Google Glass at Work could make some jobs easier

With Glass for Work, Google aims to overcome the challenges the "smart glasses" have faced in the consumer marketplace. The new focus on enterprise could help field workers, manufacturers and engineers get more done hands-free.

The new Google Glass at Work initiative shifts the wearable computer's focus from the consumer to the enterprise.

Google Glass at Work certifies partners that make business or professional apps for Glass, Google's wearable computer. What this means for the enterprise world is companies with popular business products will be able to develop apps that can potentially make many tasks easier and increase employee productivity overall.

It's not surprising that Google is expanding its horizons. Despite the company's attempts to shift public perception, the reactions to Google Glass continue to range from lukewarm to downright hostile. Restaurants have banned them and wearers have been called names and accosted by strangers. The feds interrogated one Google Glass user because they thought he was recording a movie at a theater. Google itself even released instructions on how not to be a "glasshole."

Clearly, the product has a PR problem.

The Glass challenge

Public opinion of Google Glass often focuses squarely on the matter of privacy. Many bystanders fear the ease with which they can be surreptitiously photographed and recorded. Wearers, too, must be willing to sacrifice much of their own privacy in order to take full advantage of device features.

Privacy is just as much an issue for Google Glass in the enterprise, as the device makes it easier for colleagues to spy on each other, even if unintentionally. Imagine wearing Google Glass in a private meeting where sensitive information is being discussed. Even if you're not actively recording events, the device's ability to do so is not likely to be ignored.

Privacy is only one consideration, though. Security is also one of the top concerns for the enterprise. Not only does Google Glass provide a means for more easily exposing sensitive information, it might also act as a gateway for viruses and hackers. The current lack of security mechanisms could represent tremendous risks.

Also unknown is how Google Glass will fit into IT's existing management infrastructure. The device is still too much of a work in progress to understand what will be necessary to support it. IT will have to figure out how to administer Glass while still protecting corporate resources.

The possible legal ramifications of permitting Google Glass at work are another concern, particularly if the device distracts workers or causes hazardous work conditions. If employees are injured on the job as a result of the device -- regardless if they're the one wearing it -- they may be entitled to workers compensation and more. Employees wearing the device while driving a company vehicle or driving on company time that get into an accident could result in serious liability claims.

There are also challenges. The short battery life, with its estimated operating time of three hours or less, is often cited. Many find the $1,500 price tag to be too high, perhaps even in the enterprise (though no doubt that price will come down). Navigation and ease of use are also a consideration, given the tiny interface and limited processing power. From a fashion perspective, reluctance over wearing the device  could make some workers hesitant to use Google Glass to its full capacity.

The Glass advantage

Despite the challenges that Google Glass presents, the device could still be a boon to workers.

Field workers, ranging from cable providers to emergency rescue teams, could have a wearable device that allows them to send and receive information while still letting them get their hands dirty. Through voice commands and a simple touch or two, they could view an assortment of information or navigate through complex step-by-step instructions without losing sight of their target projects.

Glass also has the potential to streamline processes such as consulting with colleagues, transmitting data and accessing critical information. The device's hands-free capabilities make it possible for those away from their desks to do their jobs without having to tote documentation or other devices. An employee in the field could reference schematics or snap a photo of finished work to confirm completion.

Another industry that Google Glass at Work might benefit is manufacturing, where apps could be used to monitor and respond to mechanical events. For example, technicians could verify equipment status, respond to alerts or shut down operations in the event of an emergency. Other apps might have the ability to identify parts or products.

Google Glass also promises to deliver augmented reality, a technologically enhanced view of the user environment. Imagine an engineer walking through a building and being able to see where the electrical wiring and air ducts run without having to carry a stack of blueprints or specs. The engineer could even highlight or tag aspects of that environment for later collaboration.

The Glass initiative

Google Glass might have been designed with the consumer in mind, but multiple industries have been the quickest to exploit the device. Not surprisingly, companies with workers in the field have been at the forefront of this movement. Still, the device has a long way to go before we see widespread adoption. Companies are reluctant to invest heavily in developing Glassware when the API platform is still evolving, and then there are the limitations of the device, most notably the screen size. Developers will have to choose carefully what data to display and how to display it.

Even so, enterprises are serious about Google Glass, and Google has gotten serious about enterprises. With its Google Glass at Work program, Google hopes to make it easier for businesses to explore Glass and its possibilities. The Google Glass at Work program authorizes its Glass Certified Partners to deliver enterprise products and services (such as tech support) to help facilitate their efforts.

Perhaps the risk for Google is that consumers will start seeing Google Glass as only an occupational tool, like a jackhammer or a stethoscope. The smartphone has its roots in enterprise adoption with BlackBerry and PalmPilot devices, so it's not much of a leap to think that Google Glass at Work could follow the same trajectory. However, unlike BlackBerry or PalmPilot, Google Glass is designed for consumers, so already the device has some catching up to do to make it truly enterprise-ready.

This was first published in August 2014

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