When Google Glass surfaced in 2012, ideas flew around about what it could bring to the table, including but not limited to video-chatting with family, taking photos, browsing the Web and messaging friends just about anywhere without even touching the device. And a year later consumers had the chance to test it out, albeit at the hefty price of $1,500 a unit.
But after nearly two years of being subjected to public backlash over its design and privacy concerns, Google has sent it back to the drawing board and put it under the auspices of Tony Fadell, the man behind Apple's iPod and Google's Nest smart thermostat. While the company says it’s not the end of the Google Glass project as a whole, it’s clear there's major work required to make Glass viable in the market. So what does Google need to do for Glass to take off in its next revamp?
Define exactly what its purpose is
With the limited public beta launch of “Explorer” Glass models, Google cast a wide net hoping to appeal to consumers as well as enterprise customers. After the initial hype wore off, interest quickly dropped for the former, causing many developers to abandon their consumer apps for Glass. In lieu of consumer interest, many of those developers shifted focus to enterprise app development for Glass, a sector where smart glasses are finding more success.
“CES showed that the use case for smart glasses is in the enterprise, for example, police and military, security, warehouse, remote assistance and barcode scanning, and, in the consumer space, for gaming and sports entertainment,...focused task-specific use cases,” Nick Spencer, ABI Research senior practice director, mobile devices and wearables, said. “Google Glass, on the other hand, was generalized in its use case and positioned as a smartphone replacement which was problematic on many levels.”
While wearables as a whole are considered a growing market, smart glasses are expected to see the most growth through enterprise, with over 10 million units projected to be shipped by 2018, compared to 1.2 million consumer units, according to ABI Research data.
And it’s a trend Google subtly acknowledged in its blog post that announced the end of the program.
“Glass at Work has been growing and we’re seeing incredible developments with Glass in the workplace,” Google wrote.
Address privacy issues
Glass Explorers were eager to take their new wearable gadget just about everywhere. But many quickly found they were less than welcome in some venues while wearing the gadget. Movie theaters were quick to ban it because of its video recording capabilities. And some restaurants and bars banned the wearable, citing privacy concerns.
Even if Google improves the design of glass to be less obtrusive, privacy concerns aren’t expected to go away anytime soon on the consumer end, mainly due to the built-in camera.
“They left it in an experimental phase and underestimated the ruthlessness of the consumer press cycle,” CrowdOptic CEO Jon Fisher said. “It has no business walking into a bar.”
But on the enterprise side, privacy is much less of a concern.
“In the enterprise case there are less obstacles,” Carolina Milanesi, Kantar World Panel, chief of research and head of U.S. ComTech business, said. “Design doesn’t matter as much -- it never does with enterprise. And the usual privacy issues are more limited, since you use it in a more controlled environment.”
While Glass failed to take off with consumers, developers are finding more applications for the device in the professional field, especially with video streaming. In one case, Stanford University surgeons in training were able to use Google Glass and CrowdOptic live streaming software to broadcast their view to instructors. It has the potential to open up more use cases, such as live video from an athlete’s point of view.
But for Glass to be used in such as manner on a regular basis, it will have to overcome issues of battery life (about 30 minutes of recording before the battery dies) as well as its reliance on a Wi-Fi or a mobile device connection to send and receive data.
“We think once Google is able to livestream from these glasses anywhere -- it’s difficult -- that’s going to be one of the primary reasons to wear glasses in the future,” Fisher said.
Beyond addressing battery constraints, Google will also have to find a way to reduce the heat generated by Glass, which were found to reach “uncomfortable” levels for users, according to a study by Rice University in Houston. A fix for this may already be in the works, with Intel rumored to replace Texas Instruments as the supplier of low-power processors for future Google Glass models, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Aesthetically, Google still has a long way to go with Glass' design, which remains bulky and obtrusive, even with custom frames designed by American fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and a partnership with eyewear juggernaut Luxottica. Should Google find a way to shrink Glass to be a nearly unnoticable part of the frame, it may be an improvement to the design. But it may come with its own new set of privacy concerns as a result.
Even with technical changes to Google Glass, the one hurdle Google may have trouble clearing is the stigma of the “Glasshole,” a derogatory nickname given to Google Glass users. The company has made some effort to mitigate the term through various online posts, including in a Glass etiquette guide that acknowledges it.
Yet since the introduction of Glass, the term “Glasshole” has grown to represent something more: the divide between the haves and have nots, as seen in San Francisco last year, where a Business Insider reporter had Glass snatched off his face and later smashed on the ground shortly after covering a local protest. While it's possible that the Glasshole image may fade, it's unlikely to go away anytime soon while Glass carries its premium $1,500 price tag.