Glass, Google's head-mounted, Internet-connected device, won't be available commercially until sometime in 2014. Even so, there are thousands of Glass "Explorers," or early adopters, already using the high-tech eyewear on the job. Many are discovering that, in addition to being a geeked-out plaything, Glass can in fact solve everyday business problems, help people be more productive, enhance workflows and deliver other real-world benefits.
Here's a look at some of the practical and innovative ways Explorers are using the $1,500 prototype device in their work — from automotive repair to sports reporting.
1. Live, Remote Sales Training
Josh Cohen is CEO of TownSpot, an online video network startup. The company has no actual offices, Cohen says, with team members scattered around the country. The virtual organization structure makes it challenging to train the sales team — a problem Google Glass is helping to solve, according to Cohen.
For example, on a recent sales call to a new customer in Los Angeles, with the customer's permission, Cohen streamed video of his view in real-time via Google Glass to an Atlanta co-worker. Cohen's colleague could see the customer's reactions and hear how he delivered the sales pitch, he says, adding that this type of easily set up, live and remote training "could never have been done before."
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Often, salespeople are trained by accompanying the sales leader or CEO on customer calls, Cohen notes. This usually requires flying the sales person to another location, among other costs. Glass lets Cohen virtually take multiple people on sales calls with him wherever he goes, thereby reducing travel and other training expenses.
2. Hands-free Sports Reporting
Andrew Abramson, the Miami Dolphins beat reporter for The Palm Beach Post, uses Glass on the job. He was interested in the device mainly for its video and photo capabilities.
"Video has become a huge part of sports reporting," Abramson says. "While the traditional TV reporters still enter locker rooms with their bulky cameras, other reporters are often uncomfortably holding up their cell phones and shooting their own clips."
Meanwhile, Abramson finds it much easier to wear a video camera on his face. "With Google Glass, I can shoot photos and videos simply by pressing a button or using voice commands," he says. "I can instantly upload photos and videos to the Web without using my hands."
Abramson has received "an overwhelmingly positive response" from Dolphins fans who follow his reports, and about half of the Dolphins' players have tried on his pair. Reaction varies, he says, from ridicule to amazement to "Where do I get my pair?"
3. Sharing Conference Sessions
"Literally every day, there are different start-up related conferences and events," Cohen says. He can't make it to them all, but with Google Glass — and the permission of conference organizers — Cohen and his team divide and conquer. Recording the events in real time "is easier and less obtrusive than using a video camera," he says, and it gives employees the convenience of watching a conference or event on their own time.
4. Taking Notes
Evernote, the popular note-taking Web service and application, is among the few official Google Glass apps currently available — and Shazafar Khaja, integration architect for The Kroger Company, says Evernote is the most useful app thus far for Glass.
"Before I go to meetings, I email myself the minutes from previous meetings and action items. I have all of this accessible to me in the meeting at the flick of a finger, with Glass," he says. "I've also started to record (with everyone's permission) parts of brainstorming sessions where we have ideas flying around. This enables me to be involved without having to fiddle with a phone or camera."
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Khaja admits he could do all of the above using traditional methods — "But with Glass, I'm less distracted and more focused on what's going on."
5. Fixing Cars
Glass Explorer Will Elias says Glass has helped him with the complexity of fixing vehicles. "With cars changing so quickly, and everything computerized, I was able to work on a vehicle with the assistance of an ASE-certified mechanic," Elias says. "He watched what I was doing (through a Glass video chat) and guided me on how to fix the vehicle correctly."
6. Showcasing Your Company
Google Glass is an ideal way to show off a company's customer service experience, notes Hilary Topper, CEO of HJMT Public Relations: "Imagine walking in and videotaping, with a first-person perspective, the way someone would be treated if they entered your restaurant, spa or bank." Topper's firm used Glass to make a reality video to both showcase the firm and show off Glass. The video, Glasslandia, has received more than 50 million social media impressions," she says.
7. Staying Up to Date While Out and About
Matt McGee is editor-in-chief of Marketing Land and also runs the popular Glass Almanac blog. "With Glass I can get RSS feeds, Tweets, emails and so forth sent right to me while I'm out and about," he says. "It's great at conferences, for example, to be able to consume this kind of information while walking the halls or expo floors. It keeps me in the know."
McGee admits that he could get these updates on his iPhone — but consuming that kind of information at a conference means stopping, find an out-of-the-way spot and reading. With Glass, on the other hand, he can keep walking and see headlines and tweets as they come to him. "I can even speak a reply," he says. "And it's all done hands-free with my head up, so I don't have to worry about walking into someone."
8. Troubleshooting a Website From a Distance
Cohen says the capability to share visual information immediately can help solve tech issues. If he encounters a bug or other technical glitch on his company's website, the Los Angeles-based Cohen can say, "OK, Glass, take a picture," and share a photo of his computer screen with his two Web developers in Virginia. The real-time sharing lets his Web developers understand the issue better and react immediately, Cohen says.
Google Glass Doesn't Come Without Workplace Drawbacks
Advantages aside, Google Glass raises significant safety, security and privacy issues that can affect users both on and off the job. Not surprisingly, the still-in-development technology has other drawbacks for those using them in their work.
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The built-in battery is notorious among Explorers for its short life, especially when video is involved. "With moderate use, the battery will only have to be charged once or twice a day, allowing you to use GPS, text messaging and occasional photos," Abramson says. "But if you're recording or watching video, the battery will die in less than an hour."
Cohen bemoans the inability to bulk delete multiple cards. (Glass displays information, such as text messages, as individual cards.) Cohen can receive as many as 600 business emails per day, and not being able to tell Glass, "wipe all email cards from today," means that Cohen can't access any other information on his Glass without scrolling all those emails.
But the biggest limitation is the lack of Google Glass apps, most of which are limited in their features, McGee notes. Twitter won't take a Tweet received on Glass and send it via email, he says, nor can headlines received over RSS get sent in an email. Meanwhile, the new, unofficial WordPress app seems to be geared toward photoblogging. "I'd like a WordPress app that would let me speak a headline, speak some text and then send that to my WordPress install," MeGee says.
Future Uses of Google Glass on the Job
Though Glass already helps workers in a variety of occupations, the technology could be of particular importance to specialized fields.
For example, Glass could be used to improve an airline's baggage handling process, says Stephen Fluin, chief strategy and innovation officer for MentorMate. Most bag lines have one person scanning bags, to verify their destination and other information, and another physically moving bags. Smaller lines use one person to both tasks, picking up and putting down a scanner repeatedly. Using technology such as Glass, Fluin says, a single baggage handler could scan bags with both hands free to move the bags.
Glass Explorer Chuck Webster says third-party apps from developers in industries such as healthcare, education, security and system repair will really make Glass valuable to workers. He points to the advantage of surgeons using Glass to confer with experts during surgery, adding that early responders could also wear Glass to receive "just-in-time clinical decision support."
Webster says Glass will likely shine when integrated with current workflow management, business process management and adaptive case management technologies. "We're going to see some very interesting mashups between Glass and business process management software," he says. That's why Webster refers to Glass not as a smartphone on your face but, rather, "workflow on your face."
James A. Martin is an SEO and social media consultant and writes the CIO.com Martin on Mobile Apps blog. Follow him on Twitter @james_a_martin and on Google+. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.