Google Glass is alive and well in the enterprise

Google's recent decision to end its Glass Explorer Program resulted in an array of media reports regarding the controversial wearable's demise, but the companies building software and services for Glass say the future of smartglasses in the enterprise has never been brighter.

You've probably heard by now that Google Glass is dead. If you've been listening closely you may even have heard whispers about the demise of Glass for years.

Glass is the wearable device that everyone, especially the media, loves to hate. However, despite recent reports to the contrary, the companies developing enterprise-related software and services for Glass — and investing time, energy and piles of cash — vehemently declare that Glass is anything but deceased.

"The media is getting it wrong," says Ian Shakil, CEO of Augmedix, a Glass Certified Partner company that makes software for doctors and other medical personnel. "Glass is not dead. Glass at Work is alive, growing and well."

Google's current Glass at Work certified partners, though expressing varying opinions about Google's recent decision to shutter its Explorer Program, agree that the future still looks bright for Glass — at least from an enterprise perspective.

[Related: Why Betting on Google is Risky Business for Enterprises]

Before delving into the future of Glass, here's a bit of background on the device. (Editor's note: Google did not respond to our request for a comment for this story.)

Auspicious Beginnings Don't Include the Enterprise

Google sent lasting reverberations throughout the tech world when it announced Glass in April 2012 and then subsequently unveiled it that June at its consumer-focused I/O developer conference. The elaborate Glass announcement featured skydivers, stunt bicyclists and men scaling down the sides of a building. It was a most memorable product announcement. It had action, excitement, energy and suspense. It had the crowd on its feet at times, which is not at all common at the typical developer conference.

What the Glass unveiling did not have was a single mention of the enterprise or of the wearable's potential business uses.

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In the months and years following that absurd — and no doubt absurdly expensive — Glass circus, Google's smartglasses raised consumer awareness of wearable computing, while simultaneously earning a controversial (and potentially dangerous) social stigma in San Francisco and becoming the focus of endless ridicule. Bars banned Glass; celebrities spoofed it on TV; law enforcement officials ticketed drivers for wearing it; movie theaters called in federal agents to crackdown on Glass-equipped "pirates;" and a female tech writer was assaulted at a Bay Area bar for wearing Glass while enjoying a drink.

The price of Glass never dipped below $1,500, and though many of the techies who did drop that significant sum raved about the device and its potential, nobody ever really came up with a good reason for the average consumer to buy it. Not even Google.

Alongside all these consumer developments, light bulbs started going off inside the heads of a small set of entrepreneurs and businesspeople. Companies including APX Labs, Augmedix, CrowdOptic, GuidiGO, Pristine, Ubimax and Wearable Intelligence quietly started building Glass software and services for corporate and enterprise use.

Google announced its first official set of five Glass at Work partners in June 2014, and just four months later it doubled the number of Glass Certified Partners.

Early adopters piloted Glass products from these companies, and Google's smartglasses made some headlines for their enterprises successes, mostly in the worlds of healthcare and public safety. However, the negative consumer stories largely eclipsed the positive business posts, so when Google officially announced the end of its Explorer Program on January 15, and stopped selling Glass four days later, the Internet sounded its digital death knoll, and Glass was promptly, if not accurately, declared finis

Which brings us up to date.

Glass 'Graduates' from Google[x], Focus Shifts to Enterprise

When Google shuttered the Explorer Program, it also announced a number of associated organizational changes. Foremost, the company said Glass had "outgrown the lab" and was "officially 'graduating' from Google[x]" to be its own team at Google. Ivy Ross, the current Glass chief, continues to lead the team, but she's reporting to Tony Fadell, of Nest and iPod fame.

So while Google did stop selling Glass units to the public, it did not make any changes that suggest it's cutting its losses completely.

Hendrik Witt, CEO of Ubimax, a Glass at Work partner that makes software and services for a variety of smartglasses, including Google Glass, says Google's decision to shut down the Explorer Program is "in line with our expectations" and "is more a positive than a negative for us." 

"The Explorer Program was a beta program," Witt says. "Two years is a long period for a beta test."

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Assembly process with Ubimax xMake app running on Google Glass

Google has been known to keep successful products in "beta" for long periods — Gmail was in beta for more than five years — so comparatively the Glass incubation period was a short one.

David Lerman, CEO of GuidiGO, a Certified Glass Partner that provides smartglass-based audio and visual tours for museums and cultural institutions, says the Glass team's move out of Google[x] further legitimizes Glass. "It means that we will be commercialized," Lerman says. "We are no longer a lab product, we will be a 'real' product."

The move from Google[x] into a whole new division, also "allows Google to build up very professional, very strong infrastructure in terms of organization, to support the [Glass at Work] partners, and to make Glass a success," Witt says. 

[Related: 10 Google Glass Etiquette Dos and Don'ts]

In addition to the organizations changes, Google is also reportedly shifting the team's focus.

"Google is so serious about the enterprise, they're getting rid of consumer," says Kyle Samani, cofounder and CEO, Pristine, another Glass at Work partner that makes software for smartglasses, including Glass. "That's how I read into it." 

"For us, it symbolizes that the Glass initiative is going forward and is strong," says Augmedix's Shakil. "They're pouring more resources on to it, and they definitely focused on Glass at Work, on enterprise applications." 

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