Why killing Google Glass could ultimately save it

The Glass team was fighting an uphill battle. The best course of action was to take Glass out of the spotlight.

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REUTERS/Stephen Lam
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Google’s ambitious Glass program has languished in the market since its release, eliciting a largely negative response from a skeptical public. Still, few likely expected the company to step back from the technology so soon.

Google announced today that the Explorer program, through which it originally made the Glass devices available only to the select few developers it deemed qualified, will be shut down by Monday, January 19th. The Glass team promised that it will continue developing the technology, but declined to provide any details other than that the public will "start to see future versions of Glass when they're ready."

Looking ahead, Glass will move under the umbrella of Tony Fadell, the Apple alum who founded and now oversees Nest Labs for Google, Bloomberg reported. Glass had previously operated as part of Google X labs, the company's research facility where it developed other future tech plans like its self-driving car. Google also told Bloomberg that it will continue to invest in its enterprise-focused efforts for Glass.

The transition, which Google called a "graduation," is a smart move for the Glass team, which had an especially difficult time trying to debunk myths about the technology and distance itself from apps that hurt its image.

In mid-March last year, just under a month after a woman was attacked and robbed at a San Francisco bar just for wearing her Glass device, Google took to its Google+ page to debunk 10 common myths about the technology. Among these myths was that Glass used facial recognition technology so its users could snap photos of people nearby and find information on them through the internet.

This wasn’t so much a myth as it was a discrepancy. In late 2013, a group of developers created a functional, real-time facial recognition app for Glass that searched photos taken with the device against social networks and criminal databases. Then, as it did again when it debunked myths in March, Google reiterated that facial recognition technology violated the Glass developer policy. But that didn't change the fact that the technology existed, nor that the developers behind it vowed to find a Glass alternative to run its facial recognition app if Google never came around on the technology.

That wasn’t the only problem that plagued Glass during the explorer program, but it is a good example of its core issue – the technology's potential for abuse and certain developers' disregard for its policies obscured Google's intent with Glass, culminating in a general sense of paranoia and disdain for the device among the public. Before long, Glass users were getting kicked out of restaurants and developers were creating tools that disconnected the devices from Wi-Fi networks remotely. The term "Glasshole" became common nomenclature.

The only way to salvage Google Glass was to kill it, pull it back from the public view, and figure out how to re-build it in a way that resolved its past problems. Building a new version of Glass that appeases consumers definitely won't be easy, but it can only help to step away from a bad situation first.

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