Skydivers, Mountaineers and Bicyclists – An Update on Google’s Project Glass

Realtime feed of skydiver wearing Google Glass prototype in descent to Moscone Center in San Francisco, June 27, 2012. Source: Google

Google had fun at its latest I/O developer conference with a theatrical level performance including skydivers wearing Google’s electronic glasses streaming live realtime video as they descended from high above San Francisco. As they landed on top of Moscone Center they relayed their payload to awaiting mountaineers who repelled down the side of the building. The payload was quickly transferred to bicyclists who road through the auditorium to cheering fans and up onto the stage to an awaiting Sergey Brin (see video).

Latest Details on Project Glass

Nonetheless, the theatrics provided some new information including the announcement that the glasses will become a product next year, and prototypes (i.e. beta version) are now available for $1500 to well-heeled developers flourishing in the Google ecosystem.

The glasses have a touch surface for user controls and a battery mounted behind the ear. Information from the glasses will be transmitted to the cloud and to memory on the device when the user is out of the range of a wireless network.  Other features include multi-sensory input (e.g. voice, sound, visual, touch), a gyroscope, an accelerometer, a compass, and the glasses will take pictures and stream video.

Vertical Integration – A Growing Strategy

As I discussed in a prior post, Google’s Project Glass is a combination of experimentation and product development.  But Project Glass is part of a larger set of trends worth noting. On the competitive front, the Google developers conference clearly indicates that Google is now moving closer to Apple’s philosophy of owning unique hardware designed to intimately operate with its software. Google announced a Tablet (Nexus 7-joint project with Asus) and an entertainment device (Nexus Q) both with custom Google-designed hardware.  Google’s recently approved acquisition of Motorola Mobility further strengthens this strategy.

Note that this new form of vertical integration drives strategies at Apple, Google, Oracle, Samsung, HP and Microsoft.  Experience shows that tight coupling between hardware and software provides efficiency in product development, power management, and miniaturization.  Mated with robust business ecosystem and business platform strategies, we might call this strategy, Vertical Integration 2.0.  By far, Apple is the leader in this regard.

Devices are a Powerful New Entry Point with Customers

The news out of Google also reinforces the growing proliferation of specialized digital consumer devices mated to business platforms – a trend discussed previously in Haydn’s post “The Ecosystem of People and Parts (And APPS!).”  Devices are attractive to consumers, particularly those that provide unique features and services with digital connections.  Such devices can also provide new zest for the customer experience.

Currently the device space is a rich playground for prototypes and learning about consumer attitudes and ergonomics.  With realtime connections these devices also become rich data sources for the company’s R&D organization and marketing department.  Some of those prototypes will become sensations like Google Glasses or the Pebble Watch.  Others will find specialized appeal.  Still others will fail to garner support and will relegated to the recycling bin.   Price points are attractive too — usually in the $40-100 range and early adopters are willing to open their wallets for an early date with the future or simply a new experience.

Eventually some of these independently offered features will be integrated into general purpose mobile devices (i.e. hand-held “phone’) and still others will become part of a personal system of wearable sensors embedded in glasses, belts, and jewelry. Futurists have been predicting this since the 70s. Yet, it will be important to watch developments in this marketplace because the sensors and related service innovations have implications for the financial, healthcare, transportation, and travel industries.  We can also expect that the cost of these devices will have appeal for B2B industries with large deployed service organizations or independent service professionals.

The View Looks Good from Google

So Project Glass is a sensation.  So were the unexpected promotional theatrics at Google’s I/O developer conference.  But such theatrics also highlight the transformative digital device marketplace. Such enthusiasm will not go unnoticed by Google’s competitors. And a new list of companies in other industries will find the Google ecosystem a bit more attractive today and in the future. With the recent price split approved for its stock – some investors may also find it to have more appeal somewhere slightly south or $300.

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