A Close-Up View of Google Glass

Google Glass, the hands-free computer that competes for space with your spectacles, has been in testing mode since April 2012. Google is mum on exactly when the hotly anticipated device will be released: Some 10,000 people currently are test-driving the technology as part of the Glass Explorer program. But tech watchers are betting on an early 2014 launch.

Of course, it may be several years before Glass becomes as ubiquitous as the iPhone. Still, retailers would be smart to start considering the technology’s many ramifications, both in-store and online. The days of consumers hunching over smartphones to text and take photos while shopping may be coming to an end. 

What Is Google Glass?

Google Glass is a minicomputer that features a camera, eye-line display screen, touch pad, battery, and microphone built into frames that resemble lens-less eyeglasses. The capabilities of the Explorer edition are much like a smartphone’s: It takes photos and video, provides GPS-reliant directions, surfs the Net, and sends and receives emails.

Google says Glass is lighter than a pair of typical sunglasses and Explorer Kyle Crafton, senior vice president of interactive at content marketing firm McMurry/TMG (which publishes JCK), confirms that they’re “totally light—they’re designed so that they’ll be there when you need them and not when you don’t.” But wearing Glass over a pair of prescription glasses “is a little awkward,” he says.

How Does It Work?

Glass is mostly voice-activated. To activate the camera, for example, you say, “Take a picture.” It syncs with your other Google-owned apps and platforms, including Google+ and Gmail. But its keyboard-free design can be hard to get used to, says ­Crafton. “Honestly, it can mostly do stuff your phone can do, but mostly worse,” he says.

Glass, however, excels at taking quick-fire photos and video. “It uses your direct line of sight…and it just knows when to jump into action,” says Crafton. “It’s meant to be very present tense.” Great for catching a toddler on the run. But if you’re looking to properly frame up a shot of a sunset, the tech exec recommends using a camera that’s not barnacled to your face.

Glass’ map capabilities also are impressive, but “really only if you’re walking,” says Crafton. “You can use voice commands and put directions right in front of your eye.”

How Could It Change Retail?

Glass’ voice-activated commands initially may create some confusion over whether a customer is talking to you or her itty-bitty computer. But a face-mounted machine will eradicate the distracting (and endless) fiddling with smartphones. Since there’s virtually zero lag time to take a photo or roll video, expect “take a picture” to be uttered smack in the middle of conversations about merchandise (which may be less obtrusive than a customer whipping out an iPhone).

The device reads and downloads info via Quick Response codes just as quickly, so now would be the optimal time to experiment with code technology. If Glass catches on like Google hopes it will, QR-enabled websites and visual in-store displays can’t be far behind. And because Glass wearers will be much more chatty—due to all the voice commands—retailers potentially could build sites optimized for vocal searching.

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