Google Glass: Schmidt Says It Will Return

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said Glass has a future, though its form remains unclear.
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Google Glass is not dead, despite rumors to the contrary.

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt took a moment to say as much to The Wall Street Journal, despite the fact that Google previously conveyed the same message quite clearly.

Schmidt said Google's decision in January to shut down the Google Glass Explorer program left the media with the impression that the whole project has been cancelled. "Google is about taking risks and there's nothing about adjusting Glass that suggests we're ending it," he told the Journal, noting that the project represents a fundamental platform for Google and that it continues under Tony Fadell, CEO of Google's Nest Labs.

While some in media may have written Glass's obituary already, anyone paying attention to Google's actual statements in January would be unsurprised by Schmidt's statement.

"We're continuing to build for the future, and you'll start to see future versions of Glass when they're ready," the Google Glass team said in a blog post two months ago.

When the initial version of Glass was released to developers, neither Google nor its product were ready. After a brilliant build up at its 2012 developer conference, Glass cost too much financially and socially, and it did little that couldn't be accomplished with a smartphone, at least as a consumer product.

When big budget films fail in Hollywood, sequels seldom follow. In Silicon Valley, failure is bitter but it isn't as poisonous. Face-saving though it may be, tech companies celebrate failure as a milestone on the way to eventual success. The short life of Apple's Newton, for example, helped ensure the iPhone would not have a stylus. That's the Silicon Valley spin, in any event.

[ Want to check out more cool innovative ideas? Read 8 Google Projects To Watch In 2015. ]

Glass's humbling shows that developers of wearable technology need to address fashion as well as function. Eyewear, arguably more than any other accessory or accoutrement, requires sensitivity to cultural and social expectations. Google's decision to arm Glass with a video camera ignored the fact that people still have an expectation of privacy when out and about, even if there are captured on camera more than they realize.


(Image: Ted Eytan, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Apple appears to have learned from Google's missteps, in terms of fashion if not function. When the Apple Watch arrives next month, it won't have any features that defy social expectation. It's subtle, more or less, rather than in-your-face. It may elicit derision as a symbol of excess -- those paying $17,000 for the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition will presumably do so without shame -- but it's unlikely to earn owners an epithet as hostile as "Glasshole."

Gartner's prediction that by 2017, 30% of smart wearable devices will be inconspicuous suggests that device makers will seek the subtlety that Glass lacked. When that's not possible, mundane materials and goofiness may help. Google Cardboard, the company's paper-based headgear for converting Android phones to virtual reality screens, has been well-received for its affordability and lack of pretension.

Many in the tech industry hope the Apple Watch will succeed enough to validate the wearables market and normalize the technology, but not so much that Apple runs away with all the profit, as it had once done with the iPhone.

Google doesn't need convincing. The existence of Android Wear shows that Google is serious about the wearable market. But whether Glass will ever be anything more than a specialty interface for hands-free information presentation in the workplace remains uncertain.

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