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There's still nothing out there quite like Google Glass

Three years ago today, Sergey Brin introduced Google Glass with a team of skydivers jumping from a blimp and live-streaming themselves descending from the heavens onto the Moscone West convention center in San Francisco. Sitting in the audience that day, I could feel the electricity in the room as Brin explained what the funny blue thing was strapped to his face. Google Glass had an explosive introduction to the world, and while many suggest this started a hype train that ultimately lead to its downfall, I find myself sitting behind my keyboard wondering what any other company in the world has to offer today that comes even close to what Google has been tinkering with for half a decade now.

The short answer is nothing, and it's unlikely we'll see anything quite like it until the team currently tasked with improving this already incredible device take to the stage again.

An Explorer's View Through Glass

I've been fortunate enough to be one of the few that has used Google Glass since the day Brin and his team leapt from that blimp. (And the following day they showed us how it was all done.) A brief press-only demo at Google I/O later that day allowed a handful of folks to look at a fireworks demonstration through the square prism that now sat just above my eye, and I instantly went from extremely curious to downright obsessed. I wanted to know everything about this technology, and how it would apply to my life. Weeks of conversations with MIT students working on technologically similar projects, app developers who started thinking up ideas immediately after seeing the presentation, and even a few Googlers who were only allowed to whisper behind closed doors about the tech being used fueled this obsession for months. When it was finally time to put the money down and grab Glass for myself, I took the trip to New York and squirmed with excitement the whole way up and back. Purchasing Google Glass was orders of magnitude above Nerd Christmas for me, because I knew it was a glimpse into the future.

I've been called a Glasshole one time, and the guy who said it was trying to get my attention to try the computer for himself.

It's right around this point the negativity started around the technology. The shiny newness had worn off for many in tech media, especially those either unwilling to shell out the $1,500 or unable to get a hold of their unit quite yet. Anything that could be portrayed as even remotely negative became a headline, and the tech sphere adopted a cute nickname for those who wore Glass in public. Sure, seeing a prominent member of the tech world in his shower with nothing but Glass on, or watching as some moron demonstrates all the ways you could conceivably creep on folks with a computer on your face was kinda gross, but with any other technology common sense would have kicked in and it would have become clear these were a minority inside of a minority. With Glass, the negativity continued to build with the hype, either because not enough people in tech media were able to use these devices full time or because headlines that portrayed Glass users as privacy-stealing monsters was easy. Either way, a malignancy grew that the users had no idea how to deal with, and Google was way to slow to address it internally.

More: How Glassholes saw the world — and how the world saw them{.cta .large}

Google X Block

To this day, having worn Glass on my face every day for two years straight in both major cities like New York and San Francisco as well as back home in Maryland, I've only been called a Glasshole once. It was at a gas station, and the guy who said it was trying to get my attention to try the computer for himself. I don't personally know a single Glass user who has a story different from mine, where folks ask what the computer is and then stare in amazement as I hand them the device and let them try it for themselves. The vast majority of Glass experiences in person have always been incredibly positive, and anyone who asked questions like "are you recording me right now" were quickly calmed once the tech was explained.

Even outside of those personal environments, Glass typically was received with warmth. When I sat down down at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., to check out an interactive Hockey app for Glass called Skybox, APX Labs CTO Jay Kim explained that it was a rarity that someone turned down the opportunity to try Glass out of privacy concerns. This was a company asking total strangers to wear a computer on their face during a Capital's game, and in doing so found that many users were beyond excited at the opportunity to be more involved in the game by having the stats and replays on their eye instead of in their hand. Based on the experience of nearly everyone I have spoken to over the last three years, the rhetoric spilled about Glass making most people uncomfortable is a myth at best, and deliberately disingenuous at worst.

Glass Vignette

Glass itself is reasonably far from perfect. The processor was outdated, the battery wasn't always enough for a full day of use, and the camera was barely worth using in perfect conditions. Google also pushed away several promising developers early on for doing things the team didn't initially approve of, only to do less interesting versions of that same thing later on. The company nailed the initial presentation, and did a phenomenal job introducing new users to the technology at the Base Camps they set up around the U.S., but when it came to communicating with the community in a non-technical sense, Google failed in several major ways. Had Google adopted a social responsibility for this product as they sent it out into the world with these random ambassadors, things would probably be quite different today.

