It's no secret that Google Glass was one of the company's biggest missteps ever—earning equal measures of scorn and fear from observers while never finding a truly useful role in the world before being cancelled in January of this year. Now, however, it appears that Google is attempting to re-invent the device for business applications.
While I have been plenty harsh on Glass over the last few years, this much-diminished role may be exactly what is needed to salvage anything from the debacle and help move wearable computing forward.
Last spring, I wrote about reports that Google was still working on new features, form factors, and use cases for the device, and was frankly skeptical that the changes would be enough to resurrect the product.
But recently, 9to5Google and then the Wall Street Journal reported that Google is "quietly distributing a new version of its Glass wearable computer aimed at businesses in industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and energy." Instead of being built on its own frame, this new version is said to have a "button-and-hinge system" that lets it attach to other glasses frames. It's also said to have a faster chip, longer battery life (but still just two hours!), and better connectivity.
If these reports are correct, this is a good move for Google for several reasons.
Glass wasn't good enough as a consumer device
First, Glass simply wasn't up to the standard of being a general-purpose consumer device. 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.
Side-stepping the criticism
Positioning Glass as a business device will blunt much of the criticism it earned in public spaces. In a business and industrial context, privacy issues—and the all-important creep factor—are simply much less relevant.
Also, doing this "quietly," without the splashy launch that set expectations so spectacularly high last time, will give the company a better chance to see exactly what the device can do without the harsh glare of press coverage (this blog post notwithstanding), particularly from the mainstream media.
More customizable design
Glass' frames were futuristically awkward, and didn't play well with traditional eyeglasses. By clipping Glass to existing glasses, though, that awkwardness should be minimized, while letting people who wear glasses use it as well.
While I've been critical of Google Glass since the day I watched Sergei Brin's pet skydivers waft into Moscone Center at the product's Google I/O introduction in 2012, I have never wavered on my conviction of the long-term potential of wearable computing. By introducing the next version of Glass away from consumers and toward business and industrial users, Google has a better chance to demonstrate more of that potential.
Still, it seems clear that the company would have an even better chance to turn this project around if it cut the cord on the first iteration and stopped calling it Google Glass.