If there’s one thing Google (GOOG,GOOGL) probably wishes it had a do-over on, it’s Google Glass.
It may be too late to save Sergey Brin’s favorite eyewear from becoming a case study in how not to conduct a new product release, but Google Glass is showing signs of life again. This time, there’s no exclusive Explorer program or any attempt to lure in the public. The re-launch of Google Glass will be as an “Enterprise Edition” aimed at the workplace.
The augmented reality glasses it first began showing off in 2012 had potential to become the leading edge of a wave of wearable technology. Instead, the pricey high tech glasses became the focal point of public anger against the “glassholes” who wore them and the subject of legal scrutiny over privacy issues. By the end of 2014, it seemed that Google Glass was dead in the water –at least as a consumer product– despite being offered for sale to the general public and gaining fashionable new frame options.
The turning point for Google Glass took place at the start of this year. On January 15, GOOGL announced it was shutting down the “Google Glass Explorer” program and taking the glasses off the market.
However, the company also noted that Google Glass was being spun out of the Google X labs into its own division. The Google Glass at Work program was being continued. Most significantly, Tony Fadell –the former Apple (AAPL) iPod VP and co-founder of recent GOOGL acquisition Nest– was put in charge.
According to 9to5 Google, Fadell’s team has focused on revamping the Google Glass hardware to reflect workplace requirements, resulting in an Enterprise Edition that’s “practical and industrial, with a focus on function over fashion.”
Among the improvements are a new Intel (INTC) Atom processor for improved performance, better heat management, longer battery life, more robust hardware better able to withstand bumps, and faster Wi-Fi connectivity. 9to5 Google also reports that this Enterprise Edition is expected to be distributed exclusively through Glass at Work partners, with no retail availability and no marketing push.
Google Glass at Work Partners
With the focus of Google Glass shifting to enterprise from personal use, GOOGL created the Glass at Work program in 2014, initially announcing five partner companies whose areas of focus included the medical, manufacturing and live broadcasting industries. These partners were committed to developing applications that would make Google Glass an enterprise solution.
Google currently lists 10 companies that are Glass certified partners as part of its Glass at Work program. Included on that list are Wearable Intelligence (creating Google Glass apps for “energy, manufacturing, healthcare, and more”), CrowdOptic (live broadcast content and “context-aware applications for the sports, entertainment, building/security, and medical industries”) and AMA Advanced Medical Applications (“solutions in telemedicine, live-surgery demonstrations, and remote medical training”).
The Future of Google Glass is Enterprise
It’s possible that we’ll eventually see another consumer version of Google Glass. The company itself alluded to that in the January 15 post, when it said: “you’ll start to see future versions of Glass when they’re ready.” Having Tony Fadell, a guy who has a proven record for designing consumer-friendly high tech products steering the ship will certainly help on that front.
But no matter how much Google Glass is improved, what cool luxury frames it’s offered with or how much the price can be cut from the $1,500 Explorer Edition, there are still huge privacy and regulatory hurdles to be passed. Having people walking around in public with camera-equipped AR glasses is going to remain a tough sell.
That’s why the real future of Google glass lies in the workplace. The hardware is ideally suited to many applications and when used in enterprise, that privacy issue doesn’t come into play to the same degree. I made the case a few years ago that GOOGL should not only stick to the enterprise market for Google Glass, but also license the technology for use by companies better equipped to adapt the hardware for specialized applications.
It’s unclear from the Glass at Work program description whether partners can physically alter the hardware itself, but Business Insider speculates Google and these companies may be willing to fine-tune the Enterprise Edition glasses for specific applications. If so, that’s a step in the right direction, although I would still argue that Google itself shouldn’t be directly involved in customization or it risks getting bogged down with manufacturing, releasing and supporting multiple versions of the Google Glass hardware.
Google Glass may soon be back from the dead, but with the Enterprise Edition hardware and Glass at Work partners, it seems that your only chance to pick up the new AR specs any time soon will be to work for an employer who adopts them for business use.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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