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Will Google Glass make smartphones history?

March 28, 2013

George Anderson is editor in chief of RetailWire

George Anderson is editor in chief of RetailWire

By George Anderson

The iPhone, I have been told about a gazillion times, changed everything. I have never been quite sure what everything that hyperbole refers to, but I do know that Apple and its smartphone competitors have altered the way we use technology.

The advent of the smartphone meant that some technologies such as watches and GPS devices went from being important to rarely seen. It is within this context that I find myself assessing predictions that Google Glass will somehow make smartphones less relevant, if not altogether irrelevant.

Google’s wearable computing device has techies abuzz.

“I love it for no other reason than that it actually feels like we are being pulled forward,” Ian Shafer, CEO of Deep Focus, told Adweek. “It’s hard to say that something like that has happened since the iPhone. The innovation aspect just makes it seem like a big pull forward.”

Count Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg among those wanting their own Google Glass, according to Forbes. “I can’t wait to get my own,” Mr. Zuckerberg is quoted as saying by the magazine.

So what does Google Glass do?

Making a spectacle
According to the Web site that Google has set up to introduce the technology, it will act as a camera, video recorder, video conferencing tool, direction finder, foreign language translator and more. It will be strong, light and fashionable — in an extremely “Big Bang Theory” sort of way.

To build buzz for the product, Google is asking consumers to use Google+ or Twitter to share what they would do if they had a Glass. A select number of those entering will be given the option to pre-order a Glass Explorer for $1,500.

One potential drawback to Google Glass is the style. Will people think the device looks cool enough to wear?

“If my buyer came to me and said he just purchased 1,000 units that looked like the Google Glass, he would be fired,” Jonathan Muller, CEO of eyewear retailer, told Wired.

Responding in our RetailWire online discussion, Ben Ball, senior vice president at retail consultancy Dechert-Hampe, compared the allure to wearing a Bluetooth earpiece. “At one time they were a required accessory of the cell phone savvy,” he wrote. “Now they are the mark of the nerd.”

“We have this marvelous device that no one outside of the hard-core geek circles will dare to venture onto the streets wearing,” commented Ralph Jacobson, global consumer products industry marketing executive at IBM. “Dare I say that technology needs me to satisfy my reasonable needs and wants, while looking fashionable and not making me look goofy.”

A good many of the experts on the RetailWire BrainTrust, however, were bullish on Glass.

Ken Lonyai, digital innovation strategist and cofounder of ScreenPlay InterActive, believes Google Glass represents a natural evolution in mobile towards wearable technology.

“Using a smartphone is a learned behavior and not one that’s particularly natural, comfortable or convenient,” wrote Mr. Lonyai. “So after a period of resistance and slow adoption, people will come around to smart glasses, watches and other wearable devices that more closely mimic human interaction.”

Retail consultant Mark Heckman, a former marketing exec with Randalls and Marsh Supermarkets, looks forward to the benefits glasses could offer for in-store marketing.

“Headwear actually solves some of the interactive problems that using smartphones presents when it comes to receiving relevant information at the moment of decision, within the store,” Mr. Heckman said.

“Shoppers want to shop and interact with the products and associates in the store, not their smartphones — glasses can make the interaction with digital content much less intrusive,” he said.

George Anderson is editor in chief of RetailWire, Cranford, NJ. Reach him at

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