There’s a lot of talk in the technology space these days about wearable technology, or “wearables” as they’re most often called. Google initiated the discussion with the Glass product they launched last year, and a multitude of vendors have signed onto the Android Wear initiative for developing smartwatches, our as Google puts it, connecting “your phone to your wrist.” Even Apple’s latest quarterly report had analysts abuzz when CEO Tim Cook hinted at a busy fall lineup, which many took as an indication that an Apple iWatch is on the horizon.
It begs the question: as a real estate professional, should I be investing in wearables?
I’d like to divide the question into two parts, focusing first on Google Glass and then on smartwatches. I’ll take a look at what’s available today, discuss use cases in real estate, forecast where each technology is headed, and provide my recommendations.
Google Glass, as the picture above shows, is a set of glasses that puts a small display within your eyesight. The glasses are relatively light, come in different colors, and are available in plain, prescription, or shaded versions. In addition to being innovative, Glass is also highly controversial as I’ll explain in a bit.
Glass is a pretty powerful device packed into a small piece of hardware. Here’s a short list of things you can do with it:
- Receive and respond to notifications
- Display directions
- Send messages and make calls (when paired with your smartphone)
- Perform Google searches
- Translate written documents such as signs and menus
- Take pictures and video
- Share items over social media sites
- Get updates through Google Now
- Receive news headlines and sports scores
This isn’t a complete list, and the amount you can do with Glass is increasing all the time.
Glass is not a full resolution display, so it’s not good for reading messages with lots of text. Notifications, messages and things like search results are provided in a card format that provides a summary of the information. In order to standardize the format of the data, Google has provided strong design recommendations for working with Glass. Hopefully, it will help to bring some consistency to the presentation of information.
It’s not absolutely necessary to pair it to a smartphone or tablet, but not pairing it will limit the functionality. In other words, you’ll want to pair it to get the maximum benefit from the product.
use cases for real estate
Here are some use cases where Glass could come in handy for real estate professionals:
- Property walkthroughs
Initiate a call/hangout with a client and walk through a property to show the client the features of the property from a first person perspective.
- Messaging and alerts
Get alerted to key messages and notifications regarding property transactions and respond quickly as appropriate.
Glass could be used for directions to showing appointments, listing presentations and open houses.
- Augmented reality
While not quite here yet, looking at a house could provide key details about the property without having to do a search.
I see Google Glass developing as a great technology for industrial, training, entertainment, customer service, law enforcement, and military use. Here are some examples:
- Industrial applications
I can see doctors wearing Glass to instruct them through key aspects of a procedure, mechanics using it to help them identify parts and guide them through repair processes, pilots using it to help with navigation and landing/takeoff procedures. In other words, anywhere that someone can benefit from the use of a hands-free computer, Glass conceivably has a place
Taking first person videos with Glass could make it much easier to create training videos. In addition, the student could wear Glass and be guided remotely with a teacher or professor seeing the first hand video and delivering verbal instruction to the student
Glass could make for a whole new first person viewing experience for action sports. It could also make for interesting perspectives and camera angles for movies and television shows.
- Customer Service
“This call may be recorded for customer service and training purposes” may not be a phrase you just hear on the phone. You could hear it from a salesperson, service associate, or cashier when performing transactions in-person.
- Law enforcement
Police and fire could use it as a heads-up display to get information about people, buildings, and stolen goods, or to perform forensic analysis.
Applications could include threat analysis and identification, target acquisition, and recreation of battlefield events.
I do NOT recommend Glass for everyday use for two main reasons.
- It’s invasive to people’s privacy
Believe it or not, but the majority of people do not like to be caught on video or photographed without permission. Just the threat of it will influence and affect people’s behavior. It will inhibit reactions and cause people to avoid genuine interaction.
- It disengages and defocuses
Being regularly bombarded with alerts and messages creates an environment that does not allow you to focus on the conversation and/or task at hand. It also has the effect of disengaging you from the conversation or meeting you’re in. I’ve seen it first hand in a meeting where someone wearing Glass starts looking in the corner and swiping their frames. It’s distracting and rude, even more than checking their smartphone or watch.
So while Glass does shine in some real estate settings, I don’t recommend that you buy it today. The large up front expense of $1,500 does not justify its limited use cases. If these limited use cases are important to you, you can address them with your smartphone. For example, you don’t need Glass to do a first person walkthrough of a property. You can use Facetime on an iPhone or Hangouts on an Android device.
