MONEY Tech

Why Won’t Google Just Let Google Glass Die?

150326_INV_DIEGOOGLEGLASS
Phillip Bond—Alamy

Despite heavy criticism and disappointing sales, the search king is sticking with its Glass initiative.

Google GOOGLE INC. GOOG 0.31% board Chairman Eric Schmidt has never been shy about pushing the envelope in the company’s penchant for innovation. Its ongoing experiments with a self-driving car and those odd-shaped balloons in Project Loon (Google’s effort to beam Internet connectivity to remote regions of the world) are just a couple examples.

However, Google didn’t stop with the cars and balloons. Word has it Google is also working on nanotechnology that would seek out and diagnose cancer and heart disease, among other ailments. That’s heady stuff, and supports the notion that Google is one of the most innovative companies on the planet.

Then there’s Glass. Google’s wearable initiative might have topped the innovation list; instead, after lackluster sales and consumer angst, Google shut down its “Explorer” program, which seemingly put an end to an unsuccessful bid to bring Jetsons-like devices to the world. But according to a recent interview, Schmidt simply won’t let Glass die. And that’s a mistake.

Knowing when to say when

Conceptualizing, let alone developing, the aforementioned innovative technologies speaks volumes about Google. But as with any company willing to take calculated risks that result in fundamental changes in the way consumers live, there are misses along the way.

Longtime Google nemesis Apple APPLE INC. AAPL 0.76% didn’t become the largest company in the world thanks to its digital assistant Newton or the wildly unpopular Pippin gaming console. And those are not even in the same innovation ballpark as nanotechnology pills, let alone Google Glass. But from a business perspective there sometimes comes a time to cut the cord — when did you last see a Newton? — and for Google Glass, that time has come and gone.

What’s the problem?

A big concern, certainly from an investor’s perspective, is there’s no mass market for Glass. While the notion of a fully connected, powerful computer wearable device — which Glass was intended to be — has potential, continuing to pour resources into something consumers aren’t interested in isn’t warranted.

Although Google hasn’t revealed the cost of developing Glass, let alone its ongoing overhead to build a new version with longer battery life, better sound, and improved display, it certainly hasn’t been cheap. For shareholders to get a return on that investment, Glass will need to become a mainstream success, and that’s not going to happen.

It could be argued there is a niche business case for Glass. It could make sense for engineers who want to view detailed 3D specs of a building while it’s being built, or for doctors and other professionals needing to access reference data and communicate on the fly. But Google has put too much money and time into Glass for it to simply meet a few, specific needs. And Schmidt has made it clear: Google intends to bring Glass to the masses.

But according to IDC, by 2018 the entire wearable device market will total a (relatively) paltry 112 million units. To put that in perspective, that same year 1.9 billion smartphones are expected to be shipped globally.

The insurmountable problem

Why is there no market for Glass? After all, Glass is actually a stand-alone, Internet-connected device, unlike the new Apple Watch that has garnered so much press. Apple Watch is like virtually every other device of its ilk: It requires a smartphone to utilize most features, which include what amount to a pager and health monitor. Meanwhile, Glass has actual computing functions, including pictures, audio, and surfing the Internet.

The problems began with poor aesthetics. The first versions of Glass were simply not something most consumers would wear. Google is rumored to be working with designers to remedy the appearance problem, but the poor looks pale in comparison to the biggest concern: privacy. Nearly two years ago, even as Glass was in its earliest stages, a laundry list of industries, including banks, sports arenas, and hospitals, banned Glass.

In some instances the concerns were safety-related, but many restaurants and other public businesses banned Glass because of how uncomfortable it makes their patrons. The notion of Glass owners surreptitiously taking pictures of complete strangers and recording their conversations leaves a lot of people — understandably — uncomfortable.

