Google Glass and the Impact of Wearable Computing on Business

Every so often, businesses are faced with a revolution in how the world processes information. The invention of the computer as one, as was the introductions of the personal computer and the Internet. Most recently came mobile. Now there’s a new wave of change represented by Google Glass: wearable computing.

Instead of sitting at desktops and laptops, or holding a smartphone or tablet, computers will be integrated into virtually every situation in clothing, glasses, watches, and other accessories. In fact, Apple and Samsung are reportedly both readying watches that will interface with smartphones. If you have an information technology degree, time to pay attention, because wearable computing will require significant adjustments on the part of corporations in general and IT departments in particular. Here are two major issues: interfaces and security.

User interfaces
Even with the changes in mobile computing — smaller displays, touch screens, no conventional keyboard or mouse — IT departments have not had to wander too far from where they were when it came to user interfaces. There was still a rectangular display of some size. Touch replaced mice (even if not as accurate at times) and on-screen keyboards would suffice.

But in wearable computing, all of that goes out the window, both figuratively and, in the case of Microsoft’s popular operating system, literally. Google Glass, for example, projects an image on top of what users see in front of them. That could mean inherent distractions and a need to better direct attention.

Even if there is a traditional screen, it might be much smaller to fit onto a wrist, further limited what can be displayed. And what happens if something is embedded into a suit, dress, or pair of shoes? Maybe they will connect with a visually-oriented device, or it may be that applications will also have to make use of voice, sound, and even haptic (touch feedback) to work effectively.

Security
As if security isn’t already a bugaboo for IT, wearable computing will make it far worse. There are already many businesses that plan to ban Google Glass. For example, some Las Vegas casinos prohibit wearable computers because it can help people cheat at games. (Imagine having IBM’s Jeopardy-winning Watson whispering in a player’s ear.)

Other companies are bound to take similar measures. The movie theater industry doesn’t want people recording an entire show and then making copies and selling them, and so the industry is already considering options. Hospitals, financial services companies, and other heavily-regulated industries would be presented with new security problems. Frankly, any corporate office should be concerned that rogue employees or outsiders could record sensitive information and either beam it to a server or walk out the door with no one at the company the wiser.

There are no obvious answers at the moment other than just say no, and you can see how successful that strategy has been over the years. Now is the time to think through the issues and begin to develop approaches that will let the new technology work.

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