It's easy to envision Google's Project Glass reshaping the banking business. The high-tech headgear could shatter the limitations of mobile technology.
In a concept video last week, Google showed off the gadget, which is still under development: eyewear with an embedded screen that can show alerts and maps and handle video calls, superimposing the digital information over what the wearer sees through the lens.
The concept builds on "augmented reality," a technology that is spreading in smartphone apps and handheld video games but has so far had little use in banking.
One of the few examples of AR in banking is the "PNC Finder" app from PNC Financial Services Group. The app displays on the screen what the phone's camera sees, overlaid with markings that indicate nearby branches and ATMs.
Cool as the app is, PNC must have realized how impractical it would be to hold the phone's screen at eye level while trying to find a branch or ATM in an unfamiliar neighborhood. When the phone is lowered, the app switches to a compass view that is more natural to use.
Project Glass could make PNC's concept more user-friendly. In the video, a user is shown receiving turn-by-turn walking directions to a bookstore, with arrows displayed in the corner of his field of vision. PNC's app would be much more practical on such a device.
Location-based uses like this one are neat tricks, but Project Glass will shine best in payments.
The magnetic stripe is losing its grip on the industry, as is most evident with the new PayPal Here payment system. Although PayPal is distributing a card reader for merchants to use with smartphones, the app can take card payments using just a phone's camera.
Other companies offer the same technology, which works with any device with a built-in camera.
To accept a payment, you still have to hold a phone or a tablet over the card, occupying one or both hands. With Project Glass' built-in camera, a supermarket cashier or flea market vendor could accept a payment simply by looking at the card.
The camera could also snap a photo of the person making the payment as an added security measure. Mobile payment systems like Square already display users' pictures to merchants for this purpose.
Project Glass could be used for other camera-based payments, such as check capture, as well as for person-to-person payments. Imagine a pair of glasses that could, even without a near-field communication chip, detect a nearby device equipped to send or receive payments. Bump Technologies already does this for users of its phone-to-phone money transfer software.
Whatever specific uses take hold, Project Glass is bound to make an impact. Bank technologists say small changes in technology have a big influence on how people use it. Financial companies that built custom apps for the iPad and other tablets say people develop different habits on tablet apps than on smartphone apps. Citi says the iPad, with its bigger screen, is more engaging than a phone; Mint says the tablet promotes household discussions of finances.
Project Glass is a work in progress, and Google is probably not the only company working on such an endeavor. Even if the final version does not deliver everything Google described in the video, a rival technology company could step up to fill in those gaps.
What do you think technology like Project Glass means for banking? Leave a comment below.
Daniel Wolfe is an editor for risk management and technology at American Banker.