Interview: Brian Ballard of APX Labs talks about Google Glass in the work environment

Google's latest step in its wearables program is being called Glass at Work, which is designed so that Google works directly with software developers who are looking at Glass for enterprise environments. I recently sat down with APX Labs CEO Brian Ballard to discuss his experiences with Glass at Work so far, and how APX Labs sees wearable technology growing in the future.

The thing APX Labs is most well-known for right now, at least to the general public, is through the work they have done with Epson's Moverio hardware and Google Glass. APX and Epson showed off their collaboration at Google IO last year, and just recently we got a chance to experience the Skybox app for Google Glass in the US during a Washington Capitals ice hockey game.

CEO Brian Ballard has explained multiple times in public that he sees a variety of potential verticals for wearable technology, both in the consumer and the enterprise spaces. In fact, the work APX has been doing with the Capitals has offered them unique insights into how many, many different kinds of people respond to tech like Google Glass in their daily lives, while demonstrating an experience that clearly illustrates why this kind of technology will be more important as we move forward.

"The Google Glass platform is something people really love. Parent's being able to watch videos of their kids on the ice over and over again while the hockey game is happening, people find it really heart-warming and they just really love it. It's all about the fact that it's not in your way. We try and design all of our apps, whether it's for sports or for the workforce, to be unobtrusive and just be value adds. That's the design process here, it's all about how you present information and when you present it and the type of hardware you use to create the right experience."

Part of making that experience tailored to the environment you are in is something APX has been working hard on for quite a while now. With their Skybox app for ice hockey, they have an experience that lets the person watching in the stands experience information – even live video clips – in ways that the huge screens in the stadium aren't capable of. Now that they have that down, the company has shifted their attention to other sports. They found that the experiences there need to be different due to the wildly different speed, pacing, and volume of the games they're watching and stadiums they're in.

"We're finding out as we're dealing with the different teams that the teams themselves want different things, so we've had to make sure that Skylight and Skybox are flexible enough that these experiences can be customised to those experiences. We've learned a lot with the perspective we gain from within the arena that we didn't have from the perspective of the fan."

So, how does Glass at Work fit into what APX is doing right now? APX has set themselves apart a bit by being more than just a software development company. They go so far as to offer custom UI experiences within the smart glasses themselves, and if necessary, even completely replace the default experience. Skybox, for example, is only available right now through Glass units that are handed out to select attendees at Capitals games.

That experience almost entirely replaces the Glass OS that sits on most headsets. This is important to APX because it gives them the control that enterprise customers need in order to address things like security and internal management. The same kind of account management you find on an enterprise-enabled smartphone, for example, isn't really an option on the default Glass software right now. Glass at Work for APX means more coordinated support for these kinds of experiences instead of having to root the device and rip out the OS. The end result, according to Ballard, is a better overall setup for enterprise environments.

APX also seems to clearly understand why approaching Glass from an enterprise position is so important for the future of wearable technology. Right now, the consumer side of Glass is experiencing some real problems when it comes to social acceptance.

"When you wear Glass out and about you get three types of reactions, either the people who barely notice it, the excited and interested people, and the people who have a level of instant suspicion because they don't understand it. If we look in the entertainment space, if all the fans had the opportunity to wear it together and create this business to consumer bridge, I feel it's a great environment to get exposed to Glass."

"When you look at workforce adoption, the employment paradigm allows an entire group to wear it all at once instead of just being one person who chose to wear it. These are also the same questions we encountered with smartphones. Is there a data risk, will people be distracted while driving, etc. In some ways it's like we've seen this movie before, and look how it took off with smartphones. The flipside is that there's still a lot to be figured out. They call this the Explorer Edition for a reason, and the people who are buying this right now are exploring what this tech can do for them, so I wouldn't exactly call it a work in progress."

"That sounds way less finished, and Google Glass by many measures is a very well finished product. It's on an evolutionary tract right now, and there are several other platforms that exist right now. Augmented reality platforms in particular, which are often seen as competitors to Glass. Instead, we can see that they have great applications for different verticals."

For more on wearables in the workplace, see: How Google Glass and Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch will change IT network management.