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Is Google Glass Obsolete?

Google Glass costs too much and lacks killer apps -- and new technologies will soon make the original version seem wimpy. That's not bad news for Google.

Google Glass might be one of the most ballyhooed inventions to hit the consumer electronics space, but it still seems to be a solution looking for a home, or perhaps just an almost-ready product. I suspect that was Google's intent. Rather than making a full-blown commitment and big roll-out, Google eased Glass into the market with limited access and a high price.

That's unusual in the consumer electronics space, but I think, to its credit, Google played it right. As CES 2014 has just demonstrated, there are plenty of ideas for wearables around but a shortage of killer applications.

That's always the way with bleeding-edge technology. To succeed, electronic glasses need more than Glass is able to deliver. Obvious shortfalls include: a screen too small to display traditional images, a text orientation, weak voice recognition, and the ability to play video without providing screens over both eyes.

[What does the near future hold for Google's ground-breaking e-glasses? Read Google In 2014: 10 Predictions.]

One could argue that these choices are partly technical, and partly driven by a desire for business applications as opposed to entertainment, but the line between business and entertainment use is blurred and likely soon to disappear.

Technology is moving right along, stimulated perhaps by Google's pioneering and its stamp of approval of the approach. We are seeing stereo high-resolution glasses and products targeting niche markets, and it seems fair to say that e-glasses capable of all that a phone can do, but in optical stereo, is close.

These will find a ready market if they are reasonably priced.  The commuter will find them far more useful than a screen for watching movies, for instance, and this alone creates a viable market worldwide. Pair them with a remote control capability built on the user's phone (sort of like Chromecast) and browsing is easy, too.

(Source: Wikipedia)
(Source: Wikipedia)

With vendors going the next step -- and that's a when-not-if thing in my opinion -- we'll have 3D capability in those glasses, and we are now in the realm of 3D games. It will add some new zest to Angry Birds. And of course links to all the gaming consoles will just extend that.

The new high-resolution 3D devices will flow into commercial applications, too, from artistic design to remote or robotic surgery. Again, we can see killer apps. The advent of cheap heads-up displays will profoundly change the way we do things, with interactions with sensors in the Internet of Things impinging on everything we do.  Imagine being able to leave an electronic note to tell the UPS man what to do with a delivery, and guiding him on his e-glasses to where to stow the package.

Does voice recognition still matter? There are applications and games where it is probably key to good operation, but no one wants to be continuously mumbling, "Next, next," when looking through a list of movies to watch. The answer in general is "yes" because there are applications where voice recognition adds value, but it's not a killer feature -- yet. That said, examples of voice searches with e-glasses to enhance shopping or tourism, find places, or get background information, spring easily to mind.

None of the offerings yet cover all the bases, but Google's patchwork of initiatives, including Chromecast, voice searching, and Glass, as well as its dominance via Android, are starting to look a lot more coherent. The Lego pieces are clicking together.

We can expect an integrated consumer experience from TV to tablet to phone to e-glass. Content will be easier to find, fed from a set of quality app stores like Google Play, and we will use voice or finger-swiping to get there. 

I expect that deep in Google's Advanced Planning department, they are looking at how to handle all those Internet of Things sensors and put them into context with the rest of the electronics constellation. I, for one, will rejoice when I hear about the first person who says, "My e-glasses told me to go to the emergency room and prevented a heart attack." We live in interesting times.

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Jim O'Reilly was Vice President of Engineering at Germane Systems, where he created ruggedized servers and storage for the US submarine fleet. He has also held senior management positions at SGI/Rackable and Verari; was CEO at startups Scalant and CDS; headed operations at PC ... View Full Bio

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David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 11:35:23 AM
Secret plan
So you think Google's plan all along was to create the potential for a market to grow in wearables, then back off?

Their divestiture of the Motorola phones business supports the idea that they don't really want to be a hardware company.
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