Today I usually avoid wearing Glass, but that decision has a lot more to do with hardware preservation than the comfort of those around me. Google never fully addressed a critical weakness in the design for Glass, the foil on the glass prism that made the display function correctly. If the foil becomes damaged, the display becomes useless. I've had to replace my Glass unit four times due to foil damage, and with Google currently silent about the future of the platform I decided to put mine in its case and keep it safe. I frequently find myself wishing I was still wearing it on a regular basis, though. The ease with which I could get turn by turn navigation in the car, the convenience of sliding some earbuds for listening to music, and the timeline-style notification system that Android Wear has abandoned and Pebble Time seems to have adopted are all things I frequently miss.

Zero competition in the face wearable space

Recon Jet

Perhaps the most frustrating part of having used Google Glass for so long is the complete lack of a competing product. There are no products out there today that allow me to get notifications and directions at a glance in a way that I can comfortably wear all day, despite Glass having been in the wild for years and several attempts at competition having been announced. Epson, who has been doing interesting things in this space for years, has turned almost entirely to Enterprise verticals for their products. Recon Instruments recently started shipping the Jet, but it's barely functional as an awkward fitness accessory, and its creators have repeatedly said they have no intention of competing with Google Glass, despite having been perfectly happy to use that angle to help crowdfund their hardware in the first place. Sony, Microsoft, and Samsung are all focusing on huge headsets that are used for short bursts of time, usually for entertainment. That's not to say these aren't great products in their own right, but it highlights just how much closer Google was to a complete thought than the rest of the companies working in this space.

Glass was never meant to be a consumer-facing product in the state it was in when Brin's team jumped out of that blimp.

The closest thing you get to whispers of actual Google Glass competition nowadays comes from the likes of Epiphany Eyewear and the Infinity.1 glasses from Six15 Technologies. Both devices exist as regular-ish thick glasses that deliver information to the user in a way that is a lot less visually jarring than Glass. Epiphany Eyewear was recently bought by Snapchat, and has since been silent about what is actually happening with their hardware, but their concept has been out in the world for a while. An LED near your eye to offer simple colors when you have a notification you care about was the original focus here, but Snapchat may take things a bit further in the future. Meanwhile, the folks behind Infinity.1 are focused on business use for the moment, but their purpose-built solutions seem to be the closest thing to a wearable display with a camera that is actually comfortable to wear, which is impressive.

It's also true that Glass was never meant to be a consumer-facing product in the state it was in when Brin first introduced it to us at day at Google I/O, though it took the company a lot longer than it should have to admit this. Google's X lab is all about moonshots, seemingly impossible projects that Google is uniquely position to solve by throwing huge quantities of brains and money at, and that's where Glass was when it was unveiled. It wasn't until after the Glass team was split out from X and given its own set of mandates that things like social responsibility and a huge range of accessories started to come from the project. If the first year hadn't already happened, weirdly public traffic incidents and all, Google might have gotten away with pretending Glass was ready for public consumption long enough to work on a functional version 2.0 in the background, but eventually reality had to catch up.

Eagerly awaiting the next generation

Google Wearables

While Google may not be looking for new Glass Explorers, the team and its leadership are far from gone. Nest CEO Tony Fadell took control of the team as it left Google X, and in doing so has made it clear the project is moving forward. This team is going to keep things under wraps, focus on every aspect of the current project and tweak as necessary, and when Google is ready to unveil the next generation you can bet I'll be there once again.

There's still a lot of work to be done, some of it unfortunately social focused due to the damage that has already been done, but there has never been a new technology that didn't meet this kind of resistance at first. In fact, if you look at the way segments of society initially handled cameras being baked in to phones, you'll see the criticism and awkwardness hasn't changed much.

Ultimately, I still believe Glass is the way forward. I think there's plenty of room for folks who have notifications on their eyeballs and folks who want their notifications on their wrists or in their pockets to coexist, and you'll never be able to convince me that constantly glancing at your watch or phone is less disruptive than never breaking eye contact with the person you're speaking with. It's something different, and for better or worse Google is going to do what they do best, throw money and brains at the problem until a solution emerges. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to the ride.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

