In his novel, ‘Through the Looking Glass’ Lewis Carroll tells the tale of his heroine, Alice, as she tumbles through a mirror into a fantasy world.
Will banks fall through Google Glass into a different fantasia? Is deploying augmented reality in financial services as useful as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – or does it offer a genuine opportunity for banks to improve customer experience, service and sales?
By Alex Bray, Retail Channel Director at Misys
The banking industry thrives on buzz. When you work in a business that is founded on principles such as reliability, security and trustworthiness - where the manner in which you implement your risk management procedures can be the difference between solid success or spectacular failure – then the slightest hint of a sexy innovation can cause a dizzying rush of blood to the head. Today, it is the turn of augmented reality (AR) to leave many bankers in a fuddled state. But is AR all that? Or will augmented reality leave us wanting less?
To review augmented reality in banking, I will be focussing on the device of the moment - Google Glass. Glass is Google’s first foray into wearable devices – augmented reality glasses. The user wears the device – which consists of a mini display screen attached to a metal frame, over the right eye. Simplistically put, it gives you a taste of life as the Terminator from the Schwarzenegger film series.
Information is overlaid on to the environment that you see around you. So far, so what? Glass has been hyped as the new frontier in mobile banking. It has also been suggested that it could revolutionise how tellers deliver service in branch. These are big claims for a device that will weigh about the same as a normal pair of sunglasses. Can they be justified?
Advocates (and there are many of them) point out that a wearable augmented reality device brings AR to the mainstream by creating a genuinely immersive experience. No more waving around your smartphone – or worse, your tablet - to augment your view. Now, wherever you look, you can have your view augmented. For the select few who have been blessed with access to a pair of Google Glass – the feedback has been extremely strong.
Most famously, technology blogger, Robert Scoble has said, “I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor). It's that significant.” Those who have used the devices say that Google Glass is a transformative experience and will lead to a whole new category of devices. Version 1 still needs some kinks ironed out – but it will deliver the goods, much as the first iPhone did back in 2007.
So should we buy into all this hype? Some say yes. Glass has had an enormous thumbs up from the techie community and from most analysts. But they would love it wouldn’t they . . . no one wants to be on the wrong side of the next best thing. Besides which, there hasn’t been a new category of device since the iPad – so no doubt analysts are keen to see a new set of devices that they can review.
Similarly, new SDKs have developers licking their lips at the prospect of a new development ecosystem. So, again – should the rest of us be a bit more cynical? Well, there has certainly been something of a backlash against Glass in recent weeks. A number of detracting factors have been identified by commentators.
Physically, the Glass devices have been described by a number of commentators as ugly. There have been cases cited of people laughing at early Glass wearers. There is also the fact that the device is cumbersome. The frame is a single piece of metal which cannot be folded – which makes carrying it, when it is not being worn, rather inconvenient. This is especially the case given that the prism screen is not supposed to be touched.
Then there is user feedback on the actual experience of wearing the device. It has been said that the experience of wearing the headsets can give a user a headache – and so regular breaks are required. In some quarters, it has also been reported that young people have been banned from using the device as it may harm the long term development of their eyes – not the kind of feedback that builds confidence for parents or older users.
For many, the prospect of having a small screen permanently in front of the eye is not appealing. They think it will be distracting – and ultimately irritate them. On the flipside, the fact is that the screen only exists over one eye, giving a partial and rather ghostly experience when wearing Glass. The field of view is small – and this limits the value of the augmented reality.
There have been a number of concerns expressed about the way that Google Glass will be used by others. At the most basic level, people are concerned that person to person interactions will become a thing of the past – as users will be unable to sustain conversations with the distraction of information permanently flashing past their eye. In other quarters, very serious concerns have been raised about the impact on personal security posed by Glass. The fact that the device has a camera that is always on has already prompted some bars (and strip joints) to pre-emptively ban the devices.
Cost is another issue. Glass currently has a $1,500 price tag for the developers’ devices. For a device with the same processing power as a smartphone, that is galling to many. Similarly, Glass does not have its own inbuilt 3G or 4G – which means it has to connect to the internet through a smartphone which is likely to gobble up a user’s monthly mobile data allocation.
There have also been some criticisms about the functionality of the devices. Some users have found the voice control patchy. In one circumstance, two users in the same room repeatedly activated each other’s devices while attempting to give commands to their own. Finally, some commentators have criticised Google Glass for its lack of multi-user interaction. It is a strictly one user at a time device.
So have these comments and observations revealed the Emperor’s new clothes for what they really are? Can we consign Google Glass to the junk heap of misguided innovations – next to the Apple Newton and Microsoft Zune? What does this mean for augmented reality as it applies to banking?
For me, there are three key criticisms to address. There are criticisms of what the device does, within the scope Google designed. There are criticisms based on what people think an augmented device should be able to do. Then, there are concerns about how the device will be used. I will address each in turn.
