For most of the wider public, the one and only real memory about smart glasses goes back to year 2013. This was the time when news about the release of Google Glass hit media channels around the world. The promo teaser released in 2012 was also something straight out of the future:
The hype around Google Glass however faded and the glasses did not really catch the attention of wider public. So the question arises – what has been going on and what happened to Google smart glasses? I did some research and will share with you what I found out.
Google Glasses (Explorer Edition) were first released to developers and other early adopters in the spring of 2013. The glasses never really catched on as a widespread consumer product and in January 2015, Google announced that it would end the production of the Glass Explorer Edition.
Among others, some of the reasons for little interest in Google Glass by the wider public were:
- High price point (1500$)
- Nerdy image of the glasses and glass-wearers (Glassholes)
- Privacy and copyright (filming and storing the data without consent)
- How does a regular user benefit from the glasses? What problem did the glasses try to solve?
- Technical issues (battery life, performance, bugs in software)
After ending production of the Explorer Edition glasses, Google focused on improving the product for use by enterprises (modularized frame for attaching to regular safety glasses, better connectivity, performance and battery life).
In 2017, Google officially announced the release of Google Glass Enterprise Edition. At this point, many smaller and also large-scale companies have successfully integrated the smart glasses into their processes and workflow, optimizing both time consumption and ongoing costs.
Next, let’s have a more detailed look into reasons why Google Glass Explorer Edition initially failed. We will also take a closer look at how Google has turned the tables around with the enterprise edition of the glasses and how some of the enterprises have actually benefited from using smart glasses.
So, what happened to Google smart glasses and why they failed?
When one of the most prominent enterprises in the world releases something as innovative as smart glasses (keep in mind, it was spring of 2013), widespread attention is expected. I remember watching the news from TV at that time and thinking to myself “Wow, this is something special! The future is here!”.
As it later turned out, quite a large portion of the general public did not agree with my opinion. This eventually resulted in Google ending the Glass Explorer project approximately 1,5 years later in january 2015. After that, it was not possible for the general public to buy the Google Glass product anymore.
Following are the main reasons why the Glass project did not catch on with the general public.
There was no official release date
In early 2013, Google released the glasses in beta phase. The early adopters, called “Glass Explorers” could apply for the program. If accepted by Google, they could purchase the glasses and play around with them.
A full year went past until the “Explorer” edition went public and everybody who wanted, could buy the glasses. By that time, the greater attention around the glasses had already passed and the interest in buying the product was low.
In retrospect, Google would probably have had greater success following the Apple marketing model. This means setting a specific release date and creating desire and anticipation around the release. History has shown that people are willing to wait hours in queue and in some cases literally stomp over each other to get their hands on product just released.
Google as a company definitely has the authority and resources to create such a stir among the public. The latter assumes of course that the product is at least fairly decent, in order to back up the hype around it.
What problem did the glasses try to solve?
The regular person had hard time identifying themselves with the product. There was no clear function of the glasses that would help a regular everyday person accomplish some tasks or processes remarkably better than without the glasses.
Sure, you could take photos and record videos with it, but that is something you could quite comfortably do with your smartphone as well. Probably the most useful functionality of the Google Glass out of the box, was navigation. You could see the directions in the glasses heads-up-display and navigate without having to take eyes off the path you were driving or walking. This is something I would personally find really useful when driving in unknown places.
The “Navigation while driving” initiative was challenged from the beginning. UK banned the use of Google Glass while driving even before the product was released to wider public.
In retrospect, Google should have put more effort into advertising campaigns explaining (and giving relatable examples) to regular everyday people, how they could benefit from the product.
Privacy and copyright concerns
The idea that someone could be taking photos or filming you without your knowledge (and consent) was uncomfortable to many. Although the glasses actually do have a blinking light, indicating when photo or video is taken, there were worries that this could be overridden with custom software.
The problem with unconsented filming / photos is actually not a Google Glass specific issue. This is more related to technological advancements in general. One could quite cheaply order hidden camera glasses (or other similar product) and do their filming in much more discreet way than with Google Glass. But the worry itself is of course understandable.
There were similar concerns with facial recognition. In theory, it was possible for the Glass user to walk around the street and identify other people on the fly. Combining the vast amount of information people publicly leave on the internet and social media, it is quite easy to get quite a comprehensive overview of a stranger based on that information.
Google met the worry, issuing a ban on facial recognition apps. However, this ban was more symbolic than practical. It is actually not that hard to upload custom (uncontrolled) software on the glasses.
Many enterprises and establishments did not want risk with unwanted consequences and banned the usage of smart glasses. The list included car driving, cinemas, casinos, restaurants, hospitals, etc.
With the Glass project, Google faced a lot of issues and privacy concerns even before the product actually launched. On one hand, this is understandable as people tend to fight against new things at first. On the other hand, Google could have probably done a better job in preparing for these issues and addressing them, once they were a reality. The negativity and issues raised by the general public smothered the positive examples of Google Glass usage and shaped the general public perception of the product.
Looks of the glasses and image of the wearer
Let’s be honest – Google glasses are not too discreet when it comes to the looks of them. When a person wearing the glasses would walk past, you could see right away that there is something going on. Even if you didn’t know anything about smart glasses.