24 Comments
  • I still want this. As soon as the new version rolls out, I'll have a giant X on my side for the kidney I'll sell to get it.
  • As much as i know how google contributed to many things, google is not its greatest innovations. It was a very overhyped product that under-delivered. I never really had the desire to try one, simply because it was a product without any potential or a need ( much like the smart watches at the moment). Calling that no company came close to google in this regard is a bit weird. Microsoft's Hololens is leaps and bounds above the competition not google glass, it has a very good potential to revolutionize many fields like CAD/CAM, astronomy, robotics , surgeris and many others. Google glass doesn't have this potential, just another interface added to the already many interfaces available for our communication. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Google glass is not its......* Posted via the Android Central App
  • The difference is that Glass can be designed in a stylish manner that could be worn for everyday use. HoloLens isn't something that one could wear out and about in public. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Well, i don't see the current design of hololens not bad for out and about, very futuristic. Maybe if hololens proves successful, future generations will come in more fashionable smaller forms that can be in direct comparison with optical glasses. I think The problem with google's moonshot projects is that they are not consistant with google's current affairs or at least don't have a common platform. At some point, u don't know exactly what google actually focuses on and this is very dangerous. Apple and Microsoft try to work around one platform; where apple platform is its hardware while microsft's is its software and services ( hololens runs on windows and windows apps). Posted via the Android Central App
  • you're right that it is just another small display.... it was a nice idea but it was less than a phone and offered nothing new, OK you don't reach into your pocket but is that significant? for 99% l would say no as most don't have a SWatch which simplifies notifications.... so why?
    I think it was a great explorative/test device as many things need to be in the wild to get a better feel for their uses and consumer appeal, It just did not offer a significant new experience that was different from other devices
  • Are you talking about Glass? Or about Smartwatches? Because the same logic could be applied to both. The difference between the two product types is twofold. First, is cost, Glass was a lot more expensive. Second, Smartwatches aren't actually hands-free devices, whereas Glass IS a handsfree device.
  • I have tried it. It can definitely be a distraction while driving. It has tons of potential if it can be done properly. I see why casinos would ban the product. I'm ready for what version 2 has to offer. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I suppose it's a good thing my wife said No, when I got my invite. $1500 remains steep for a beta product. When version 2.0 rolls out, she's going to have a hard time getting a No to stick this time. Posted via Gold 64GB Galaxy S6
  • I'd like to try one out, but I doubt it'd really be a purchase worthy of a couple hundred, let alone $1,500... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Glass is a product that could be designed for specific work environments, working in the medical field all the way to any fact searching job the Google Glass is a killer product. All kinds of great possibilities for the Google Glass. There was an article over at imore ripping Google Glass. Every week they take a day to rip Samsung then another day for Google. I find it just click bait for their website. I had to give my opinion and it usually isn't nice. Great article, Google Glass was the first product of its kind with endless possibilities. Hope they improve the quality and increase its power, I would love a updated model. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't think it's as much iMore as it is Rene's pathetic insecurities. He's so far gone, he might as well move on over to AppleInsider and see if he can out-fanboy DED.
  • Amazing article Russell. Posted via Morse Code
  • Wow. I can't believe it's been 3 years already. I'd love my Glass a whole lot more if the battery lasted longer. It's still in my top 5 products I've ever been most excited about getting. Looking forward to future iterations.
  • Great article. its kind of funny that people always over react to some things, then when everyone does it, they are like "Oh i always new that was a good idea" Just look at wearables now. Soon they will be built into cloths.
  • You have it stored? Give it away man, some else, like me, could give an amazing use!!, great article btw
  • Google Glass should have been targeted at vertical markets first. It would have been a godsend to many workers on tasks requiring information and use of both hands, simultaneously.
    A warehouse worker could watch the transfer/pickup/putaway orders by looking at the display, and confirm them as performed with a combination of voice control and barcodes scanning using Glass. All, while their hands are busy carrying the packages or driving a forklift.
    A biopharma technician could read the standard operating procedure and fill out the electronic batch record using voice and visual data capture while using their hands for the actual manufacturing procedure.
    Both of these processes are required by businesses that have the money, not only for the Glass, but also the backend infrastructure required to support it.
    Still, Google focused on the most trivial use-case possible. No wonder it was a flop.
  • I also think that the largest target should have been work and companies. It could have even tied them into Google services. At its original price, it was not a toy.
  • You think it is safe to drive a fork truck whilst reading documents on Google glass? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Glass would be best used for doctors, engineers, mechanics, and really, anyone working with their hands. I can even see athletes using glass to improve their swing, shot, or kick. For public use, no. For business, this could definitely work.
  • Keep telling yourself that 1500 wasn't a big waste of money, sounds like you've at least got yourself believing it.
  • Eugene Levy has the Optinvent glasses...
  • Toshiba demonstrated their own version at CES 2015. I tried it and it was pretty terrible...
  • Bounds ahead? There's a reason it paused.