Google might soon add a few more bits of detail to our reality. “Project Glass” is the name of a Google project in development to create wearable computer glasses that can have images projected onto them. When talking on your cell phone, for example, your glasses might display a real time video of the person you’re conversing with. Or (and I’m just speculating here) the glasses could use facial recognition software to identify the person in front of you and insert his name into your visual field.
Today you look someone up on Facebook to learn more about him. With Google Glass people could become clickable. You might tell Google a lot about you and then let anyone looking at you with Google Glass see this information. If you care about privacy you could limit access to people you’re currently speaking with or to those in some well defined social circle.
Google earns most of its revenue through advertising and I suspect that Project Glass won’t change this. Companies could pay to have images of their products stored in a database so when you see a given product you could immediately access information about it. (If you like my car or shoes your glasses could instantly tell you more about them and then have a customer sales representative contact you.) Because of the falling costs of memory these images and their corresponding captions could be stored directly on the glass’s memory and so be accessible even when the user is outside of wireless communication range. Google will have moved billboards from our streets to our eyewear.
I don’t know if Google would ever take things this far, but with Project Glass the company could send us advertisements based on what we look at. Google currently uses your Internet search history to in part determine which advertisements you see. It might someday do the same with your real life searching. If you look at a passing car for a few seconds Google could see to it that an advertisement for the car shows up in your email account. Anticipating healthy revenues from advertisers would likely allow Google to profit even if they sold you their glasses for well below cost. Someday soon you might pay as much to use Google Glasses as you currently do to access Google search.
Even if Project Glass proves technologically feasible, however, it still might not earn Google tremendous profits. Successful products attract competition and competition is the enemy of profits. Apple, Microsoft and others would seriously consider entering the glass market if Google had a bit of success in it. Unlike Apple, Google isn’t a great manufacturing company and so couldn’t protect its position by, say, having an unbeatable supply chain. Google’s best defense would be if a first mover advantage caused there to be lots of data that could be seen only on its glasses.
Google+, the company’s answer to Facebook, supposedly isn’t doing too well. The problem, I’d guess, is that many of us have already put so much information about ourselves on Facebook that it’s the most interesting social networking site to visit. And because people spend so much time on Facebook, many find it worthwhile to keep telling Facebook more about them. Google+ would love to download all the data on Facebook onto its own site, but Facebook certainly wouldn’t allow this.
If Project Glass faces competitors, these rivals will attempt to give their glasses access to all the data Google glasses can see. But if Google, as Facebook does today, can stop this transfer, Google will acquire a protected market position that could allow it to earn massive profits.
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