Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Glass, once hailed as the "next big thing" in tech, has been more frequently ridiculed than embraced. The $1,500 developer version of Glass launched in Feb. 2013, followed by a publicly available "Explorer" version this May, but Google still hasn't announced an official launch date or final price for the device.
Last May, a survey from Bite Interactive found that 90% of Americans didn't plan to buy Google Glass due to "social awkwardness." This April, a survey by Toluna found that 72% refused to wear Glass due to privacy issues. Faced with that steep level of resistance, will Google finally abandon Glass?
1. The rise of smartwatches
The biggest problem with Google Glass is its protruding camera, which caused privacy concerns and led to bans in public places. That's why smartwatches, which are far less conspicuous, are rendering Google Glass obsolete. No one needs a second screen for their smartphone on both their wrist and face.
Global smartwatch shipments are expected to soar from 4 million in 2013 to 330 million by 2018, according to ON World. Ironically, Google is fueling that growth with Android Wear, its slimmed down version of Android for wearable devices. When Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Watch arrives next year, smartwatches could evolve from niche devices into mainstream ones. That doesn't leave much of a market for Google Glass.
2. The rise of action cameras
Google initially marketed Glass to consumers as an action camera to capture life experiences. But consumers can easily accomplish the same thing with GoPro's (NASDAQ:GPRO) action cameras.
GoPro's top tier HERO4 Black, which costs $500, can capture wide-angle 4K video at 30 fps, 1080p video at 120 fps, and take 12-megapixel still photos. Glass, which costs three times as much, only captures 720p video at 30 fps and takes 5-megapixel photos. Other cheaper GoPro competitors also offer impressive specs for a low price. Polaroid's $99 Cube, for example, records 1080p video at 30 fps and takes 6-megapixel photos. Most importantly, action cameras don't suffer from the social stigmas that plague Google Glass.
The action camera market is expected to grow from 5 million shipments in 2013 to 9 million by 2018, according to Futuresource Consulting. That growth could wipe out Google's dreams of marketing Glass as the ultimate action camera.
3. An exodus of developers
Some developers, who have waited nearly three years for Google to commercially launch Glass, are giving up on the device.
Reuters recently reported that nine of the 16 app developers they contacted had abandoned their Glass apps. Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and Priceline's (NASDAQ: PCLN) OpenTable remain available on Glass, but Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) notably abandoned the platform. Little Guy Games CEO Tom Frencel, who recently put his company's Glass app on hold, told Reuters that "there's no market at this point." Frencel noted that his company was considering developing apps for other platforms, including Facebook's Oculus VR platform.
Without developer support, it will be impossible for Google to launch Glass commercially as a mainstream device.
4. Grasping at straws
Google is clearly grasping at straws to salvage Glass. In June, Google partnered with renowned designer Diane von Furstenberg to launch "fashionable" frames for Glass. Unfortunately, that fashion upgrade just made Glass $150 to $300 more expensive. For the same price, consumers can simply buy a pair of regular luxury sunglasses from DVF or Prada. Another partnership with Ray-Ban maker Luxottica will likely yield the same results.
That same month, Google unveiled its "Glass at Work" initiative to focus on enterprise and medical uses. That was definitely a smarter move than marketing to consumers, but Google faces a tough uphill battle in the enterprise market, which is dominated by companies like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and IBM. Apple also struck a deal with IBM in July to boost the use of iOS devices in businesses, which could convince companies to favor iPads over Glasses.
The road ahead
It might be wise for Google to indefinitely delay the Glass' commercial launch. Launching the device commercially at a lower price (widely expected to be around $600) could generate slightly more interest in the product, but it faces too many headwinds to become a mobile game-changer.
Glass still has practical possibilities in enterprise and medical settings, but mainstream consumers simply don't need Google's wearable computer when smartwatches and action cameras can accomplish the same things without being ridiculed.