What is it like to shop using Google Glass? Mobile agency Somo lent Rebecca Thomson the technology for an afternoon to find out.
Google Glass is one of those technologies liable to instil a sense of fear into the hearts of retailers. It’s another potentially game-changing gadget hovering ominously on the horizon, which no one really knows much about just yet - if it catches on, it could wreak yet more havoc on the retail business model.
But retailers shouldn’t worry too much. Glass - and other wearable smart technology - is significant because it takes many of the jobs that shoppers already use smartphones for and makes them quicker and easier to complete. So a user can Google a store and get directions, which appear in map form on a screen over their right eye, or they can take photos of two products to ask friends which they prefer. While Glass is revolutionary in many ways, it doesn’t take shoppers’ use of mobile technology in store in an entirely new direction - instead it makes it easier to do the things shoppers are already doing.
It does, however, feel quite strange wearing Google Glass for the first time. It is a totally different experience to using a smartphone and it takes some getting used to.
The Glass is voice-activated and turns on when the user says “OK Glass” - but it doesn’t always pick up the command and can be confused between instructions and what people nearby are saying. Shoppers are likely to feel a bit stupid bellowing the words “Google cheapest TomTom 500” in the John Lewis electricals department over and over again.
Once switched on, the user is shown a selection of options on the tiny screen above their eye. They can choose to Google something, make a note, share a photo, make a video call - the person called can see exactly what the user sees on their Glass screen - or get directions.
The wearer can choose what they want to do by telling it vocally, by tapping the outside of the glass frame, or by tilting their head - none of which was very easy to master straight away.
Google Glass’ present incarnation is the first version of the device and was only made available to a limited group of developers. The technology will be available to consumers next year.
Mobile agency Somo lent Retail Week its device for the afternoon, and Somo senior innovation manager Joel Blackmore says the technology will only get sleeker and easier.
“The current version is the equivalent of Zack Morris’ brick phone on Saved by the Bell,” he says. Blackmore points out that Google is updating the software all the time and a new unit is expected in the next couple of months that will have a better processor and more powerful battery. In the coming years, Glass will become something that can be clipped discreetly on to glasses or sunglasses, and the frame and computer will be tiny compared with its current size.
The two big usability issues Retail Week came across were the voice control and internet connectivity. When the device does hear you it often can’t pick up the 3G network or connect to a store’s wi-fi. This is especially pertinent for big-box retailers, supermarkets and those with 3G-unfriendly locations. Somo vice-president of strategy and planning Emma Crowe points out that in-store wi-fi will need to improve over the coming years.
We visited John Lewis on Oxford Street and tried to Google the cheapest prices for iPods and sat navs but were foiled by a lack of connectivity. Outside however, the 3G worked, so we asked for directions to Selfridges, and the on-screen map and GPS is impressive.
With Glass, there’s no staring down at a map working out which direction to go in - the device shows you the roads in front of you in map form, and arrows show you where to go.
No doubt the usability issues will be ironed out as the device is developed, and even with these hiccups it’s easy to see how it could transform the shopping experience. Instead of getting your phone out to tweet, take a photo or video, search for the cheapest price or get directions, everything is there - literally in front of your eyes - without the user having to move. That means you can get your cash out, carry your bags or push a trolley without dealing with a phone, and it makes interacting with the web while in a store much more seamless.
If anyone is dubious about the gadget, Crowe points to the rate of adoption of other technologies consumers might not have imagined they needed. “Putting a timescale behind it is quite difficult - it [take-up] could start to happen in about a year’s time or it could be longer. Think about the development and usage of the iPad and how that’s grown compared to last year, when there was hardly any take-up.”
She says Glass is developing at the same time as other important trends. “It’s still in the very early days of usage and is developing in parallel with a lot of other developments in retail.”
For instance, Apple’s Passbook, which holds vouchers and coupons on the iPhone, could be used in conjunction with Glass. In addition, the rise of dynamic pricing and better wi-fi will add to what Glass can do - price changes and offers can be communicated to shoppers with a greater degree of immediacy than on a mobile phone, which might languish in someone’s pocket while they shop.
Personalising the experience
Another unique feature Google Glass provides is the ability to turn on whenever it recognises images it thinks will appeal to the wearer. Users must link their Glass device to their Google accounts, so it will have access to their internet search history and the contents of their emails, enabling it to pick things it thinks will appeal. This could be anything from Indian food to films a shopper might enjoy - Somo, for instance, has designed a service that plays movie trailers when Glass recognises film posters or DVD boxes.
This data-driven service has wide-ranging potential. If a shopper often buys from New Look online, for instance, a promotion could be sent to her when she walks past a New Look store and Glass recognises the fascia.
Location data could also be used to generate offers - a regularly visited cafe could offer a shopper 10% off when Glass detects them walking past.
Every device is pegged to a smartphone, because Glass doesn’t access the internet itself but is linked to a networked phone. This means apps could be adjusted to work on Glass, and Crowe says this could end up driving interest and perhaps act as the tipping point users need to prompt them to try Glass.
This is another aspect of the technology that makes it appealing - everything from mobile banking to transport information could be available in this tiny screen just above a user’s eye.
Having tried Glass, it’s easy to see how it could slot into the shopping journeys users already embark on. It may take a while for mass-market adoption - although previous innovative technologies such as smartphones and tablets have achieved adoption surprisingly quickly - and there are usability issues that will need to be smoothed over.
But Glass and other wearable technologies will narrow the divide between the physical and the digital worlds until it is almost undetectable, making them hugely important for the retail industry.
- Car manufacturer Nissan is launching the Nissan 3E this month, which looks similar to Google Glass in that it’s a tiny computer worn over one eye. It has also launched a smartwatch designed to connect drivers to their cars and track the car’s performance.
- Samsung launched the Galaxy Gear smartwatch in September - one of the first big-brand launches of such a device.
- The Nike+ Fuelband is a wristband that tracks a user’s activity and fitness. It is linked to their Nike+ account, allowing them to track their fitness progress.
- Jawbone is another wearable technology company that produces fitness bracelets.
- There is constant speculation over whether Apple or Google will deliver a smartwatch - essentially a
wrist band that provides users with the sort of services they get from smartphones at present. Apple hasn’t even hinted it will deliver one, but a step in this direction from the technology giant would accelerate use of wearable technology.
- Sony has launched the SmartWatch 2 in the US, designed as an accompanying gadget to a Sony smartphone or tablet.
- Californian start-up Telepathy has designed a product that will compete head-to-head with Glass. It wraps around a user’s head and has earphones and a screen and will also launch next year.
What consumers think of Google Glass
- A YouGov survey of 2,000 UK adults, commissioned by software supplier Venda, found that 28% of consumers would use wearable technology to access in-store promotions.
- Over a quarter (27%) of consumers would also like to be kept informed of local offers via the device.
- One in five consumers (22%) would like to be able to receive additional offers and promotions via digital screens such as store window displays.
- Over a third of consumers would use Google Glass to plan their shopping routes.
- Over a quarter (27%) would use the technology to search for available stock and product ideas to purchase while in store - rising to 45% for 18 to 24 year olds.
- Almost 80% of consumers, however, would feel embarrassed wearing technology such as Google Glass.
- Technology analyst Juniper Research predicts global shipments of wearable smart glasses will reach 10 million a year by 2018, compared with an estimated 87,000 this year.
- Juniper Research also forecasts that the app-enabled mobile smart wearable device hardware market will be worth nearly $19bn (£11.78bn) by 2018.