Google Glass Is Dead, But No Regrets for Bankers Who Tested It

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Time labeled the device as one of the inventions of the year in 2012. Others likened it to a Segway on a person's face.

But on Jan. 19, Google quietly suspended selling Google Glass to consumers while continuing to support Glass as an enterprise product.

A handful of banks like Tangerine, Wells Fargo, Westpac and U.S. Bank were testing the eyewear that doubles as a computer to better understand a category projected to take off: wearable devices. Though Google Glass has expired, bankers said those efforts were time well spent.

"The announcement by Google has no effect on how we see the wearable computing space evolving," said Dominic Venturo, U.S. Bancorp's chief innovation officer, told American Banker. "The future remains to be seen; and we expect wearables will play important, yet special-purpose, roles in that future."

Many continue to see a future in wearable technology. The tech research firm Gartner expects sales of fitness wearable devices alone will reach 200 million units per year in 2020. And Apple's new Apple Watch could also boost sales of wearable technology.

For banks, there's often no way of knowing which emerging technology will take off, take a pause, or terminate. But there's still value in testing them, observers said, helping institutions to think about the types of features that may be possible in the future.

"It's important for banks to play with technology but not get wedded to a certain device," said Stessa Cohen, research director at Gartner.

Tangerine, formerly ING Direct Canada, viewed Google Glass as part of the new wave of wearable smart technology that includes smart watches and fitness trackers.

The Canadian bank looked at Glass for alerting and allowing users to check balances and transfer funds with voice commands. Tangerine was also experimenting with using the camera to deposit checks or pay bills in addition to using location-based services for finding automated banking machines.

But the company thinks all those uses could be applied to other devices.

"We think that wearables could represent what the future of banking might look like and we will continue to develop these same types of features for other wearable devices such as smart watches or smart fridges or the next version of Google Glass," wrote Charaka Kithulegoda, chief information officer at Tangerine, to American Banker.

Glass' suspension does not change Tangerine's strategic plans.

"The wearables revolution is fueling innovation and the learnings and experiences developing for Google Glass were invaluable and taught us a great deal," wrote Kithulegoda. "For us, it's not about the device, it's about our customer-centric and multi-channel approach to providing our clients with rich and contextual banking experiences through continuous experimentation."

Westpac also learned from its Glass app experience. When Westpac trailed customers across New Zealand to understand their preferences, it discovered they prefer using swipe over voice-activated services for everyday banking, said spokesman Chris Mirams.

Bankers' reactions underscore a message that industry analysts have been touting: banks should test experiences that can translate well to other products.

"It's a complete mistake to wait for a product and live or die by whether the product worked," said Mark Schwanhausser, director of omnichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research. "The idea is to think about the capabilities."

Biometrics and push alerts are two features analysts and bankers believe would translate well into many wearable devices, including the Apple Watch.

Gartner's Cohen is not in favor of the vision of putting wearable technology on branch employees so they can identify consumers walking through their doors.

"I shudder when I think about it," she said.

But she said banks could revisit simple things like push alerts. Of course, ultimately, consumers will let corporations know what works.

"[Adoption] is driven by the customer and not by, 'oh, the bank is going to do it this way now,'" said Cohen.

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