With privacy becoming more of a concern with each passing day, overcoming that challenge could prove impossible for Glass, rendering it unmarketable. Speaking of Glass, Schmidt said, “These things take time.” True, cutting-edge innovations do take time to develop, and sometimes even to catch on. But all the time in the world won’t help Glass. Sometimes, Google, you have to know when to say when.

Related Links

TIME Gadgets

NASA Wants High-Tech Smart Glasses for Astronauts

Osterhout Design Group
Osterhout Design Group Osterhout Design Group R-6

Google Glass in space?

You may not want Google Glass, but high-tech, interactive glasses sound pretty good to NASA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is developing computerized glasses that can show astronauts how to repair a ship or conduct an experiment in space, Bloomberg reports.

The space agency is joining forces with Osterhout Design Group, which makes glasses that project information on to the lenses. NASA could upload how-to information guides onto the glasses, freeing astronauts from using printed instruction manuals. Printed instruction manuals can be unwieldy in emergencies, and astronauts often must call back to base for more details. But calling is a last resort that will be increasingly difficult as ships travel farther from Earth — a call from Mars to Earth would take 20 minutes to connect.

NASA began its new approach by testing laptops strapped to astronauts’ heads, but ultimately decided to find more appropriate hardware for the task. Microchips developed for smartphones make the glasses possible.

“We knew we were ahead of the game,” says Sean Carter, a strategic partnerships manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “For us, this is huge today, and it gets even bigger tomorrow. The further we go away from earth, the more we need this.”

The glasses will be tested in an undersea lab later this year.

TIME Gadgets

Sony’s Google Glass Killer Now Available for Preorder

New device boasts augmented reality feature

Sony is seizing on the withdrawal of Google Glass from the consumer market with a pair of smart glasses all its own.

The Japanese firm announced Tuesday that a developer version of its SmartEyeglass will go on sale March 10 for $840 and is now available for pre-order in select countries.

SmartEyeglass, which Sony showed off at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, allows people to snap pictures, follow GPS directions and view text messages. The device can also create an augmented-reality overlay over the real world, so that users can see interesting factoids as they look over a tourist destination, for example, or receive assembly instructions as they’re building a product. Users have to pair the glasses with their smartphones to achieve full functionality.

At $840, Sony’s product is considerably cheaper than the $1,500 Google was sharing for the beta version of Glass. The new SmartEyeglass will be available initially in Japan, the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. A commercial release for the smart glasses is slated for 2016.

TIME Wearables

Google Will Stop Selling Glass Next Week

Google Glass
DPA—AFP/Getty Images A visitor of the "NEXT Berlin" conference tries out the Google Glass on April 24, 2013 in Berlin.

Google's Glass Explorer program is coming to an end

Google is pressing the brakes on its Google Glass rollout.

The company will stop selling the smart glasses to individual customers through its Explorer program after Jan. 19, according to a post on Glass’s Google+ page. The company will continue to support its Glass at Work initiative, which aims to sell the glasses to enterprise customers.

Glass is also moving out of the Google X research lab to become its own independent unit. It will be headed by Google executive Ivy Ross, who has been leading the Glass team since last summer. That team will now report to Nest CEO Tony Fadell, though Glass is not actually becoming a part of Nest, most well-known for making smart home equipment.

Google Glass, which has seen its official release delayed multiple times, has courted its fair share of controversy thanks to privacy concerns over its use. Google released a guide on how to avoid being a “Glasshole” using the wearable device, which can take pictures, record video and look up content on the Internet using voice commands.

Google offered no timetable for when a new version of Glass would be available to the general public. However, the Wall Street Journal reported in December that a new version of Glass with a processor developed by Intel would launch sometime in 2015.

TIME Gadgets

Why Google Glass Isn’t the Future

2013 Google Developer Conference Continues In San Francisco
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images An attendee tries Google Glass during the Google I/O developer conference on May 17, 2013 in San Francisco, California.

Will Google Glass ever be a mainstream hit?