Bottom line, save the $1,500 and wait for Glass to mature. Even then, I’m not so certain it will become a mainstream technology. I believe it will remain a niche technology for the industries and uses I listed above.
Smartwatches are a compact, more discreet form of wearable that come without the “creep” factor associated with Glass. Most of the major manufacturers, including Samsung, Motorola and LG, have introduced products this year. The major company missing from the list is Apple, but the anticipation is building that they will release a product later this year.
Smartwatches can tell the time, but they’re specialty is connecting to your phone to provide notifications. In other words, without a phone, the watch isn’t “smart.” Here are a few of the features that the current generation of devices will perform:
- Messaging and alerts
- Appointment notifications
- Weather updates
- Voice commands to respond to text messages and emails, or to get answers to questions
- Pair with apps to track fitness goals
- Control of music applications
This list isn’t comprehensive, and similar to Glass, I expect it to expand over time as developers get more comfortable with the technology.
As with regular watches, smartwatches come in all sorts of different colors, sizes, and shapes. They are meant to be as much of a fashion statement as they are an information device. Smartwatches will continue to get more fashionable as the technology matures – particularly as the devices get thinner. One of the more fashionable watches today in the Moto 360, which is shown in the video below.
use cases for real estate
Here are some ways that smartwatches could be used in real estate:
Get calendar notifications and alerts so you don’t miss an appointment or forget about a deadline without having to pull out and check your phone.
- Transaction alerts
Get alerted when key documents are ready for signature or transactions have moved past certain milestones, such as final inspection.
Check messages discreetly and respond quickly with short responses when busy on showing appointments, caravans, or inspections.
- Property alerts
As an example, Trulia has announced a smartwatch app that will alert you to homes nearby, new listings, or properties that meet predefined criteria so you can get a quick look at the property details before reaching for your phone. A smartwatch app could also alert you to property price changes (up or down) and changes in status (on/off contract).
Smartwatches are more of a mainstream wearable technology than Glass. As the technology matures, the watches become more fashionable, the available apps more capable, and the pricing more reasonable, smartwatches will become widely adopted.
Here are the top items that need to be addressed, in my opinion, for adoption to take off:
- Thinner – need to find a way to cut down the thickness so they are more comfortable to wear
- Battery life – Getting 4 or 5 days on a charge will be required; unfortunately, getting thinner works against battery life
- Design options – watches are fashion statements; there needs to be a lot of design options to suit everyone’s individual taste
- Pricing – $200 – $250 is a lot to pay for a watch; get it down under $100, and the market will take off
- Apps and functionality – this is the least important; no matter how capable the watch is, no one will buy it if it costs $300, looks like you strapped an iPhone to your wrist, and needs charged every 8 hours
Overall, smartwatches will become more widely adopted than Glass, but they’re not nearly as disruptive. They don’t require massive changes to user behavior or have the potential to disrupt industries. They’re more about convenience and performing simple tasks without reaching for your phone.
A smartwatch is something that you can wear everyday as a replacement to your everyday watch. It won’t make you feel out of place and won’t distract you any more that your smartphone will. They’re a wearable that I would recommend – I just wouldn’t suggest running to the store and buying one right away. As with any technology, there will be plenty of bugs to work out in the initial versions, so it’s worth waiting until the technology ages and matures. Once some of the issues I mentioned above are addressed, particularly the styling, battery life and price, then I would recommend purchasing one.
Plus, I would wait until the developers have had some time to work with the technology. You will see a lot more innovative applications get designed for the smartwatch over the rest of this year, and it’s possible some will require advances in the hardware.
Bottom line, wait at least until the holidays before purchasing a smartwatch. Buying one today would be the same as buying an expensive watch from a department store or your local jeweler.
Wearables is an area of technology that is worth keeping a close eye on. The technology is evolving rapidly, and manufacturers are investing heavily in the space. It will be a volatile, dynamic situation over the next 12-18 months with advancements coming quickly, much like the evolution of the smartphone. Just think of the changes between the first and third generation iPhones for an example, and that’s the kind of advances I suspect you’ll see in wearables. It’s going to be fun to watch, and an exciting ride. I can hardly wait.