Google Glass and The Future of Wearable Tech

21 January 2015

Google is stopping sales of its Google Glass smart glasses and ending its Explorer developers’ programme, with yesterday the last day the product was available to buy for USD1,500.

However, this is far from the end of Google Glass and the company says its remains committed to bringing a smart glasses product to consumer markets, despite the devices’ current lack of mainstream traction. In order to do that the internet giant is spinning Google Glass out of its Google X development lab into its own division, which Nest CEO Tony Fadell will oversee. While no timeline for product launches is known the company says that a new version will hit shelves later this year.   

We’ll be hearing about Google’s wearable tech strategies at StrategyEye’s Future Of Wearable Tech event on the evening of January 28 in London with the company’s wearable tech programme manager Grant Allen. Intel's wearable tech marketing and business development director Paul Stacey and innovative UK startups Kovert Designs and Blocks will also be presenting. Click here to find out more.

New Lease Of Life

The search giant is now tearing a page from Apple’s playbook and choosing to develop the next version of the wearable device behind closed doors, rather than launching a beta version of the device to the public before it's quite ready. Far from giving up on Glass, as stopping sales suggests, it seems like Google is preparing to give the augmented-reality devices another push as developer interest fades. Notably, while Explorer is shutting down, Google Glass' other development programme Glass at Work will continue to operate as industrial and medical sectors remain hotly tipped as places where the augmented reality tech could prove useful. But Fadell certainly has his work cut out.  

“As we look to the road ahead, we realise that we’ve outgrown the lab and so we’re officially ‘graduating’ from Google X to be our own team here at Google. We’re thrilled to be moving even more from concept to reality,” says the company in a Google+ post. “As part of this transition, we’re closing the Explorer Program so we can focus on what’s coming next.”

Lack Of Consumer Traction

While much of the technology in Google Glass was praised, particularly the voice-recognition capabilities, the devices continue to suffer from an image problem. Wearable devices need to look good and blur the lines between fashion and technology. Google Glass, however, despite hiring people from the fashion world and making its presence felt at fashion industry events, never shook off a nerdy, sci-fi image.

The devices also brought about privacy concerns thanks to the built-in camera that could potentially allow users to record or snap photos without the subject's knowledge. In a world where many already feel that we’re checking our phones too often, Google Glass felt like a yet another barrier to human interaction. No one wants to have a conversation with someone checking their Facebook out of the corner of their eye the whole time and early adopters attracted the collective nickname ‘Glassholes’.

“Empathy is the mark of a great wearable product. Google basically created a product that while brilliant technically was empathetically inept in design, in function and exacerbated these weaknesses with their go to market choices,” says Redg Snodgrass, CEO of wearable venture firm Wearable World. “When we're younger we are taught that while speaking with someone to look people in the eye. If someone looks away it's considered rude, dishonest or disrespectful. Glass caused others to look away constantly during conversations.”

The wearable tech market is poised for dramatic growth over the next couple of years, with Berg Insights predicting 168.2m device shipments by 2019. While smartwatches are expected to make up the vast majority of devices sold there is still a plentiful opportunity for smart glasses, especially in industrial and medical applications. However, spinning out Glass into its own division under consumer device expert Fadell suggests that Google is determined to make Glass into a mainstream consumer device.

Fadell To the Rescue

If there’s one person at Google who might just be capable of turning the problematic wearable devices into a widely used consumer product its Tony Fadell. Formerly an employee at Apple, Fadell is known for his work on the iPod and iPhone and joined Google a year ago through its acquisition of his smart thermostat company Nest for USD3.2bn. Fadell will now bring his hardware and design expertise to Google Glass, though current Glass head Ivy Ross will continue to run things on an a day-to-day basis. It’s worth noting that Fadell will continue to run Nest separately and Google is not pulling the two together into a more general internet of things department.

“They should look to Lior Ron who moved to Motorola and helped build and launch the Moto360. Lior gets it in a way most don't in Google or anywhere,” says Snodgrass. “But I'm not sure if both of these amazing people and their teams are enough. Google is world class in tech and brilliance, but when it comes to empathy and design it falls way short of the mark in terms of DNA. Wearable products will be extremely difficult for it.”

The technological advances made by the Google Glass team are nothing to sniff at and the company has drastically increased public awareness of augmented reality. However, turning it into something both fashionable and socially acceptable will take some time, but Google clearly believes there’s significant money up for grabs in getting it right.  

The learn more, register your attendance at The Future of Wearable Tech networking event and hear speakers from Google, Intel, Kovert Designs and Blocks give their insights on the cutting edge of wearable technology.


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