It started as a rumor. It rippled through social networks. Then came stories by Nick Bilton at the New York Times in December 2011, Seth Weintrab at 9TO5 Google and most recently again from Nick Bilton in a follow-up article about testing prototypes of “Google Glasses.” And Steven Levy at Wired recounted some deep history and added perspective and background elements about the project, now known as Project Glass.
This much we know. According to many reports, an official demo video, and individuals who recently saw Larry Page wearing the glasses at a party, these high-tech glasses superimpose critical information and alerts as one interacts with the physical world, in realtime. They are essentially a heads-up display for daily life. And if it catches on and moves beyond geekdom, it could be a winner in the interface wars. And no matter how much you want it, whatever you see is a prototype, not yet a product for sale.
But Google’s Project Glass is about more than a new mobile or wearable device – it’s about what we call the vanishing point. Smartphones and tablets are only the first step on a journey to operationally merge the digital and physical worlds.
The vanishing point is where the physical and digital worlds merge and are seamlessly and meaningfully available to us anywhere and at anytime. The vanishing point and the intermediate steps along the way can be analyzed and modeled. When Haydn Shaughnessy and I strategize with companies about elasticity we include the vanishing point in our analyses. We typically model it out about five years. It often has vast competitive implications across all aspects of the business. It has particular poignancy for the evolving customer experience.
The vanishing point drives innovation in the mobile space. It drives Apple and it drives Google. Google had no choice but to “go Android” several years ago. Otherwise its search business might have been relegated to a mere icon among the billions of screens proliferating across the world. Nor could Google risk being left in the digital dust of a rapidly receding PC-era.
The same is true today. Google has no choice but to pursue Larry Page’s and Sergey Brin’s dream to bring these “glasses” to market. It needs to innovate, make a mark and stake a new claim on its turf.
Google is not alone. The vanishing point will eventually drive all companies. From a competitive standpoint, all companies must re-think about how they live across the digital and physical worlds as digital interfaces become more sophisticated and realtime.
So, how should you merge the physical and digital worlds into your business? You’ve undoubtedly been thinking about smartphones. But that’s not enough. The journey to the vanishing point will force more sophistication and strategy will go beyond apps.
Here are come starting questions to consider:
Context and Customers: When, where and how and in which context is it best to introduce, continue or resume the experience you offer your customers as they go through daily life? Have you thought about your customer as part of an instantaneously connected customer ecosystem and how you might help each one? Have you deeply analyzed the key contexts that shape your customer’s use of your products and services and how that might be augmented going forward? Which contexts should be free of digital infringement? Should there be digital-free zones or times relative to your promotions, alerts, or offers?
Employees and the Business Ecosystem: How should your employees and extended business ecosystem operate amidst the increasingly merged digital and physical worlds as they represent your company? How would you like them to work? What will change in work settings and work arrangements? How can the move to the vanishing point augment specialized work, support collaboration, improve safety, increase productivity, and enhance quality?
Effectiveness and Efficiencies: How can you transform your business processes as you navigate the digital and physical worlds? What new opportunities for innovation and growth does the vanishing point present? Are their new value propositions? Are there new competitive moments or breakthrough points? What new efficiencies await your company as you move to the vanishing point?
Risks and Risk Minimization: Experiment, test and don’t forget the bumps in the road. Some see further digital intrusions as invasive, creepy, unsafe, or simply a nightmare with too much information and complexity (see Maura Judkis, Washington Post’s piece “Google Project Glass: Cool or creepy?”). No doubt the debate will intensify. Thinking and understanding the role of context is critical for de-risking strategies and tactics as we move to the vanishing point. As we’ve seen with texting and making calls while driving – some contexts don’t make sense. You don’t want blowback on your brand, adverse commentary or worse, adverse events.
Can Google get it right? Their video looks promising. Time will tell. But if Google gets it right it will also get to write a new chapter, perhaps initiating a post-smartphone movement toward the vanishing point.
Already the competition is intense. Apple too is working on wearable computing. What does it mean for your strategy and operations? How will you compete and thrive on the way to the vanishing point?