Since we first caught a glimpse of it in 2012, few consumer gadgets have attracted as much interest or as many headlines as Google Glass. Its Explorer Edition may not have sold in huge numbers but it's been a major tech talking point over the last couple of years, embodying the rise of wearable devices, the evolution of the smartphone and Google's far-reaching ambitions all in one highly priced, futuristic-looking gadget.
Now, though, the Google Glass Explorer Program is officially dead. Glass is going off sale, being taken behind closed doors, and words like "reboot" and "reset" are being whispered in regards to the device. Google promises that we'll see "future versions of Glass when they're ready," but outsiders are less optimistic that the concept is going to rise again.
You don't have to think too hard to come up with reasons why Google Glass didn't sell in record numbers. It was always marketed as an experimental, beta product; it was ridiculously expensive; it felt awkward and alienating to wear. Even if you had zero self-consciousness walking around town in the $1,500 hi-tech specs, chances are you would be putting everyone around you on edge with the ability to start a video recording at any time or check your Facebook notifications while you pretended to pay attention to the conversation at hand.
It's not surprising then that Google has decided to step back and think again about Glass, this time under the leadership of Nest CEO Tony Fadell and far away from the public gaze. What would be a surprise is if we never saw the device again: underneath all of the problems that Glass has is a bold vision of future technology, even if we're not quite ready to adopt it in 2015.
Those of you old enough to remember a time before mobile phones no doubt recall some of the debates that were taking place as the technology found its way into the mainstream: why would anyone want to allow themselves to be contacted anytime, anywhere? The first cell phones were ugly, expensive and cumbersome to use, just like Glass. But as the years have rolled by (the year 2007 particularly comes to mind), the benefits of these devices have come to far outweigh any concerns.
The smartphone and Google Glass are very different products, but it's still an example of the way technology evolves and how we evolve to accept it.
Google's promo videos for Glass still have some compelling ideas in them. Take photos and videos hands-free, or navigate your way down a ski slope, or get an instant translation of something you're looking at. A music gig full of Google Glass wearers may sound like a scary idea, but at least your view isn't going to be ruined by the sight of dozens of people holding their glowing smartphones aloft. The issues that surround Google Glass are not so much to do with what it does or how it works than with its appearance and our attitude towards it.
Are these issues that Google can work out? It won't be easy, but it's not impossible.
Right now we're seeing a natural trend for wearables to become lighter, less obtrusive and more invisible – take a look at Google's work with smart contact lenses, for example – and that suggests that Glass 2.0 is going to look a lot more stylish than the first edition did. We've all grown accustomed to the idea of carrying mini-computers in our pockets, and so perhaps we can all get used to the idea of strapping mini-computers to our faces, given time (especially if they're a lot more "mini" than they are today).
One way in for Google is likely to be through specific use cases and commercial applications. The thought of a doctor, an air stewardess or a taxi driver wearing Glass is a lot less off-putting than someone sitting down opposite you at a bar with one of the headsets on. These industrial uses, for seating plans, warehouse layouts, educational demonstrations and so on, are where Google Glass can get a foothold, as well as one-off events – put Glass on for a bike ride or a skydive, take it off around the dinner table.
Don't be surprised if you don't hear about Google Glass for some time, even as similar technology such as Sony's SmartEyeglass, Microsoft's HoloLens and the Oculus Rift continues to evolve. Google has a track record of making initially outlandish ideas part of our everyday lives (from worldwide street-level photography to self-driving cars) and given enough time and resources it would be hard to bet against the company pulling off the same trick with Glass. If you take a look at the way the device has improved during its short life span, and then extrapolate that over another five or ten years, suddenly Glass seems far more compelling.
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