Google Glass future clouded as some early believers lose faith
After two years of popping up at high-profile events sporting Google Glass, the gadget that transforms eyeglasses into spy-movie worthy technology, Google co-founder Sergey Brin sauntered bare-faced into a Silicon Valley red-carpet event on Sunday.
He'd left his pair in the car, Brin told a reporter. The Googler, who heads up the top-secret lab which developed Glass, has hardly given up on the product -- he recently wore his pair to the beach.
But Brin's timing is not propitious, coming as many developers and early Glass users are losing interest in the much-hyped, $1,500 test version of the product: a camera, processor and stamp-sized computer screen mounted to the edge of eyeglass frames. Google Inc itself has pushed back the Glass roll out to the mass market.
While Glass may find some specialized, even lucrative, uses in the workplace, its prospects of becoming a consumer hit in the near future are slim, many developers say.
Of 16 Glass app makers contacted by Reuters, nine said that they had stopped work on their projects or abandoned them, mostly because of the lack of customers or limitations of the device. Three more have switched to developing for business, leaving behind consumer projects.
"If there was 200 million Google Glasses sold, it would be a different perspective. There's no market at this point," said Tom Frencel, the Chief Executive of Little Guy Games, which put development of a Glass game on hold this year and is looking at other platforms, including the Facebook Inc-owned virtual-reality goggles Oculus Rift.
Several key Google employees instrumental to developing Glass have left the company in the last six months, including lead developer Babak Parviz, electrical engineering chief Adrian Wong, and Ossama Alami, director of developer relations.
And a Glass funding consortium created by Google Ventures and two of Silicon Valley's biggest venture capitalists, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Andreessen Horowitz, quietly deleted its website, routing users to the main Glass site.
Google insists it is committed to Glass, with hundreds of engineers and executives working on it, as well as new fashionista boss Ivy Ross, a former Calvin Klein executive. Tens of thousands use Glass in the pilot consumer program.
"We are completely energized and as energized as ever about the opportunity that wearables and Glass in particular represent," said Glass Head of Business Operations Chris O'Neill.
Glass was the first project to emerge from Google's X division, the secretive group tasked with developing "moonshot" products such as self-driving cars. Glass and wearable devices overall amount to a new technology, as smartphones once were, that will likely take time to evolve into a product that clicks with consumers.
"We are as committed as ever to a consumer launch. That is going to take time and we are not going to launch this product until it's absolutely ready," O'Neill said.
Brin had predicted a launch this year, but 2015 is now the most likely date, a person familiar with the matter said.
GLASS SELLING ON EBAY
After an initial burst of enthusiasm, signs that consumers are giving up on Glass have been building.
Google dubbed the first set of several thousand Glass users as "Explorers." But as the Explorers hit the streets, they drew stares and jokes. Some people viewed the device, capable of surreptitious video recording, as an obnoxious privacy intrusion, deriding the once-proud Explorers as "Glassholes."
"It looks super nerdy," said Shevetank Shah, a Washington, DC-based consultant, whose Google Glass now gathers dust in a drawer. "I'm a card carrying nerd, but this was one card too many."
Glass now sells on eBay for as little as half list price.
Some developers recently have felt unsupported by investors and, at times, Google itself.
The Glass Collective, the funding consortium co-run by Google Ventures, invested in only three or four small start-ups by the beginning of this year, a person familiar with the statistics said.
A Google Ventures spokeswoman declined to comment on the number of investments and said the Web site was closed for simplicity. "We just found it's easier for entrepreneurs to come to us directly," she said.
The lack of a launch date has given some developers the impression that Google still treats Glass as an experiment.
"It's not a big enough platform to play on seriously," said Matthew Milan, founder of Toronto-based software firm Normative Design, which put on hold a Glass app for logging exercise and biking.
Mobile game company Glu Mobile, known for its popular "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" title, was one of the first to launch a game on Glass. Spellista, a puzzler released a year ago, is still available, but Glu has discontinued work on it, a spokesman for the company said.
Another developer, Sean McCracken, won $10,000 in a contest last year for creating an aliens-themed video game for Glass, Psyclops, but Google never put it on the official hub for Glass apps, making it tougher to find. He has quit working on updates.
Still, there are some enthusiastic developers. Cycling and running app Strava finds Glass well-suited for its users, who want real-time data on their workouts, said David Lorsch, vice president of business development. And entrepreneur Jake Steinerman said it is ideal for his company, DriveSafe, which detects if people are falling asleep at the wheel.
In April, Google launched the Glass at Work program to help make the device useful for specific industries, such as healthcare and manufacturing. So far the effort has resulted in apps that are being tested or used at companies such as Boeing and Yum Brands' Taco Bell.
Google is selling Glass in bulk to some businesses, offering two-for-one discounts.
CrowdOptic, which uses Glass as portable computers for surgeons and other people out of offices, is currently in use at 19 U.S. hospitals and expects that to grow to 100 hospitals early next year, said Chief Executive Jon Fisher.
Alex Foster began See Through, a Glass advertising analytics firm for business, after a venture firm earlier this year withdrew its offer to back his consumer-oriented Glass fitness company when it became clear no big consumer Glass release was imminent.
"It was devastating," he said. "All of the consumer glass startups are either completely dead or have pivoted," to enterprise products or rival wearables.