In the world of technology, finding the "next big thing" is a never-ending challenge -- one Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) co-founder and CEO Sergey Brin has proven he is more than willing to accept.
However, being on the cutting edge naturally involves great risk -- a leap of faith, of sorts, because failure is such a strong possibility. And that may be the ultimate lesson from Google Glass.
The Jetsons-like shades have popped up at company gatherings for the past few years and despite initially creating quite the splash, it's apparent the time has come to throw in the towel on this idea -- even as Brin and the Google Glass team continue to espouse the many wonders of the technology.
When to say when
Though the device was first seen in April 2012, Google Glass did not become widely available until this past summer -- even then, only U.S. and U.K. buyers (over the age of 18) could purchase the device for the hefty price of $1,500.
Prior to this release, only early test users, dubbed Google "Explorers," could get their hands on Glass. The technology is currently still in beta mode as engineers fine tune the wearable device, so Google has once again delayed a full release until sometime in 2015.
So what's the holdup? There are several concerns, whether or not Google wants to admit to them.
It has quickly become obvious that the market Brin and team envisioned for Glass simply isn't there. More importantly, the app developers are beginning to recognize this as well. Though the company isn't sharing specifics on sales of Glass, most estimates suggest it is selling in the thousands, not millions.
With that said, commercial applications for Glass are emerging -- doctors sharing real-time patient data and heads-up displays for speed and alerts in the transportation industry are often mentioned, among others -- but a niche market is unlikely to produce the demand needed to warrant Google's continued time or investment.
To date, 100 apps are available for download on Glass, including popular names such as Facebook and OpenTable. But the release of new apps has already slowed significantly, and many developers are giving up on the project.
Why? Like most outside the walls of Google HQ, developers recognize there's simply not enough broad consumer interest to warrant the work, and many find the limitations of Glass itself -- battery life, data access, etc. -- not worth the headache. Internally, key members of the Glass team have also stepped away from the project, yet another warning sign that the company has chosen to shrug off.
What's not to love?
When asked why he shelved his specs, a former Glass app developer said, "If there was 200 million Google Glasses sold, it would be a different perspective." But there is not, nor will there likely ever be in its current form, so he and other developers are shifting their focus to alternatives such as Facebook's virtual reality headset, Rift. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hasn't been shy in discussing Rift and its applications beyond VR gaming, and developers who see an opportunity for "smart" headsets are buying in.
The hurdles Glass faces began the moment the project was made public, including significant privacy concerns that led entire industries to ban Glass from their premises. Safety issues also arose, akin to texting while on the go. Then there's the less tangible, but very real, problem with Glass: its looks. Yes, Google has partnered with famous names in the fashion industry, but even designer frames won't remove the "nerdy" stigma associated with the device.
When you add up its laundry list of technical limitations, shrinking developer base, limited market, privacy concerns, and unstylish looks, it becomes clear the Google Glass experiment may be too far gone.
Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.