The glasses looked futuristic and a bit nerdy and by wearing them, wanting it or not, you were conveying a certain message about yourself to others. Some probably wanted this intentionally, but many did not.
Due to privacy issues as well as the negative perception of the general public, the term Glasshole was associated with people wearing the glasses.
From the marketing perspective, this was not a good thing for Google. We are biologically and evolutionarily programmed to care what other people think about us. In the ancient times, acceptance and belonging to a group was necessary for survival purposes. In the modern world, this does not largely apply anymore. However, humans haven’t yet adapted and still have the behavioral pattern.
People want to identify themselves with cool products and topics. Think of Apple iPod and iPhone for example. These product were (are) cool and people were willing to open their wallet to purchase them.
This was not the case with the Google Glasses. Both, the glunky looks as well as the general public perception of the glasses (and people who wore them) contributed to the fact that people just did not want to buy them.
High Price of Google Glass
The Google Glass cost 1500$ for Explorer version that was in beta testing stage. One and a half grand for a product that is not actually ready. This was a lot of money back in 2013 and is still a large amount of money today.
I also mentioned that people had hard time identifying how the product could actually be useful in everyday life. Would you imagine paying that amount of money for something you don’t see a clear purpose for?
In order for smart glasses to succeed with wider public, the asking price has to come down. One can debate, what is reasonable price for a pair of smart glasses. And the answer is – it depends. For the package and price combination offered by Google Glass, things just not did add up for most people.
Other reasons that stopped Google Glass from taking off
The consumer product never actually got out of the beta testing phase. Thus there were also many shortcomings on the technological side.
Google estimated that the battery would last roughly one day with normal usage. In reality, consumers reported that the battery drained in a couple of hours when using more actively and taking photos. By shooting a constant video, the battery run out in less than an hour.
For more widespread and everyday usage of smart glasses, achieving the one day limit is crucial to my mind. The consumer should be able to go through the day without worrying that the battery life ends in the middle of the way, when most needed.
Customers also reported that the user experience of the software was slow and sluggish at times. People want smooth and seamless user experience. Especially for a product at this price range.
Google Glass going for the enterprise model
Things were not looking too good for the Glass project. In January 2015, Google announced that it is ending the Explorer program. However, Google also clearly stated this is not the total end or halt for smart glasses. Instead they announced that further development of the product will continue in a separate allocated team. Google also hinted that they see great potential for the glasses in enterprise use.
Google put in time and effort to improve the product for enterprises. They modularized the frame of the glass, so that it could now be attached to a pair of safety glasses. The new edition would also have better performance, connectivity and battery life.
This all lead to year 2017, when Google officially announced the public release of Google Glass Enterprise edition
Examples of enterprises using Google Glass
At this point, several companies use Google Glass to complete their work faster and more efficiently than before.
DHL using Google Glass for Vision Picking
DHL has been testing and using augmented reality glasses in their warehouses since year 2014. The glasses help warehouse workers visually see where to place each item in the trolley. This has lead to faster work speed, less errors made and improved employee work satisfaction.
After successful testing period in Netherlands, DHL has now expanded the Vision Picking program to their facilities in the United States and all around Europe.
AGCO using Google Glass for product assembly and quality assurance
AGCO Corporation, an American agricultural equipment manufacturer is using Google Glass in their product assembly line, to guide employees real-time. When the product is ready, the quality control afterwards is also done using smart glasses.
AGCO has found that by integrating smart glasses into their workflow, there has been 25% production time reduction on low volume, complex assemblies. Quality assurance now takes 30% less time than before and AGCO has also seen significantly faster learning curve for new employees.
The company has therefore expanded the smart glasses program to six additional factories.
Google Glass Use Case Examples in Healthcare
Google Smart glasses have helped several different healthcare institutions improve their patient care. By leaving recording, documenting and management mostly to technology, doctors have more one on one time with the patients and are able to provide more personalised assistance.
Dignity Health is using Google Glass in combination with custom software called “Remote Scribe”. The solution enables doctors to document patient care notes and medical entries hands-free while also being able to retrieve medical information from previous visits real time.
Smart glasses for enterprises is still only in its infancy. It`s expected that as time progresses and technology advances, more and more companies will take the leap and adopt the use of smart glasses into their processes.
In the case of Google, adopting to meet the needs of enterprises, has slowly but steadily transformed the Glass project from failure to a success story. By developing and advancing the product for enterprises, Google is probably also laying ground to once again come out with a consumer product in the future. Time will tell if and when this happens.
The release of Google smart glasses was a remarkable event in the field of smart glasses. It showed the wider public what the future might look like and has paved the way for other upcoming releases of similar products.
Unfortunately, there were several factors that prevented the product from becoming a wide spread consumer product. Some of the reasons for the initial flop were high price point, unfinished (beta) product and privacy concerns.
However, Google analyzed the situation and correctly changed the course to focus on making the product suitable for enterprise use. Numerous large scale and also smaller companies are now using the glasses to do their everyday work quicker and more efficiently.
I have a feeling that as Google is advancing the technology and getting real world experience and feedback, it won`t be long before they will once again take a shot at releasing a product for consumers again. Time will tell.