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How to use Google Glass at work

Sep 30, 2014

Wearable technology like Apple's new smartwatch has gotten plenty of attention lately, as have startups that are customizing Google Glass for specific workplace uses from oil rigs to operating rooms and factories in China. But if you work in an ordinary office, can Glass make your life easier? More to the point, at about twice the price of the average smartphone, can Glass do anything a smartphone can’t?

Ray Nicholus, lead developer and product manager at software firm Widen Enterprises in Madison, Wisc., decided to find out. A couple of months ago, he started wearing the glasses to the office every day. The main advantage he’s found: Having a computer screen in front of your right eye leaves your hands free. “You can shoot photos and videos, and get email notifications and all kind of other information, without having to pick up a device,” he says.

So far, Nicholus sees several other ways Glass makes everyday office life easier. First, because it integrates with Gmail, Google calendar, and an Android smartphone, “you can glance at incoming emails, phone calls, and calendar reminders all in one place without switching context,” he says. Glass is also useful for meetings. An app called Refresh can do background research on everyone who’s expected in a gathering, or at a job interview, and put the data on the screen “so you can ask the right questions.”

Nicholus especially likes YourShow, a Glass app that makes notes for a speech or presentation available in front of the speaker's eyes. “You can see a preview of your slides without losing focus on your audience, and even advance slides just by tapping your glasses," he says. The only drawback is that, although the speaker is less distracted, the audience sometimes isn’t. “They do notice you’re wearing Glass, and it can be the only thing they focus on."

With so many employees now working in places far from the home office, an app called LiveStream could come in handy for making them feel more connected. “Someone wearing Glass in a meeting or other group event, using LiveStream, serves as an ultra-portable camera,” Nicholus says. “It’s an easy way to give remote employees a better sense of being in the same room.”

LiveStream might be a valuable recruiting tool, too. “Ask an employee to wear Glass and record typical or interesting moments throughout the day,” he suggests. “This can be edited down to a short ‘day in the life’ video you could use to market your company and its culture to job candidates.”

Some of the 55 apps and integrations available from Google’s Glassware store sound almost as futuristic as the glasses look. Word Lens, for instance, could be a huge help to managers sent on overseas assignments who haven’t yet picked up much of the local language. It uses the Glass camera to translate printed words, and then overlays the translated text on top of the original.

So how come we’re not all sporting these specs? For one thing, the current base price of $1,500 plus tax is a bit steep for most consumers. “Google will have to get it closer to the price of a smartphone before most people will really look at buying it,” says Nicholus. Then there are technical difficulties, like Glass’s short battery life—“four to six hours at best, and much shorter if you’re filming”—and glitches like frequent WiFi disconnections. “It’s definitely still in beta,” Nicholus notes.

Not only that, but “Google is going to have to make Glass look more like ordinary glasses,” he adds. “Right now, it’s very noticeable, unlike even a smartwatch, and it does make people around you uncomfortable.” Not to mention how you look to yourself in the mirror. One recent reviewer on Amazon noted that his pair makes him look “dorky beyond anything I could have imagined.”

Even so, Nicholus sees so much potential in Glass that he’s hoping Google (goog)—which has so far been tight-lipped about its plans—will continue to add even more capabilities and work out the remaining bugs. “They seem to be focused on enterprise uses right now,” he notes. “But if they aren’t planning to keep adapting it for general use too, that would really be a shame.”

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