Viewpoint: For Your Eyes Only

The Google Glass is back, and just like everyone predicted, the unit behind the smart glasses has ceased trying to justify the device to the consumer market, and is instead focusing on enterprise environments where heads-up displays and voice commands can prove a huge aid to productivity and safety.

The natural fit between Glass and the enterprise market has been a poorly kept secret since the developer-only model launched back in 2013. That over 50 businesses, from healthcare professionals to industrial manufacturers, have been using an enterprise-focused version for two years makes perfect sense when you consider the benefits that smart glasses can provide, and the lack of a use-case for them when it comes to the average consumer.

“Workers in many fields, like manufacturing, logistics, field services, and healthcare find it useful to consult a wearable device for information and other resources while their hands are busy,” said Jay Kothari, project lead for Glass at X, Google’s ‘moonshot’ division. “That’s why we’ve spent the last two years working closely with a network of more than 30 expert partners to build customised software and business solutions for Glass for people in these fields.

“We first saw signs of Glass’ potential for business in the Glass Explorer days. As we said when we graduated, we’d been seeing incredible developments with Glass in the workplace. Now the Glass product team is back at X, and we’ll be collaborating with the Google Cloud team and our partners to help customers across a variety of business sectors make the most of Glass.”

In many ways, Glass is following the path laid out by its distant cousin, the wearable. As the manufacturers of consumer-targeted fitness trackers and smart watches face falling revenues, consolidation and even bankruptcy, the developing mHealth industry has shifted to healthcare providers, insurers and pharmaceutical companies, who can not only afford to deploy the devices a wider scale, but find life-saving use from technology originally targeted at hyper-organised fitness enthusiasts.

One of the numerous stumbling blocks Google Glass was faced with when it initially launched was its clunky design, but that’s a lot less of a problem when people are wearing it as part of a job role. No-one begrudges a hard hat or a set of hospital scrubs for not looking as well-designed as an iPhone or a designer gown, and when the focus is on the utility of the object, rather than its place as an aspirational piece of technology, it’s a far easier sell.

Enterprise usage could even provide Glass with a channel to make its way back to consumers. It’s easy to forget that just 20 years ago, mobile phones were still seen as the preserve of high-powered business people who needed to be reachable at all times, and the idea that they would become so central to everyday life would have seemed laughable.

But while Google would no doubt celebrate such a result for the resurrected Glass, the devices’ move into the enterprise space should cause at least a moment’s hesitation for anyone thinking about the changing nature of enterprise data security.

Earlier this month, Bithumb, one of the world’s largest Bitcoin exchanges, saw a hacking attack carried out after email addresses, names and mobile phone numbers for roughly three per cent of its user base were leaked. Criminals used the stolen details to empty the users’ digital wallets, and with Bithumb handling around $1.7bn (£1.3bn) in transactions in 2016, the attack represented a potentially huge haul of cash for the hackers.

How does this connect with Google Glass shifting to enterprise customers? Well, the Korea Internet & Security Agency which is investigating the attack believes that the customer details were stolen from an employee’s personal computer that was used as part of a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.

The global BYOD and enterprise mobility market is set to grow at a compound average growth rate of over 24 per cent between 2017 and 2021 according to new statistics from Research and Markets, but despite the growth of cloud-based storage as a security solution, experts still warn that the crossover between personal and professional devices and software is creating huge gaps in cyber-security coverage that criminals can exploit.

While Google Glass may be able to operate without a connection to a smartphone, many wearables can’t, and should Glass prove a success in businesses, the wave of imitators it will no doubt spawn may offer a cheaper alternative by using a smartphone’s computing power to supplement their own. A heads-up display with hands-free commands is all well and good, but when it’s attached to a camera looking at proprietary technology or confidential medical records, security needs to be the first and biggest concern.

As the lines between home and work technology continue to blur, businesses need to be more aware than ever of what access points they are creating, and whether they have given employees accurate and up-to-date guidance on how to protect the valuable data they may be working with every day.