Criticisms of Google Glass
No device is perfect – especially in its first release. There is no disputing that the current device is limited by the design of its frame. However, Google has worked hard to position the device as a fashion accessory – and I find it hard to believe that a plethora of frame designs aren’t in the pipeline.
We know that Ray-Ban, amongst others, have already been lined up as partners. This will definitely start to address the criticism that the device is ugly. Personally, I think that is a tough claim – beauty is in the (augmented) eye of the beholder. Most reviewers have remarked that they have received nothing but positive feedback on the look of the device as they have worn them out in public. I guess it is a matter of taste.
The effectiveness of the voice control is certainly a concern. However, we know from the deployment and improvements of Siri, that this is likely to be a first generation issue that is resolved pretty quickly. Pricing is another question. We don’t yet know what the standard pricing will be for Glass – and whilst it will be a premium product, I doubt $1,500 will be the price at the end of the day. Vuzix devices range more around $400.
Criticisms of what Google Glass Does Not Do
Many of the criticisms of Glass are rather unfair. There are many things that Glass does not do - that it was not designed to do. No, Glass does not offer multi user input, nor does it provide screens for both eyes – but it was not designed to do so. However, we know that functional enhancements come thick and fast in today’s quick moving retail electronic goods market.
Competitors will be looking for differentiators. We know that patents have been filed for double screened augmented reality glasses – and how long would it be before the new projection technologies being developed by Microsoft or MIT are deployed in augmented reality glasses? Google Glass are first gen – and, given the experience of the smartphone, it is hard to see how there won’t be rapid evolutions of the device.
Criticism of How Google Glass Will be Used
Feedback from the early testers suggests that the lens blends into your peripheral vision after a short period of use. Doubtless, users will rapidly grow accustomed to the display – much in the same way as wearers accustomise to vari-focal lenses. But won’t the screen disrupt conversations? Let us be clear. Rude people are rude today and I doubt that Google Glass will make them ruder. People regularly interrupt conversations to answer calls and texts. No doubt the same people will be distracted by their Glass headsets. However, I suspect that most people will continue to be polite. After all, new behaviours and social protocols can be learned – as an example, most of us automatically turn off our phones when going into the cinema.
The same can be said for concerns about privacy. Anyone with an iPhone can surreptitiously video or photograph you. Yes, this would be slightly easier with Glass – but not significantly so. After all, it is voice controlled. Besides, most of us live our lives under the perpetual view of CCTV. Again, I suspect people will rapidly adjust to the presence of this new technology, as we have adjusted to all the other camera bearing devices that have emerged.
Google Glass in Banking
All-in-all, I feel confident that in one form or another, we will find that augmented reality glasses will become a fact of life. So – what will this mean for banking?
I believe that augmented reality glasses will be used by both banks staff and customers. For tellers, sitting at a cash desk in a branch, I believe AR glasses will display information in a way that not only makes transactions faster, but that also encourages tellers to identify product needs, generate leads and provide additional service actions (“Madam, I see there is a new credit card waiting for you – would you like me to get it for you?). Signature specimens can be delivered side by side with submitted forms. Biometrics can be deployed to enhance customer recognition. These are just a few examples.
It is for retail banking customers where I think AR glasses have the greatest potential. For example, AR can truly bring personal financial management to life. PFM often suffers by looking backwards at historic data. They provide colourful charts – but no guidance on what to do in specific purchasing scenarios.
However, with AR glasses and by using real-time video streaming and product recognition, a bank can identify the products a customer is interested in buying. The application can then match this product against the customer’s stated financial goals and advise them if the product they want to buy is within their budget. A bank could then provide better value alternatives to the customer. In this way PFM becomes fully actionable, rather than an abstract set of targets and data. This puts the bank at the heart of a daily routine for the customer.
Furthermore, a bank could offer marketing in a whole new way. Customers could look at advertisements on magazines or on billboards that come to life in front of their eyes. Blippar (http://blippar.com/blipps) is an example of an agency which has led the way with innovative AR marketing. Of course, there are many other ways to deliver value with AR – branch / ATM location finders, reviewing and understanding financial projections etc.
In conclusion – I believe augmented reality offers huge opportunities to banks. There are many nebulous and gimmicky uses of the technology, for sure. I believe that if banks focus on delivering valuable experiences based on firm business cases, then augmented reality applications will embed in our day to day lives.
Future-gazing is always a controversial endeavour! I would be delighted to see your responses and options! Please share your thoughts below.
About The Author
Alex Bray is the Retail Channel Director at Misys and is responsible for internet & mobile banking and teller products. Prior to working at Misys, Alex spent a decade at Lloyds Banking Group – working in Digital Channels for much of this time. He also spent 2 years as a Digital Channels consultant at IBM, where he worked in the UK, Europe and China as a subject matter expert in multi-channel banking and social media. He is the author of ‘Better than Real – Augmented Reality in Financial Services’, published by Searching Finance. He lives in St. Giles, London.