Google brings Glass to the UK

Brands in the UK will soon have the chance to create experiences on Google Glass, after the company announced today (23 June) it is expanding its Glass Explorer programme to the region.

Video: Google Glass comes to the UK

The Glass UK Explorer edition costs £1,000 and is now available to British residents over the age of 18, “from all walks of life” with a valid credit card. Glass will initially be available to buy online and consumers can also request a demo of the device at Google’s Basecamp office in London this weekend.

The wearable technology – which renders a display on the corner of glasses frames that users can activate with voice commands to take photos, view maps, check emails, and more – will remain a prototype which Google will continue to develop before it becomes more widely available.

Ivy Ross, the veteran marketer recently appointed by Google to head up its Glass business unit, says: “Technology is at its best when it fits seamlessly into our lives and lets us get on with whatever we’re doing. Our goal for Glass is exactly that – to make it easier to bring people the technology they rely on without drawing them out of the moment.“ 

Google has told developers working on apps for glass not to place advertising within the display. However, there are opportunities for brands to partner with Google to create apps for the device.

BRAND COLLABORATIONS

Alongside today’s (23 June) launch, Google also announced The Guardian, astronomy app Star Chart, the Zombies Run game and football site Goal.com as new UK Glassware partners.

Tanya Cordrey, The Guardian’s chief digital officer, says: “Collaborating with Google on this project means we are working well ahead of the curve, and exploring how to bring a great Guardian experience to users, no matter what device they’re on. Wearable technologies have the potential to radically change how people interact with content during their daily routine, and it’s very exciting to be there at the beginning, helping to shape the way people consume news on these devices and how this interacts with our lives.”

Virgin Atlantic – not a Glassware partner – has been trialling Google Glass as a customer service tool since February this year. Concierge staff in the airline’s Upper Class Wing have been wearing the device to personalise the passenger experience, greeting them by name and updating them on flight information and weather at their destination.

After an initial six-week pilot, Virgin Atlantic is now working on plans for a full-scale rollout of the technology.

Reuben Arnold, brand and customer experience director at Virgin Atlantic, told Marketing Week: “The question we asked ourselves as a brand is will this enhance the experience for our customers? After the trial we felt the answer was yes. Our employees felt that it helped them deliver a more tailored service to each customer, reducing the amount of paperwork and increasing productivity, whilst maintaining eye contact with customers”
 
“The response from passengers was also extremely positive; many thought that it was exactly the sort of pioneering and innovative thing that Virgin Atlantic is famous for and were impressed by the ability of our staff to have the latest information about their booking, flight, seating options, destination weather and Flying Club status at their fingertips.”

GLASS SKEPTICS

However, not all consumers have reacted positively to Glass. In San Francisco, where Glass was first trialled, there have been reports of assaults on Glass wearers by citizens apparently uneasy with the idea they might be surreptitiously filmed by the device. Some bars in the area even went as far as banning Glass to avoid copycat incidents.

James Chandler, global mobile director at media agency Mindshare, says there is also a chance Glass could be met with a similar level of distrust in the UK.

He adds: “Our British way of being private is not very conducive to this sort of stuff. It may struggle here more than in the States. If you look at things like [the widespread outrage surrounding] the ‘women eating on the tube’ Facebook page or that guy with a bluetooth headset, where people are still mistrusting and ask ‘is he on a call?’, there’s still a stigma.”

But while marketers should think carefully about user privacy when it comes to exploring Glass partnerships, Chandler says the “potential is incredible” for creative brands such as Unilever and Nike to create Glassware apps – particularly so once the device gets a more fashionable makeover following Google’s deal with Ray-Ban and Oakley-maker Luxottica and after an announcement today that Diane Von Furstenberg Google Glass frames are now available in the US. 

Chandler adds: “As soon as Glass looks more cool, people will feel a lot more comfortable with it.”

Naji El-Arifi, product innovation manager at mobile solutions company Somo, has been using Glass personally for the past year and says that once people understand Glass, they tend to “loosen up”.

He adds: “People who have privacy concerns about Glass haven’t spent much time with it. For example to take a picture you have to say out loud ‘OK Glass, take a picture’ or use the dedicated camera button on the top of the device, both of which are fairly noticeable and you have to make sure you are aiming the camera in the best way which can look very awkward.

“I think it’s fair to say most people still don’t know much about Glass so there is a need for a focus on education. After all the only real way Google can help Glass’s image is to educate people in how it works, from there everyone will have to make up their own mind.”

Read Lara O’Reilly on why tech company and consumer brand partnerships will provide the perfect wearable tech fit and Ritson on why the Luxottica deal signals that the “cool factor” is finally in sight for Glass. 

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