Since their inception, computers have morphed. Once bulky, now small. Once obvious, now discreet. Soon they will be wearable. So, when you walk down the street, a message will brilliantly appear in the corner of your eyewear: Look, an ATM!
What seems like a futuristic fantasy could become reality later this year.
Google's (GOOG) latest foray into wearable computing, Glass, is ripe for financial services innovation. It is similar to what you'd imagine to be the heads up display inside a fighter pilot helmet. But the internet-connected head-mounted computer, which responds to voice commands, takes advantage of a translucent square piece of, well, glass sitting on its edge and mounted frames. Some of the mobile app features banks already offer, including augmented reality (read: PNC's ATM Finder app), account information lookups, and geolocation, could eventually be incorporated into Glass.
"The biggest thing with Google Glass is not the glasses themselves, it's this rich overlay environment," says Brett King, founder of Moven and BTN's 2012 Innovator of the Year. "So what we are creating right now is a data overlay capability in terms of the way data is created and presented in real time."
The project was first announced last spring. It was later offered to coders at the company's developer conference, Google I/O, in the summer for $1,500 (those programmers are soon to receive the devices, according to reports).
Today, Google is soliciting 8,000 beta-testers who will be among the privileged to buy the hardware for the same price. And according to CNET, Glass (originally set for a 2014 release) will be available to regular folks by the end of 2013.
The Verge's editor-in-chief Joshua Topolsky recently penned a review of the headgear on the popular technology blog.
Mechanics Bank digital strategy head Bradley Leimer says Google has the potential with Glass to be as transformative as Apple (AAPL) has been with its iPhone.
The emergence of Simple (formerly BankSimple) and King's branchless banking startup Moven, both of which have launched in beta, are testaments to the pace of innovation spurred by the ubiquity of smartphones.
"I think it will be interesting," Leimer says, adding that some concepts just don't work well with mobile software. "The idea of holding up your phone to get some of that virtual reality, really appended information, isn't ever going to take off."
In the meantime, Glass could really come into its own when it is eventually embedded into regular sunglasses. Google is reportedly in talks with Warby Parker to develop designer frames, according to the LA Times.
There are still, naturally, a lot of questions.
How secure it is? What kind of networks does it really tap into? Are you truly authenticated when you do some of this stuff? Could you do a social log-in?
These are all inevitable questions Leimer says he has — we are talking about a device that isn't even being beta-tested by consumers yet.
"In the post-iPhone world there is an increased focus on usability and ease of use," he adds. "So Glass continues that stream of technology that raises our customers' expectations of usability, and the need for added value in the applications that we build."
Of course, Leimer says, Glass' success also depends on how open the device's software is to third-party developers. That tactic worked well to spur innovation in the past, and Google has a track record of supporting those efforts.
Still, observers rightly point out that even smartphone software has only just begun to change the way banks do business. That means the reality of wearable computers, such as Apple's rumored iWatch, could further push back Glass' impact.
All of this underscores what bankers must consistently do in order to win over new customers in a digital world, says Jim Marous, a senior vice president of corporate development at digital direct marketing agency New Control and author of the Bank Marketing Strategy blog.
Because "if you don't embrace the new devices, and start testing the ways that they are being used, you will be left behind," he says. "Bankers have got to be technology aware."
An email sent to Google's press staff did not yield a response.