Whether you loved or hated seeing Google’s early eyewear adopters out and about last year, there’s no getting around the fact that Glass was the ultimate conversation starter. “When you wear something like this, it breaks the ice,” says Thad Starner, professor at Georgia Tech and technical lead on Glass. “It’s like having a dog, or a cat, or a top hat.”
When Google retired its Explorer programme earlier this year, many took that as a sign that the product was kaput. But Glass’s fate was nowhere near as grim as some speculated. “We were only going to sell thousands of them,” says Starner of the Explorer Edition of Glass. Apparently the original device and the Explorer programme were only ever intended to be a short-term experiment, and the press are to blame for the widespread belief that it was a) a consumer device, and b) a failure.
And now, Glass is making a comeback.
The new incarnation of Glass is currently geared more towards businesses than private consumers, with the latest headset being distributed to a wide range of industries including healthcare, energy and manufacturing. This iteration, reported to be more robust than the original, will not be officially launched. Rather, Google is shipping prototypes to software developers in each industry in order to create sector-specific programmes, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Positioning Glass as a business device will blunt much of the criticism it earned in public spaces,” says tech writer Fredric Paul. “It didn’t work well enough to deliver a seamless user experience, and given the glaring lack of a killer app, most users simply weren’t willing to put up with its glitches and shortcomings. But for specific, high-value business and industrial use cases, users may be willing to put up with more performance and usability issues.”
That isn’t to say a new, consumer-focused version of Glass won’t hit the market eventually. The company is still partnered with Luxottica, and Google X systems administrator Greg Priest-Dorman insists that there is a market out there for smart glasses — we just need to find it. “We all bought a smartphone for one purpose, and now it does a lot of other things,” he says. “A general purpose device evolves over time.”