Wearables

Opinion: Don't sound the death knell for Google Glass just yet

Opinion: Don't sound the death...
Google Glass' fortunes may have turned south, but don't count it out just yet (Original: John Wollwerth/Shutterstock)
Google Glass' fortunes may have turned south, but don't count it out just yet (Original: John Wollwerth/Shutterstock)
View 7 Images
Previous prototypes show the way Glass has moved forward
1/7
Previous prototypes show the way Glass has moved forward
Google Glass has come a long way in a short space of time
2/7
Google Glass has come a long way in a short space of time
Glass is comfortable to wear – as long as you don't mind some strange looks (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
3/7
Glass is comfortable to wear – as long as you don't mind some strange looks (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Virgin Atlantic recently ran a trial where staff were kitted out with Glass
4/7
Virgin Atlantic recently ran a trial where staff were kitted out with Glass
Google Glass' fortunes may have turned south, but don't count it out just yet (Original: John Wollwerth/Shutterstock)
5/7
Google Glass' fortunes may have turned south, but don't count it out just yet (Original: John Wollwerth/Shutterstock)
Glass 2.0 will need to address some problems with the first version (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
6/7
Glass 2.0 will need to address some problems with the first version (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The Explorer version of Glass looked less awkward with frames attached, but was still a bit too awkward for prime time (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
7/7
The Explorer version of Glass looked less awkward with frames attached, but was still a bit too awkward for prime time (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
View gallery - 7 images

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.

Glass is comfortable to wear – as long as you don't mind some strange looks (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Glass is comfortable to wear – as long as you don't mind some strange looks (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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.

Google Glass 2.0

Virgin Atlantic recently ran a trial where staff were kitted out with Glass
Virgin Atlantic recently ran a trial where staff were kitted out with Glass

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).

Previous prototypes show the way Glass has moved forward
Previous prototypes show the way Glass has moved forward

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.

View gallery - 7 images
9 comments
zevulon
i tried google glass twice on the streets of nyc when it first came out.
the product was dead on arrival. the entire concept was dead to begin with and all you hear is group think from both paid advertisers , google itself, and self identifying tech ideologues who spend less time thinking about this stuff than many non-self identifying tech obsessives.
google glass is and will remain dead as will ALL other heads up display makers.
the only companies making heads up displays with even a remote chance of financial self sustainability are military companies. BAE and others are working on them.
frankly, i doubt ANY OF THEM will succeed.
how is it that after hundreds of milions if not more money invested by google glass--------a massive failure is still not accepted by people? this is almost a religious reaction. it is faith. reason has fled the scene.
if i had to provide the simplest explanation it is this.
creating a mediated visual experience is probably one of the most complex things to possibly pull off.
occulus rift Virtual Reality is like addition compared to the multi-variate calculus of intermediated heads up displays.
why? because creating a VR is a simply subsituttion of one sensory experience (reality) for another ( a VR screen). it's a simple concept to pull off once you have the latency and computing power and screen resolution all up to snuff.
creating a system that mediated existing experience of human beings is FAR more complex to pull off IN A MEANINGFUL WAY.
meaningful means you eventually get people to purchase it willfully for economic or non economic reasons.
google glass will NEVER be a fashionable item, and is a pain in the ass, so the only enduring argument google and others have ever made is that glass will find itself used by customer service at airports or for other jobs where it can provide a superior performance and experience for the user.
this is appealing but largely nonsense when it comes to any job other than military jobs.
people are CHEAP labor is CHEAP. superior performance only comes when tasks are automated, delabored, outsourced, or otherwise supplemented.
mediating the experience of a laborer with visual displays doens't really accomplish much if anything if you are looking as the historical patterns of technology use to lower the cost of labor or provide extra performance. if there is no SIMPLE idea for supplementing labor in a direct way, than these proposals are just nonsense faith based tech 'ideations'.
the one simple one there is a heads up display making it easier for soldiers to kill people on the battle field. the idea of the 'super soldier' has long pervaded science fiction. it is also one that brings in a host of technologies many of which simply ignore the fact that most soldiers are dispose-able , cheap, and easily replaced. and that things like AIR SUPPORT and NIGHT VISION have fundamentally altered the calculus of ground patrolls more than any exoskeleton or heads up display ever will.

you need perspective to understand why google glass was is and always will be dead for the next ten years. and yet, the types of people who have a faith based relationship with godgle glass, almost by definition are incapable of a broad perspective.
i call it google think, but normally it's just called 'group think'.
Daishi
I don't think people are totally unwilling to strap gaudy electronics to their head because GoPro seems to be doing fine in that market. I could see a use for glass as an alternative to helmet cams if nothing else.
I would really like a Google Glass helmet mostly because I would like it as a GPS and audio is a pain with a helmet on so bluetooth is a useful but expensive addition to helmets and it would come with it.
Even if it did nothing else it would replace 3 separate expensive devices.
christopher
Good riddance! I hope the idiot who thought of encouraging people to walk around talking video of strangers without their permission got sacked as well.
Nairda
Lots of negative thinking. In fairness, probably because the tech has only demonstrated apps for hipsters and the homeless. If they were serious about using this in a business/technical capacity, we would be seeing schematic overlay with the camera used in unison to adjust perspective and depth. Yes, like the in the movies. You look at your dull watch and it projects a bunch of information in a larger planar rectangle. You look at an engineering drawing and it displays redline overlays. You look at a map and it displays way-points and additional terrain detail. You look at a Q code on a pole and it displays bus timetables and information about your location.
The sad part of all these projection devices is they spent so little time consulting people that might use them. No, Facebook messages, time and temperature of the day are not the only applications known to man. How sad.
kalqlate
@Nairda - You conflate two different types of implementation of AR. One type is direct overlay where the display of the device tries to map its augmenting information with relation to the real scene. There are several devices recently announced that purport to do all of the things you mentioned as overlays. Another type, the one that Glass implements, is to not try to overlay but to simply make additional information available in a visually accessible panel. Very good for what it does. Its purpose is not to overlay but to simply augment with additional information that may have no physical relation to the real scene.
kalqlate
I really don't understand how an article about the possible future prospects and directions for Google Glass can go without mention of Google's investment in Magic Leap.
MK23666
Daishi, Nairda. Nice ideas.
Nairda
@kalqlate As Google Glass was first to heavily market this type of product category, I don't see why they could not have implemented direct overlay and informational, as the former could easily achieve the latter.
I don't know, maybe there was a limit in the processing capabilities of the device, or perhaps a second camera would have been required for better positional information making the wearable device too large or gaudy (more so).
Whatever the case, it just felt to me like a limp implementation.
Riaanh
@zevulon, you really seem to passionate about condemning heads-up displays, but be careful, there are actually a myriad of possible applications for a device like this.
Think the medical field, a surgeon with his hands full able to access a database or vital signs of a patient. Think law-enforcement....... Think maintenance engineers having access to a hands free library of service manuals on site.....That is only a few of the top of my head.
I for one would love a display like this in the engineering company where I work. We work with 10 000 different parts on the shopfloor, trying to keep the reference drawings up-to-date is an absolute nightmare. We've now got an electronic system with computer monitors all over the place, but it doesn't work well at all. The artisan needs a drawing at the part or assembly, not on a monitor 5 meters away.