The initial iteration of the device never quite crossed the line from novelty into must-have item. The search giant tabled but did not kill the product. Instead, Google stopped selling it and ended the Explorer test program. The company acknowledged that the original consumer plan was not working and that it would not proceed with a mass market release.
It seemed like Google knew it had something but was not sure which parts were working and which were failing. Instead of scrapping the project entirely, the company put it in the hands of Nest CEO Tony Fadell, who is now charged with "reimagining" Google Glass.
He intends to do so -- and a very different version of the wearable could emerge.
What is (was) Google Glass?
Google Glass was essentially a smartphone built into a set of glasses. The device, as I wrote in February 2014, did everything from shooting pictures and video to translating your voice into other languages plus anything else a high-end smartphone can do. It was launched on an invitation-only model to the Explorers and then offered briefly to consumers for about $1,500.
The device gave users a heads-up display through which information was projected on a small screen, directly in front of the eye.
Dan Pacheco, chair of journalism innovation at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, spoke with the Fool last year about his experience testing the product. He explained one possible use for the device.
What's next for Glass
Fadell made his first public comments about the future of Glass during the company's Zeitgeist conference in the United Kingdom, The Verge reported. Fadell said he and his team have "decided to go and look at every detail" in order to "figure out the way forward" for Glass.
He also said there were "no sacred cows," meaning the version of the product that emerges could be very different from its predecessor.
Fadell takes over responsibility for Glass in a very different marketplace. Not only has Microsoft announced its HoloLens headset, but Apple has released its Watch, making wearables more common. That could make the idea of "smart" eyewear more widely acceptable, but there is no guarantee a new Google Glass will be meant for everyday, constant use as the old version was. Fadell and his team may create an experience more tied to virtual reality, akin to HoloLens or the Oculus VR headset.
Google and Fadell have said little on the topic other than his recent remarks, though Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt addressed the issue at the time the Explorer program was closed. He was light on details but promised a future for the product.
"It is a big and very fundamental platform for Google," Schmidt told The Wall Street Journal. "We ended the Explorer program and the press conflated this into us canceling the whole project, which isn't true. Google is about taking risks and there's nothing about adjusting Glass that suggests we're ending it."
The risks could be worth it
While the initial version of Glass might have been too expensive to ever move beyond niche status, the company is right to pursue the idea of glasses-type wearables. That market remains an open playing field, and the opportunity is potentially enormous, according to research from IDC, which forecast that "wearable vendors will ship a total of 45.7 million units in 2015, up a strong 133.4% from the 19.6 million units shipped in 2014. By 2019, total shipment volumes are forecast to reach 126.1 million units, resulting in a five-year compound annual growth rate of 45.1%."
Google might not have gotten it right on the first try, but the project is in capable hands with Fadell leading the way. Since the success of Glass will not make or break the company, Fadell can afford to experiment, make mistakes, and hopefully find a way to bring the once-promising product back to the forefront of our imaginations.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. He is a sucker for new technology. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, 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.