When Google first released Glass last Spring, the device immediately rocked the tech world. The wearable computer that puts a small screen in users’ field of vision to display directions, messages or video calls was quickly spotted at tech conferences, on TV pundits’ faces and, eventually, on the streets of tech-centric cities like San Francisco and New York. Google pitched Glass as a gadget that can help users take notes, get directions or take a picture, all without using their hands. There are now dozens of apps available for Glass, from news and weather apps to a Battleship-style game.

At first, it looked like Google might have been about to unlock a whole new way of computing, and developers at top websites and media outlets scrambled to pop out rudimentary apps for Glass just to plant a flag in case the device took off. A year and a half later, however, it’s clear that Glass isn’t going smoothly. Several developers working on apps for Glass have suspended their projects, Reuters reported Friday, in a story that seems to ask, “Hey, remember Google Glass?”

“While Glass may find some specialized, even lucrative, uses in the workplace,” the Reuters story reads, “its prospects of becoming a consumer hit in the near future are slim, many developers say.” Developers, fearing a lack of adoption, are headed for the hills, and it’s looking like Google’s Glass hopes could be shattered.

Part of the fault lies with the way Google introduced Glass to the world. Instead of making it available immediately to all interested buyers, Google launched what it called the “Explorers” program, which meant only those consumers who received an invite from the search giant had the privilege of forking over $1,500 for a pre-market version of Glass. Google has been quiet about how many people were invited to the Explorers program, meaning it’s hard to get any precise numbers on how many Glass units the company has sold to date. (The Explorers program has since gone public.)

From a developer’s perspective, it takes a massive leap of faith to keep working on software for a device with unknown demand. It could be true that Glass will be a huge hit on the consumer market if and once it’s publicly released on the mass market, as evidenced by how quickly the company sold out of Glass units when Google suspended the invite-only rule for a day before later offering the beta version to anybody who paid up. But it could be equally true that anybody who wants Glass has already gotten a pair, meaning there won’t be any demand for the device on the mass consumer market — and the supply of below-cost Glass units already for sale on eBay is evidence in that direction.

While Glass found fans among early adopters and technophiles at first, it was also immediately met with skepticism, ridicule and even outright fear in the mainstream. Its camera, in particular, has raised serious privacy concerns as people fear being recorded without their knowledge. Glass users found themselves singled out, labeled with a derogatory nickname (“glassholes”), and banned from movie theaters, bars and other businesses. Whether to avoid the stigma of wearing Glass or just because the device’s promise is in question, there are suddenly plenty of reasons to doubt its future. Google co-founder Sergey Brin has said a consumer version of Glass would be on store shelves this year, but it’s increasingly looking like that won’t happen until next year, if at all.

Wearable devices are bound to be the next big thing, and maybe Glass will find a use in some professional field like medicine. But if Glass fails with consumers, it will likely be because it is too different, too soon. This is a familiar pattern for technology. (Most of us don’t want to go around town looking like Star Trek’s Geordi La Forge.) Instead, the most successful wearables will just quietly replace the dumb versions of stuff we already wear. That’s already happening with our watches — and nobody’s going to get banned from a bar for wearing an Apple Watch.

If Glass has a path to salvation, it’s in a refreshed version that takes a page from smartwatches and looks more familiar than different. But the good news here for Google is that it already has a grip on the smartwatch world, with its Android Wear and Google Now software powering the best models on the market today.

MONEY Google

4 Crazy Google Ambitions

Vehicle prototype photo of Google's self-driving car.
Google Prototype of Google's self-driving car.

Google has already changed the world by altering the way we interact with technology. As it enters its second decade as a public company, Google wants to repeat the trick.

Google’s thriving search business and Android mobile operating system are throwing off tons of cash. And with $60 billion to play with, the company is looking for the next new technologies to champion.

And it’s thinking big.

Co-founder Larry Page has frequently talked about putting new technologies to the “toothbrush test.” In other words, will we use it once or twice a day like our toothbrush…or for that matter, like Google?

