Google Glass lived a short, sad life. And when you look back, it feels like a bit of a dream. But the dream isn’t over yet, because Glass has found itself an industrial career.
Why Glass Failed as a Consumer Device
There was a lot of hype around Google Glass when it was announced in 2012. It was featured in TIME magazine, endorsed by celebrities, and touted as the future of smart devices. But the smart eyewear was ridiculed by the media, and it became a big joke in the public eye. Google made some awkward attempts to keep the public interested in Glass (they put Google Glass in the shower, and they interrupted a Google+ keynote to push Glass wearers out of an airplane), but the Glass never picked up steam, and its public life ended in 2015.
Why did it fail? For one, nobody knew what Glass was supposed to do. Google itself couldn’t seem to find any uses for the product. Instead of developing life-changing software to show off the Glass’ capabilities, they released some awkward videos that made the Glass seem like a dorky extension of your cellphone. Customers that were part of the “Explorer” program (anyone that bought the device) were encouraged to build software on their own, a prospect that would be more exciting if the device cost less than $1500.
But most of the Glass’ woes were related to privacy and safety issues. The Glass was equipped with a camera, and people were understandably afraid of a future where anybody can walk around with a camera on their face. There was no way to tell when somebody was using their Glass to record video or take photos, so people assumed that Glass users were recording everything. A lot of states banned people from wearing the Glass while driving, because it’s an obvious visual distraction, and a lot of businesses (movie theaters, especially) banned the device because of its camera.
This isn’t to say that Glass is a bad piece of hardware; it just wasn’t ready to be thrown into the consumer market. If anything, the product was still in a beta mode. It had a lot of obvious kinks that Google needed to work out. The device’s safety and privacy issues were also legitimate and predictable, and Google should’ve taken the time to consider them before giving the product so much publicity.
How Glass Quietly Joined The Workforce
While Glass was publicly floundering, Google was quietly testing it in the world of industry. Google’s “build your own apps” approach didn’t appeal to many consumers, but it sounded like a good deal to some corporations. Early adopters, like Boeing, could afford to drop thousands of dollars on smart glasses, and they had the resources to develop some useful software.
When Google noticed that Boeing and other corporations were much more interested in Glass than your average consumer, they leaned into it. After the Glass Explorer program came to a close in 2015, Google began work on an “Enterprise” edition of the device—a version that’s built specifically for industrial use, yet addresses most of the problems that people had with the Glass.
Glass Enterprise is a lighter, more comfortable pair of glasses than the Explorer edition. It has a battery life that exceeds eight hours (perfect for holiday shifts at a warehouse), and it’s equipped with an LED that tells others when you’re taking photos or recording video. The Glass Enterprise hardware is also a lot more flexible than the Explorer edition. People can remove the Enterprise from its standard glasses frame and attach it to safety glasses or the inside of a helmet.
You could theoretically use the Glass Enterprise while wearing sunglasses, safety glasses, or even a pair of goggles.
Glass Enterprise Cuts Costs and Increases Safety
Boeing adopted Glass for a purpose. They figured that smart eyewear could cut down on training time and simplify their complicated assembly processes by removing paper manuals and freeing peoples’ hands. After developing some custom software, it turns out that they were right. Boeing reports that their Glass applications result in a 30% job reduction time and improves the quality of new employees’ work by a staggering 90%.
But engineers and factory workers aren’t the only ones clamoring for the Glass. Warehouses have found a slew of uses for the device. Smart glasses can tell employees the fastest route to the products that they need, and they can automatically scan barcodes with a glance. They can also be used to track inventory and facilitate more precise communication between employees. It’s not hard to imagine how Glass could supersede the tablets, PA systems, and bulky barcode scanners that have become common in modern warehouses.
DHL, a business that does a lot of work in the freight industry, has been using Glass in their warehouses since 2015. They’re using the device to reduce training time and increase the overall efficiency of their warehouse employees. They’ve reported that their use of Glass Enterprise makes the picking and packing process 25% faster, a measurable increase in efficiency that could dramatically cut costs in the long run.
Glass can reportedly improve the safety conditions in factories and warehouses by streamlining communication between workers, and by making dangerous work (high altitude construction jobs, difficult welding jobs) quicker and easier. There isn’t any hard data that backs up Glass’ safety claim (companies are more interested in their bottom line), but it’s fair to assume that it increases safety by freeing up your hands, at least.
Where’s the Money?
Let’s say that you’re a business owner, and you’re interested in the Google Glass. Where can you buy these things? Well, you can’t buy the device directly from Google. You’ll have to sign a contract with a Glass Partner. These are businesses that are licensed to develop and sell custom versions of Glass for industrial purposes. They asses your business’ needs and develop custom Glass software solutions for you.
But what if you’re a developer or hobbyist, and you’re looking to buy a single pair of Glass Enterprise glasses? You’d have to contact Streye, a Glass Partner that’s offering individual pairs of the Glass Enterprise for $1970. That’s almost $500 dollars more than the old consumer version of Glass. It’s safe to assume that most businesses are paying more than $1500 for each pair of these things that they buy, but there’s a chance that they’re saving some money by leasing the devices.
We know that Glass costs a lot, but how much money is Google making? It’s hard to find sales numbers for Glass Enterprise, but a report from Forrester Research predicts that the device will add an extra one or two billion dollars to Google’s purse by 2025. That’s a lot of cash, and other tech companies just can’t ignore such a large, untouched market. There have been rumors that Apple and Amazon are developing their own smart devices, a sign that smart eyewear could become an aggressive, multi-billion dollar industry.
If Amazon joins the smart glasses race, then Google’s going to have to work extra hard to keep up. Amazon is known for their hellishly efficient warehouses. They could save a lot of money by equipping their own employees with smart glasses. Not to mention they would be testing their smart glasses everyday on their own factory employees, which means that they could develop applications for the device a lot faster than Google.
The Future of Glass
Glass is mostly being used in factories and warehouses, but there are a lot of Glass Partners trying to drag smart glasses into the medical and food service industries. They claim that the device can cut costs at restaurants, help children with autism, and provide a better sense of independence to the blind. These businesses are pretty forward-thinking, but a quick review of their websites shows that they’re still grossly underdeveloped and impractical. A lot of work needs to be done before Glass can patronizingly tell fast food employees how to assemble a ham sandwich, and the technology needs to fall below $500 before any sane restaurant owner will even consider adopting it.
But the fact that the Glass is doing well anywhere is kind of impressive, and at least mildly exciting. Hopefully, Glass has the chance to marinate in the industry before Google tries to reintroduce it to the public. After all, some of the biggest complaints about the device have already been improved in the industrial world. And if Apple and Amazon join the race for smart eyewear, then the economic competition should accelerate Glass development.
On the other hand, Glass costs more than ever, it still gives off a creepy vibe, and it still looks a bit ridiculous. We’ll just have to see how things develop.