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How will Google Glass bans impact wearables adoption?

With Illinois recently joining the list of places to discuss banning Google Glass, experts question how the potential bans will impact consumer adoption of wearable technology.

Illinois is reportedly discussing banning wearing Google Glass while driving, following in the footsteps of Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia and Britain, and a few individual merchants have already decided to ban the technology due to privacy and security reasons. However, since the device has yet to actually publicly roll out, it is too early to fully see how Google Glass will impact daily life and whether such bans are necessary.

?These bans will actually accelerate the adoption by making this technology seem more commonplace than it actually is,? said Arish Ali, CEO of Skava, San Francisco.

?Bans are due to safety and privacy concerns, which given the recent revelations of Big Brother like snooping from NSA have become even more pronounced,? he said. ?However such concerns are always there with any new technology and both technology and policies evolve over time to ensure widespread adoption of useful technologies.?

Driving bans
The most recent addition to the Google Glass bans comes from Illinois senator Ira Silverstein, who filed legislation that would prohibit motorists? use of Google Glass while driving.

According to Mr. Silverstein, the wearable technology could distract drivers and be dangerous on the road.

Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia are also considering similar legislation, as is Britain.

Guillaume Lelait, North America?s vice president at Fetch, San Francisco, believes that Google Glass may actually make driving safer.

?Lawmakers see Google Glass the same way they see the mobile phone ? just another distraction from the road,? Mr. Lelait said. ?But the truth is, this type of wearable tech could potentially make driving much safer.

?By displaying GPS information and driving directions in the driver?s line of vision, drivers might be less likely to swerve or be distracted by looking away from the road at their external navigation screens,? he said. ?One way Google could ensure safety would be to create a ?driving mode? that would shut off all other applications other than GPS functionality while operating a vehicle.?

Other use cases would be apps that can detect when a driver is falling asleep at the wheel or too drunk to be driving.

Merchant bans
In addition to the bans Google Glass faces with driving legislation, it also faces occasional bans with individual merchants.

For instance, a Seattle bar called Lost Lake Cafe & Lounge recently kicked out a customer that was wearing Google Glass and banned the device for good. Lost Lake?s owner Dave Meinert also banned Google Glass at another Seattle bar he owns, The 5 Point Cafe.

In restaurants and bars, the concern may be more about privacy and the fact that wearables can record and photograph consumers without their knowledge or consent.

Mike Santoro, president of Walker Sands Communications, Chicago, does not see the need to pay a lot of attention to these merchant bans.

?As for public spaces like restaurants banning them, it's a very small minority of establishments, many looking for publicity,? he said. ?I suspect these bans will continue to make news, but be a small picture of what most establishments are willing to allow.?

Casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Connecticut have also been banning Google Glass for fear of cheating.

?Our phones have cameras, our pens have cameras, so this is nothing new in that regard,? said Scott Michaels, executive vice president and partner at Atimi, Vancouver, Canada. ?Casinos have banned cameras in the playing area for years, so this is just extending that rule to a new device class. For the cafes, it?s more of a statement to other patrons about their supposed privacy. I bet many of those same places have security cameras in place already.

?What makes Glass special, is just really how overtly its showing that a recording could be happening, and that is disconcerting to some people,? he said.

It is not surprising that many retailers, merchants and even lawmakers fear the new technology. The same thing happened with smartphones, and it will most likely continue to happen with future technology.

Google Glass confuses and scare people because they do not understand it. However, if penetration does grow, this initial fear will probably dwindle down and bans will be lifted.

This is one of the main reasons for why Google Glass has not been broadly rolled out to the general public. It is still in an ?Explorer Program? so that developers can better understand how consumers want to use the technology and incorporate feedback in the public launch.

According to Google, the company is leveraging the Glass Explorer program to ensure that users have a say in how the technology looks and functions once it is rolled out to the general public. Google realizes that the wearable device is still in its early days and as such will inherently raise new issues.

Wearable adoption
Google Glass is still in somewhat of a sci-fi fantasy world, nowhere near mass consumer adoption, but the device is definitely gaining attention and developers are even rolling out Google Glass apps.

For example, Fidelity Investments has introduced an application for Google Glass enabling users to view a hands-free display of quotes from major United States stock indexes at market close (see story).

Paint brand Sherwin-Williams has also launched a Google Glass app designed to fundamentally change how users discover and select color (see story).

However, for Google Glass to really take off, it has a number of challenges to overcome.

?I believe you will continue to see growth in Google Glass, but in order for it to take off it needs to clear two hurdles, price and appearance,? Walker Sand?s Mr. Santoro said. ?For now $1,500 is still too high of a price point for most people to purchase this device. But more worrisome is the reluctance of people to wear the device because of the attention it draws.

?Having spoken with a lot of Glass Explorers, and after wearing it myself, there are a large number of real benefits to wearing the device if you can just get past the funny looks,? he said.

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York