Google Glass and B2B Applications

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I’ve been using my Google Glass for awhile now and it has been a really interesting experience. I think enough other smart people have written great articles talking about the future of Google Glass, what the experience is like, and whether it’s a mainstream product. A quick Google search will give you lots of good examples there.

Rather than write another post along those lines, I’d rather talk more about what stands out to me about where Google Glass makes a ton of sense and where I do think there is a near-term market opportunity. I do think that Google Glass has a lot of near-term potential use cases for apps focused on B2B applications. Specifically, I can think of medical, industrial, and law enforcement use cases for Glass where specialty applications and services that leverage the technical capabilities of Glass could be built and distributed. Three quick reasons why I think the B2B case is far more compelling in the near term:

For high-value B2B use cases, the cost of the hardware may not be a barrier to adoption or use. Google Glass is currently pretty expensive – it cost me more than the last iPad I bought and only slightly less than what I paid for my last Macbook. Because computer hardware tends to get cheaper over time, Glass and its successors will get cheaper. But that takes time. However, in the meantime, there are probably specialty use cases where having a face-mounted heads up display provides enough value that the cost of the hardware is not an impediment. In those contexts, the utility of Google Glass and vertical-specific applications as a bundle might be sufficiently compelling that those B2B customers will overlook the entry price of Glass. One analogy I think of is the ruggedized computers and tablets that some field technicians carry – they are more expensive than regular laptops, but they are optimized for specific tasks and presumably the ROI of using them makes sense.

Glass’ “social asymmetry” is an issue in social situations but need not be in B2B use cases. I think there is a weird social asymmetry that happens whenever I’m wearing Glass and the person with whom I’m interacting is not. It feels awkward to wear a heads up display on your face when the other person, who is often a peer or colleague, does not have them on as well. In a B2B context, I don’t know that this social asymmetry exists – it would be less jarring for me to encounter someone like a doctor, cable technician, technical salesperson, or someone else who is not a peer using Google Glass in a client service context. Those folks already have access to tools and technology that I can’t access and I for one am accustomed to interacting with them while they are using such tools. Or, if I were on a construction site and everyone there was wearing Google Glass and had access to the blueprints, schedule, and other pertinent information, there’s no asymmetry as everyone has them.

B2B developers don’t need massive consumer adoption to explore and develop vertical B2B applications. For consumer applications to flourish on Google Glass, Glass needs to have much more consumer adoption and usage. I say this because I assume that Google Glass will follow the arc of tablets and smartphones in terms of consumer adoption – as prices come down and the audience grows, free, device-specific apps will pop up and compete for attention. If Glass becomes popular with consumers, someone will try to be the “Instagram for Glass” or the “YouTube for Glass” or the X for Glass, including some apps that are uniquely enabled by Glass. However, for B2B adoption, a developer could build something specific and optimized for a specific vertical and market an app + Glass solution to that vertical and have a more traditional SaaS or licensed software business model. And, given the price of Glass, there is no reason that the specialty vertical app need be free or cheap if it’s producing real value for B2B customers. For sufficiently compelling applications, there might be interesting, early businesses to be built on the back of thousands or tens of thousands of paying B2B consumers while Glass and the wearables market waits for consumer adoption to pan out (if it does).

If you’re working on B2b Glass or Glass-like applications, I’m curious to hear what your experiences have been. Feel free to leave a comment below or chat with me on Twitter @chudson.

  • ndintenfass

    Makes a lot of sense — I wonder, though, if it can find an audience without the support infrastructure one might expect from ‘business technology’ companies. iPad has made its way into lots of businesses because it was already becoming accepted and ubiquitous among certain demographics, but Glass remains risky technology for all but the most daring of businesses to adopt. Also doesn’t seem like Google is geared up to address that kind of sale, but they could adopt quickly if there’s traction — but will it be a big enough deal to warrant their attention given how big Glass needs to be to be considered a success at Google Scale?

  • chudson

    You raise good points. I do think, though, that Google needs other people to do some of the experimentation with Glass and find those use cases. I can’t see how they find the fit in the market without that.

  • ndintenfass
  • chudson

    Great find – I actually ended up connecting with her on her article