Interest in Google Glass may be waning, but this is not the end for augmented reality headwear, says Sophie Curtis
Google Glass, the optical head-mounted display that was once the darling of the technology world, appears to have fallen from grace.
Only two years ago, Glass was hailed as one of the “Best Inventions of 2012” by Time magazine; Wolfson College professor John Naughton from the University of Cambridge also compared it with the achievements of hardware and networking pioneer Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse.
However, in the past few months, industy commentators have been asking whether the device that helped to kickstart the wearable technology revolution has a future.
Despite having been in development for over three years, Google Glass is still officially a prototype product. The device went on sale in the UK in June, with a price tag of £1,000, and Google said that it would continue work on it before making it available to consumers in other countries.
A month later, Babak Parviz, the architect behind Google Glass, announced he was leaving the company for a job as vice president at Amazon. Two key Google Glass executives – Adrian Wong, chief of electrical engineering, and Ossama Alami, director of developer relations – have also departed.
Meanwhile, several companies, including Twitter, have stopped working on apps for Google Glass. In a straw poll of 16 Glass app makers by Reuters last month, nine said that they had stopped work on their projects or abandoned them, mostly because of the lack of customers or limitations of the device.
Google itself does not release sales figures for Glass. However, the high price tag and limited functionality have deterred many consumers.
Despite the best efforts of fashion designers, like Diane von Furstenberg and Luxottica (the company behind Ray-Ban and Oakley), Google Glass has failed to shake off its nerdy image, due to the prism-like display that juts out from the frame and sits in front of the lens on any pair of glasses.
Glass has also been beset with controversy, due to the ability of the wearer to take photos and record videos surreptitiously. Bars in San Francisco have started banning people from wearing Glass, after a series of attacks on users, and the device has also been banned in cars, cinemas, casinos, hospitals and banks.
Earlier this year, Google went as far as to issue an etiquette guide for users of its Glass headsets, urging them not to be ‘Glassholes’, and to be respectful and polite while wearing the headsets.
Google insists it is still committed to Glass. There are currently tens of thousands of Glass users in Google’s ‘Explorer’ programme, and hundreds of engineers inside Google are still working on it.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, Intel will provide the chip for the next version of Glass, replacing the one made by Texas Instruments included in the first version. As part of the deal, Intel will promote the new Glass device to hospital networks and manufacturers.
This suggests that the future for Google Glass may, in fact, be in the workplace. Google already has a programme called ‘ Glass at Work ‘, which aims to encourage development of enterprise applications for Glass. The first certified partners include APX, Augmedix, Crowdoptic, GuidiGO and Wearable Intelligence.
However, this does not mean the end for consumer-grade augmented reality glasses. Google has learnt a lot from its foray into the wearables market, and inspired a wide range of electronics manufacturers to begin experimenting with the technology.
Sony, for example, is reportedly working on a Google Glass rival called SmartEyeglass that overlays information onto its lenses, and is expected to go on sale by the end of March 2015. Meanwhile, Samsung is reportedly using flexible electronics to make its long-rumoured ‘Gear Blink’ more attractive.
Analysts expect the wearable technology market to continue to grow in 2015, reaching a value of $7.1 billion (£4.5bn), according to statistics firm Statista . The same company predicts that 5.5 million Google Glasses will be sold next year.
In the end, the success of Google Glass should not be judged on sales figures alone, but on the impact the device has had on the electronics industry. While Glass itself has perhaps failed to live up to expectations, it has created demand for a new category of device that gives people immediate access to digital content in real-world scenarios.
Whether it turns out to be Google that ultimately answers that demand or one of the myriad other consumer electonics companies, the ability to overlay digital information onto the real world is a now darn sight closer than it was a few years ago.