPad. Brilliant! I saw such great potential in the iPad that I immediately ordered the 3G version for delivery on the first day of availability, April 30, 2010. I still have that iPad and still use it daily but I’ve not yet been driven to buy an upgrade. My beef with the iPad is the lack of memory and its ‘Appleness’ that renders it less than seamless in a Microsoft driven business world. Perhaps the recent release of Microsoft Office for iPad will change that, but it won’t run on my 4-year-old device, stuck on iOS 5.1.1. I want more memory, a lot more. Why? Because at the max 128 GB, that still won’t hold a full backup of a single vacation’s worth of photos so I’m forced to drag around a second piece of kit just to do that. The iPad did, however, finally get me off the BlackBerry in 2010 and onto the iPhone 4 and now the iPhone 5.
So here enters Google Glass. I tried a pair for just a few minutes with back in February. I was traveling with an Explorer in Death Valley and he had a few minutes to show some of the navigation and recording features. As there’s no cell signal through most of Death Valley, he wasn’t able to demonstrate in great depth but I’d seen enough to know I wanted to dive deeper into wearable computing.
I find it strange how many people say that Glass is unnecessary when you have a smartphone but I don’t see it that way. How do you operate a smartphone? With both hands. What else can you do with those hands while you’re using your smartphone, nada, zip, zilch. We just stand or sit there, transfixed by our screens, scrolling through information and missing the world passing by just mere feet or even inches away.
Professionally, I help companies realize the value and potential of their IT investments. Few companies get a real return on their IT investments and in most cases it’s because they’re trying to solve yesterday’s issues with yesterday’s solutions. Projects are overly ambitious and take too long to deliver, the problems they set out to solve no longer being the problems the business is facing when the project is finally delivered.
For a significant part of my career I’ve worked with ERP and EAM systems – systems that are designed to deliver the information needed for someone to perform a task or activity effectively and efficiently to smooth the flow of business. In the fields of Maintenance and Supply Chain, that means users who inevitably have to stop doing something to interact with a device – a keyboard, or a scanner, or a set of drawings and instructions. Solutions such as bar codes and RFIDs go some way to streamlining activities, but usually the worker needs to have a device in his hand to scan or read the codes.
I frequently use the scanner on my iPhone to read bar codes to reorder items, or to read QR codes to open web pages. I imagine doing the same without using my hands. I envision looking up schematics or maintenance procedures and having the information displayed right in front of me while I have both hands free to perform the task required of me. I can even record what I’m doing to aid my supervisor in knowing the job was performed, and performed properly. I imagine a pair of geolocated Google Glass presenting me with with contextual information – like the augmented reality app Layar, but without me having to hold my phone up to ‘see’ the street.
Obviously there’s a lot of noise around Glass, mostly issues around privacy. Social networking users willingly give up their privacy to the social networks and allow them to mine their data for their own revenue generating purposes. The privacy settings are a theatrical device allowing you to decide how to present yourself to other users but have no impact on how the algorithms mine the content you create to return to you ‘relevant’ news and advertising. We go about our day oblivious to the security cameras already recording much of our lives. We have already all become data points in someone else’s Big Data project. Over time, those privacy concerns will be addressed and I believe we’ll come to accept wearable computing as we’ve come to accept smartphones. It may be, as Robert Scoble has posted, that Google Glass is still a few years from mass adoption, but I don’t see the concept of the personal heads-up display being uninvented.
And so, I just bought Google Glass so I can get in on the ground floor of this technology. Will I be disappointed? Probably, to some degree. But, I think there is tremendous potential here for improving the delivery of contextual information to actors in the business to better present them with the data they need to perform the tasks assigned. Many companies are still wrestling with Windows XP but Windows XP is the distant past. For IT to deliver value IT leaders need to be looking forward to the future. Further iterations of PC, new versions of SAP or EBS are not going to game-change your industry, but mobility already has and wearable computing might just re-imagine your business once more.