Human-like robots, three-dimensional image projection, microscopic HD cameras - we've seen hundreds of imaginative gadgets in the movies that we wouldn't expect to see in high street stores in the near future. But it seems the distant and beyond time of futuristic gizmos may be on the horizon, as technology giant Google (GOOG) releases its latest computer gadget for public testing. Project Glass, the name that has been given to the device development, is our first glimpse into the next techno era. It involves the production of a pair of digital glasses that are designed to provide the functionality of a Smartphone without the need to lug round a device in your pocket.
Although the Google Glasses are still in developmental stages, if they become a success they could revolutionize the current mobile phone and computer device market. There is no product like it - Google is truly leading the way, living up to its innovative reputation. Many details about the glasses remain under wraps, but it is likely they will operate Google Android technology and a 4G web connection. They also feature some sort of GPS navigation system; a short advertisement video shows a user of the glasses operate Google Maps to get directions live to a new location.
In a Siri-like style, the glasses were shown to be voice-activated, with the majority of functions requiring only a few words to get to work. I believe it could be this aspect that will make or break the success of the glasses. iPhone 4S users will know that Siri, the voice activation program provided by Apple (AAPL), only works well in a quiet atmosphere. As the Google glasses are marketed as a device to be used out and about, the voice activation function would have to be carefully streamlined to not pick up background noise.
But before we get ahead of ourselves - after all, the glasses still have many hoops to jump through before they hit the shelves - let's think about the impact Project Glass will have on market rivals. Google's closest competitor here is Apple, who will be watching the development of the Google Glasses closely and are most likely already figuring out how it can compete. After all, the glasses take the bulk of functioning offered by iPhones and iPads (communication; navigation; music) and provide it in a pair of glasses, which are not only set to be far cheaper than Apple products, but also don't require you to take a device out of your pocket or bag and fiddle around with buttons. If the Google glasses live up to the hype, Apple is in serious trouble
Pitching the product in at a relatively lower price than may be expected, it is clear Google seeks to attractive the mass market, reducing profit margins temporarily but no doubt increasing long term sales. I expect Project Glass to provide more than a boost to Google's stock price - if the glasses are well-received by consumers, Google could enjoy the benefits of a long-term strategy from one ambitious project. One thing's for sure - investors will be enjoying a round of healthy dividends if the Google Glasses market well.
That said, it is fully aware that it must act now rather than later to retain its dominating market position. I have no doubt that a team of engineers and developers are hard at work in Apple research centers right now, figuring out how the company can upstage the Google glasses. There have already been rumors of both Apple and Google exploring the possibility of digital contact lenses, and there is no doubt that if Apple got there first with this idea it would blow the Google glasses out of the water.
After all, if there is one aspect set to let the glasses down, it is their unappealing design. Although the glasses released for public testing are only a prototype, it seems likely that it order to pack in hi-tech hardware, the glasses will look geeky and unattractive. What's more, Apple actually has the upper hand in the field of hardware development, given Google's relative inexperience. Even if Project Glass allows Google to win the battle, it has by no means won the war.
There is something else that could turn out to be the clincher: Facebook (FB). Advertisements of the Google glasses so far show Google+ as the social networking platform on which sharing takes place. There is even the possibility that Google may not integrate Facebook, as a third party app, into the functionality of the glasses in order to boost the profile of Google+.
I think this would be a massive mistake: Google would be ambitious to combine the launch of the glasses with an attempt to steal Facebook's market share. It could even provide Facebook with the incentive to join forces with Apple. After all, Apple is without a social networking platform, and Facebook is without its own hardware devices. Despite a strained relationship between the two companies, a partnership would make sense, and spell bad news for Google. Due to this possibility, I find it doubtful that Google would block Facebook use from the glasses, but how usable the social networking site will be remains unclear.
Hints gathered from a recent patent taken out by Sony (SNE) suggest it is planning to produce a rival pair of digital glasses, very similar to the Google glasses, but different in that individuals wearing the glasses can directly share information by essentially staring at each other. Whilst this is an original idea, and it is good to see other telecom companies ready to fight it out in the market with Google, I'm not sure Google need to be too worried. It is inevitable that other companies will attempt to penetrate the market, and reasonably clear that Sony are simply imitating Google's idea - and will be very far behind in the development stages.
For long-term investors in Google, I think the prospects are positive. The stock currently trades at around $573, and I believe it will follow an upwards trend as development of the Google Glasses continues. News from Apple and Sony that they plan to put competing devices on the market may see the share price jitter, but my advice would be to hold onto your shares as long as the forecast for the release of the glasses remains free of major calamities.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.