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The Fate of Google Glass: Is Google Finally Killing Useless Products?

I can’t imagine what the developers at Google were thinking when they came up with Glass. Were they depending on the images of Internet connected devices in sci-fi films as inspiration, in the belief that the public would embrace such a misbegotten gadget? Did they think that all it took was an endless public beta program to make customers curious about getting their own set of Google Glass?

Now Google Glass, essentially a pair of glasses with an integrated mobile computer and web cam, cost some $1,500 for early adopters (testers) and developers. That’s not exactly cheap for a public beta test, and it’s not as if it wasn’t controversial. I mean, if you were confronted by someone watching you, making videos of you, in a public setting, at a restaurant, or even in the privacy of your own home when someone came over to visit, how would you react?

Would you just laugh it off, or share concerns about your privacy? Would you be tempted to tell the wearer to just turn the damn thing off, or would you want to be polite and maybe go somewhere else? How did Google expect people to react to the presence of such devices?

Well, it’s not as if Google Glass was terribly popular. But if was part of Google X, a research lab that engaged in making prototype products that are sometimes released to the public.

Now public betas are par for the course at Google. Gmail had a long beta gestation period, as did Maps. Indeed, at the time that the press was vigorously attacking Maps for iOS 6 for its known flaws in 2012, Google’s Maps app for iOS, released shortly thereafter, was still touting its beta status, and warning you that the results may not be accurate, and Google wasn’t responsible for the consequences. So if you followed erroneous directions to the letter and found yourself driving the wrong way on a one-way street, you couldn’t blame Google.

Well, it seems as if Google is suffering from a dose of reality when it comes to Google Glass. This week, the company announced that they are halting sales of the product, and that development would continue in a more traditional fashion, meaning in secret, same as Apple according to the press reports. The Glass project will be moved to another unit at Google, headed up by Tony Fadell, the chief executive of Nest Labs, a smart-home device maker acquired by Google.

Now Fadell is famous for once heading up the iPod division at Apple after bringing his concept to Steve Jobs and getting the green light, though it wasn’t easy. With his background, he would seem a suitable candidate to shepherd a new device from development to final release, assuming it’s deemed suitable for release. Indeed, press reports portray the decision to put Fadell in charge of Google Glass as the big story, but it’s not.

In case you’re interested, Google Glass was released as a test product in April 2013, and went “public” in mid-2014, although technically it remained a beta I gathered. Sales, however, were very low, and those complaints about privacy must surely have stung. It also seemed a product in search of a purpose, since it was hard to make the case why anyone would want one, especially considering the underdeveloped hardware and software.

If you still want to have one, though, you better hurry. Google’s Explorer program will be shuttered after January 19, so get your orders in early. I suspect, though, that you won’t have any problem getting prompt delivery. As I said, it’s not as if customers were lining up.

The promise of the improved version is longer battery life, fewer bugs, and apparently a lower purchase price. But at a time where wearables appear to be gaining traction, I just wonder what case Google expects to make for Internet connected glasses. Now I can see that gamers might embrace one, assuming a proper controller scheme, and a level of performance on expects from such hardware. There may likely be industrial uses as well, and perhaps law enforcement might find them suitable for field investigators.

Certainly a variation of Google Glass might find a use for people who are visually handicapped.

But it’s not as if Google Glass is something the company can expect people to buy en masse from a local Best Buy or Walmart. It was never that sort of practical day-to-day gadget that would become indispensable for regular people. In that respect, Google’s approach in working on such curious concepts was the polar opposite of Apple, which focuses with a laser precision on consumers.

Perhaps this expensive failure has taught Google a thing or two about squandering company resources in developing gear that few care about, simply because some engineer thought it was the bees knees.

No doubt Apple has loads of different types of gear under development in the hidden recesses of the company’s development labs. Some are no doubt pie-in-the-sky, or part of long-term projects that won’t come to fruition to years. While there may be a romantic ideal to releasing a beta product in hopes of creating a buzz, if it’s saddled with flaws, those poor first impressions might bury the product before it’s ready.

I suppose a future version of Google Glass might realize its promise if a workable end game can be devised. But the public exposure so far has not brought too much in the way of positive reaction. It’s more like, “Who needs it?”