Call it 20/20 hindsight if you will, but Google Glass' cancellation/demise/hiatus/ pupal stage (delete as you see fit) shouldn't have come as a surprise. Google has been gently talking down the device for months as key backers such as Twitter have quietly melted away.
The company is adamant that Glass will return and has put Tony Fadell in charge of making that happen. Fadell is one of the midwives to the Apple iPod, a serial inventor with hundreds of patents to his name and, most recently, created a brand new niche product with the Nest smart thermostat. Imitators of that innovation are now turning up at a rate of about one per month, to the annoyance of tech journos tasked with reviewing them.
However, you have to wonder how keen an innovator like Fadell will be on overhauling someone else's product. He'll also have to deal with some huge issues with Glass. Some of these are traditional product problems: battery life, spec quality, availability of apps, getting the cost down to a point where the mass market is ready to bite. Some, however, are perception issues that seem to me to be insurmountable at this time.
These issues can be summed up as, "It looks weird" and "It's spying on me". The first is undeniable but fixable. The second is a different matter.
Now it so happens that I don't think Glass is any more invasive of privacy than CCTV, government surveillance of the NSA and GCHQ variety, and the fact that every damn person in the world is a now a snap-happy camera jockey, thanks to their smartphone. But for whatever reason, Glass seems to creep people out in a way that all the other day-to-day intrusions they face do not.
This, I think, is down to the intimacy of the way Glass shoots photos and video. The wearer becomes almost literally a human camera, in a way that recalls The Terminator or Michael Powell's murderous cameraman Peeping Tom. Coupled with the slightly grotesque look of Glass, this unsettles people.
The aesthetic problems around Glass can be put down in part to it being a prototype, but Google didn't do itself any favours here. Reaching once again into my "Sociobiology 101" handbook, humans crave symmetry when they look at a face - it's one of the ways we define someone as attractive. Glass in its Explorer form immediately scuppered that entirely, and even when applied to prescription glasses or a pair of Ray-bans, it still looks subtly wrong.
We're through the looking glass here, people!
So, these are the issues that Tony Fadell and his team will have to deal with if Glass is to be a mass-market device. Realistically, they'll also have to improve the battery life and somehow get the cost down to a figure – let's say about £300-£400, shall we? – that people will be willing to pay. This is a big ask.
Another option would be to forget the consumer market, or at least relegate it to the background, and push Glass much harder as workwear. Epson was still plugging away with its Moverio glasses at CES this year. In fact it had a huge amount of stand space for a gadget that consumers are disinterested in, but the reason was that it had numerous business-related applications on show for it. Workwear doesn't need to look sexy or capture anyone's imagination, it just needs to serve a job-specific purpose. Epson Moverio delivers on all three points.
Can you see Google settling for that? Maybe, in prestige areas such as healthcare and broadcasting. For warehouse stock takers and traffic wardens? Maybe not.
Google does mass market successes and fascinating vanity projects. Which is Glass? History suggests it could go either way, and it depends on whether you're a Glass half full person or a Glass half empty guy. Do you see what I did there? Thanks.
Let's assume Google has the resources and human genius to make anything happen; that it can overcome the social, aesthetic, technical and pricing issues that Glass currently has.
There is still a strand in its history that strongly suggests it won't happen: Google is not at all shy about simply dropping once buzzy products that it feels the public just aren't into. Remember when it used to sell its own phones, remember Google Buzz, remember that orb-like, media-flinging thing, the Nexus Q?
There's also, however, something about Google that suggests it will make a go of Glass. That at some point in the next few years our streets will throng with Glassholes. History shows us again and again that Google really, really learns from its mistakes and comes back strong.
The debacle of the Nexus One was turned into a stream of beloved Android-showcasing mobile devices. Buzz was being replaced with Google+ even as it died an embarrassing death. Nexus Q mutated into the far more palatable, ultra-affordable Chromecast.
Can it happen with Glass? I've got to be honest, the sheer weight of public feeling against Google's wearable – specifically its supposedly all-seeing, stalker-ish camera – makes me think its time as a mass-market device remains five or six years off. I think Google understands that and, as it says, will release Glass 2.0 "when it's ready" – that's a loaded phrase, right?
However, if it does pull something out of the bag in the next 12 months, that wouldn't entirely come as a shock. Call that 20/20 hindsight as well, if you like…
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