By now, there has been plenty of reporting and analysis on Google’s announcement that it is closing the Google Glass Explorer Program and discontinuing sales. The company is understandably positioning the move as a new direction, “graduating” the technology rather than admitting failure. Development will continue, particularly Glass at Work enterprise applications, but out of the public eye and consumer marketplace. Its legacy is mixed at best, with “Glassholes” undermining its efforts to make a cyborg lifestyle more common and acceptable.
While Microsoft HoloLens may reignite interest in similar augmented reality technology, a new wearable tech model has taken over the headlines in recent months: smartwatches. A wide array of products are already on the market; there has even been some financial services experimentation, such as Fidelity’s watchapp for Pebble. However, the release of Apple Watch early this year may help bring the concept to the mainstream – and drive development among financial services firms.
Head-mounted displays and smartwatches offer similar advantages and characteristics inherent to wearable technology: always on and able to attract the user’s attention, hands-free capabilities, and suitability for “microinteractions” simpler than on a mobile app (in turn, typically simpler than a full website). It’s not entirely fair to compare two-year-old versus not-yet-released gadgets, but Apple Watch has a few points in its favor considering the lessons of Google Glass. Stylish watches are far less obvious than headgear. Cost also makes a difference: the cheapest Apple Watch is priced at $349, while Google Glass Explorer Edition cost $1500. New technology such as Apple Pay gives consumers another reason to buy.
For all the hype around the Apple Watch, it’s worth keeping in mind that Google Glass was initially launched to major fanfare. Is there really enough of a market for smartwatches to catch on? An informal survey of a few dozen people here at the CI offices showed modest interest in owning an Apple Watch. There were a few excited positive responses, and some potential buyers planning to wait and see, but a full half of the group showed little to no interest. No one said that they hadn’t heard of the Apple Watch at all, though, showing that Apple at least still knows how to get its brand message out.