He makes it sounds so easy. Perhaps too easy. Maybe it’s the inevitable overconfidence of someone whose youthful work turned out so spectacularly successful. (It doesn’t help to see this picture of him with a goofy oversized toothbrush.)

Can Google really create a third (or fourth) product that becomes so deeply enmeshed in our lives that it literally changes the way we live? If it fails, it won’t be for lack of ambition.

Here are four of the company’s biggest dreams.

1) Fuse man and machine.

You probably already carry a smartphone (maybe even one that runs on Google’s Android operating system.) Google wants to bring that convenience even closer to you, with projects like Google Glass, its new eyewear; Android Wear, a version of its mobile operating system that pairs with a watch; and a contact lens designed to help diabetics measure their blood sugar.

“Someday we’ll all be amazed that computing involved fishing around in pockets and purses,” Page said, discussing Google Glass on a recent conference call.

Unlike some of Google’s most outlandish schemes, “smart” eyewear and watches are already here, at least for the early adopters. The glasses are for sale for $1,500. At least two companies, Samsung and LG, make watches to pair with Android Wear, although reviewers have warned most consumers may want to wait for the technology to improve.

Of course, not everyone is excited about these new products. In July, the New York Post reported on what it called “The revolt against Glassholes.

“I don’t see why anyone feels the need to wear them,” the Post quoted one 30-year-old, who found it disconcerting to encounter a subway rider sporting a pair. “Was he reading his emails, watching an old episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ or recording everyone?” the man asked. “Just reach into your pocket and get your phone!”

2) Drive Your Cars.

Driverless cars have been a dream of techies for a long time. In fact, at the 1939 World’s fair, the famous “Futurama” exhibit predicted their arrival by 1960.

Things haven’t evolved quite so quickly. But Google’s efforts seem to be on the cusp. Modified Toyotas and Lexuses have already logged hundreds of thousands of miles, including on public highways. The company has said it plans to build a prototype that will operate without steering wheel or brakes next year.

It’s not just a matter of convenience. While most of us will certainly be nervous when we take our first ride, the cars could actually make roads safer by eliminating the all-too-human habits – from texting to falling asleep at the wheel – of today’s drivers.

Then again, solving old problems could create some new ones too…like the driverless car chase.

3) Bring the Internet to everyone, everywhere.

Google puts information at your fingertips. But that’s only if you have access to the Internet in the first place. That’s not something everyone can take for granted.

“Many of us think of the Internet as a global community. But two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access,” says the Web site of Project Loon, “a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.”

Come again? While most of us hook into the Web through our cable or phone lines, there are many people and places those still don’t reach. The idea, as described by Wired, is for a network of high-altitude balloons, each able to beam high-speed Internet to one another, as well as a serve as a hub for access for an area of about 25 miles below.

Last year, Google floated 30 test balloons over New Zealand, allowing “a small group of pilot testers” to connect online. The company hopes to expand the pilot program, soon circling the Earth along the 40th Southern Parallel, which rings Australia and parts of South America.

Apart from technical and political hurdles, some have questioned whether connecting the world to the Internet is really a top priority.

Said Microsoft founder Bill Gates in a recent BusinessWeek interview:

“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.”

4) “Solve Death.”

“Can Google Solve Death?” asked TIME last year. The occasion was an interview with Page about a new Google-founded company, Calico LLC.

Page explained the job of the new venture would be to use data and statistics to look at age-related health problems in new ways because current goals, like trying to cure cancer, weren’t ambitious enough.

“One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy,” he told Time. “We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.”

How exactly does Google plan to pull this off? Apart from announcing some high profile hires, Google hasn’t shared much about its vision. CNN was reduced to speculating about cryogenics.

Can Google really find the Fountain of Youth? Maybe. But they also may end up looking as if spectacular and unexpected success made them arrogant and gullible, not unlike those Conquistadors we learned about in grammar school.

