WHETHER it’s taking stock in a warehouse or looking up customer details in a car dealership, tablets are already revolutionising workplaces.
These devices, dominated by the iPad, are making it easier for businesses to obtain and store data, and they’re making it possible to keep track of transactions in real time like never before.
The next step for this type of technology goes beyond typing on touchscreens and it’s just around the corner.
Not content with revolutionising how we use mobile phones, companies such as Google and Apple are also looking to change how smart what we wear can be.
This week in San Francisco, Google will get the closest yet to showing off its “Glass” wearable computer. Built-in to what looks like a pair of glasses is a tiny screen, a camera, a microphone and headphones. Connected to the web, it allows users to search the internet, seek directions, take pictures, tweet and more — and then see the results on a tiny screen placed just above one eye. People at the very top of the digital tree such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s own Larry Page are among the users so far who are excited.
Glass’s first semi-public outing will take place at Google’s I/O conference on Wednesday. Software developers who Google hopes will be eager to write “Glassware” apps will queue for hours just to try it on. Newspapers, for example, may want to provide breaking news on the screen, while advertisers see the benefits in alerting you instantly to the fact you’re passing a coffee shop with a special offer.
So far, so cyborg – but the real uses for Glass, at least in the short term, are more likely to come from businesses. In a world where it is still feels awkward walking down the street wearing a Bluetooth earpiece to make phonecalls, few outside the Google campus in Silicon Valley are likely to embrace the technology full-time for a good while yet.
It needs to be seamlessly integrated into existing glasses, for instance, and users and regulators also need to work out the privacy implications of a device that could always be filming.
A look at how police forces, for instance, have begun to use technology such as Glass makes its potential business uses clearer. Incorporating image recognition means that in certain circumstances the idea of a salesman needing to look up information could be a thing of the past. Constantly prompted with new data, there would be no excuse for shop assistants not knowing everything about a product. For a mechanic repairing a car, Glass could recognise all the parts automatically and make ordering replacements instant.
With built-in voice recognition, it’s not hard to envisage a future where even in face-to-face contact the web is able to offer tactical advice for every interaction. Estate agents, say, might be both better informed and less annoying, with data coming together to prompt them that a customer is interested in certain aspects of a product, and encouraging them to emphasise those. It’s analogous to everybody having the constant advice — or distraction — of a newsreader’s TV producer in their ear.
Some commentators have suggested that every staff member of a coffee shop will be expected to wear some sort of computer and that it will help them recognise customers individually. It remains to be seen how people will react to that level of detail, but one bar in San Francisco has banned Glass before it has even launched.
Of course, Tesco know who you are and what you’ve bought if you use ClubCard, but that’s not the same as a shop assistant knowing what type of coffee you like. If, however, Starbucks knew you always had a latte if you came in at 8am, perhaps customers would be more accepting. And if it sped up the queue in the morning, many would be keen.
Glass, for now, is a dream for geeks, but its applications could be endless. Businesses should start thinking about a Glass future now.
Matt Warman, Telegraph.co.uk