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Google Glass shows its worth in the workplace

This post was written by John Helmer and first appeared on the LINE blog on 10th April 2014.

Is Google Glass a useful technology for learning? John Helmer finds early indications that it might be, as organisations rush to find workplace applications for wearable technology.

Here’s an interesting follow-up to our recent blog piece about Google Glass – and an unmissable chance to say ‘we-told-you-so’. Confirming our own feeling that wearable technologies will find a home more easily within working environments than in our leisure lives, a piece in the New York Times says that, ‘Consumers have been wary of Glass. Yet it is finding more enthusiastic acceptance in the workplace …’.

This acceptance within organisations for Glass, if it continues and spreads, is liable to place wearable technology firmly within the future remit of L&D. Experience shows that once a new communications technology proves its utility as a productivity tool, calls for its use in training are not far behind – just look what happened with smartphones and tablets.

The New York Times mentions healthcare, law enforcement, manufacturing and athletics as fields where Glass is being actively used, and indicates that many more sectors have workforces whose jobs ‘do not involve sitting at a desk, but where a screen with an Internet connection would come in handy’. 80% of jobs, in fact.

The hands-free capability that David Kelly of the e-learning guild highlighted as a killer capability of Glass could also further the cause of mobility in sectors such as Oil and Gas that have previously ruled out mobile devices as too fragile and droppable for use in dangerous work environments.

So the future looks bright for Glass and Glass-like developments in the workplace.

Meanwhile, Google is desperate to position Glass a consumer-friendly lifestyle product, as just a glance at the shades in which it is available will tell you – Charcoal, Tangerine, Shale, Cotton and Sky. However, the price point is not exactly consumer-friendly at the moment: for that $1,500 you could buy a used car or a trip to Disneyland with the kids. Meanwhile, according to a new study, 72% of Americans say they would not use Google Glass because of concerns about privacy and safety.

Glass half full

The real story here, so far as business is concerned, is not Google Glass per se but wearable as a new category of access devices for computing.

Already, the specialisation that will be needed to equip Glass for the needs of different business sectors, and to counter anxieties about privacy and security, are underway. NYT lists a host of startups that make Glass software for businesses winning funding from investors.

And although Google hasn’t yet released the software that would allow developers to write apps for Glass, already developers are exploring what it can do when combined with eye-tracking and gesture control, and showing the results at hackathons such as this one reported by New Scientist.

Google Glass might well confound the naysayers and become as ubiquitous and the iPhone once it finally achieves a full release – on the other hand it might wither on the vine. But the signs are that wearable computing is going to be an important new area in workplaces, and an exciting space for learning – accelerating trends such as just-in-time learning, performance support, and personalisation that we have already identified as part of the New Learning Organisation.