Related:
10 Ways Google Has Changed the World
The 8 Wrongest Things Ever Said About Google

TIME Internet

A 13-Year-Old Built His Own Google Glass and It’s Pretty Impressive

Take that, glassholes.

Who needs to shell out $1500 for a pair of Google Glass when you can just make your own? Clay Haight, 13, created his own (quasi-functional) pair as a part of a DIY project.

According to Make:

Clay’s DIY “Google Glass” uses the sensors on the Arduino Esplora along with the Arduino LCD screen and a 3D printed frame. He can use voice commands to bring up a calendar with his schedule, local maps, and temperature and weather info. A headband on the back keeps it from tilting to one side.

(h/t: Daily Dot)

TIME Gadgets

Now You Can Control Google Glass With Your Mind

This Place

New app not yet approved by Google

A new app is taking the Google Glass hands-free model one step further by letting users control the device with their thoughts.

The program, called MindRDR, uses Glass and another head-mounted sensor to analyze the user’s brainwaves and gauge the user’s level of focus. When the level crosses a certain threshold, visualized by a horizontal line on the Glass interface, MindRDR tells Glass to snap a picture. If the user keeps concentrating, the app tells Glass to post the photo to social media.

“Google Glass cannot read your mind,” a Google spokesperson said in an email to TIME. “This particular application seems to work through a separate piece of kit which you attach to Glass. We have not reviewed, nor approved the app so it won’t be available in the Glass app store. Of course, we are always interested in hearing about new applications of Glass.”

The app is free and open source, so anyone can tinker with it to develop new functions. This Place, the London-based developer behind the software, says MindRDR could be used in the future to allow people with locked-in-syndrome, severe multiple sclerosis or quadriplegia to communicate through Google Glass. The company says Stephen Hawking has expressed interest in the software.

TIME Google

Google Glass Is Getting Faster Before It’s on Store Shelves

Google Glass
DPA/AFP/Getty Images A visitor of the "NEXT Berlin" conference tries out the Google Glass on April 24, 2013 in Berlin.

Google is boosting the specs of Google Glass in the run-up to the product’s proper consumer release.

The company announced Tuesday via a Google+ post that it is releasing an upgrade of Glass that will double the device’s internal RAM to 2 GB. A Google manager told The Verge that the additional memory would let Glass run more apps simultaneously and improve the overall speed of the device’s software.

Some current Glass owners are requesting that Google send them the upgraded version of the hardware, but Google has said it doesn’t plan to swap out devices for early adopters.

On the software side, Google said it is adding a viewfinder display to make it easier to frame photos and videos. The company also announced a bevy of new apps (formally called “Glassware”) from The Guardian, Duolingo, Shazam and others.

Though technically still in beta, Google Glass is available for purchase on Google’s website for $1,500 in the U.S. and £1000 pounds in the UK. The device is expected to be featured heavily at Google’s I/O developer conference Wednesday and Thursday.

TIME

Watch The Daily Show Rip Apart Google Glass Enthusiasts

No, Google Glass discrimination isn't a "hate crime"

The Daily Show
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,The Daily Show on Facebook,Daily Show Video Archive

Thursday night’s episode of The Daily Show perfectly ripped apart Google Glassholes—referred to by correspondent Jason Jones as iDouches—who claim discrimination in the streets because passersby think that they’re being recorded… “which sometimes they were.”

“Yes, it seems even in this day and age you can still be treated differently just because of how you look — wearing a $1,500 face computer,” Jones said, before declaring to Glass hater and tech expert Larry Rosen, “I bet you don’t think they should be able to get married either.”

On the one hand, Glass owners are sometimes getting assaulted in the streets of The Mission in San Francisco (not ok) or verbally accosted in bars (“it was a hate crime!”) On the other hand… Google Glass.

Watch how the Daily Show trolled Glass wearers to perfection in the clip above.

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