A year ago, Google Glass seemed poised to alter the technology world in fundamental ways. The augmented-reality eyeglasses had a growing legion of early adopters—dubbed “Explorers” by Google—walking the streets of major cities; several large companies, including OpenTable and The New York Times, were working on apps for the device’s tiny screen.
Some people couldn’t get enough of Google Glass. Tech evangelist Robert Scoble famously wore his unit in the shower. A 31-year-old Navy serviceman went through “Glass withdrawal” after doctors forced him to give up the hardware for a month.
But others seemed less enamored. Earlier this year, reports spread of Google Glass wearers heckled or assaulted by people who disliked the idea of the device’s camera capturing their image on the street. Bars and restaurants banned customers from wearing it on-premises. In San Francisco, Glass soon evolved into a handy symbol for the gentrification and economic stratification sparking so much debate in that city. Tech pundits and fashion mavens wondered in print whether the general public would rush to buy Glass, or if the design was too “nerdy” for popular consumption.
Undeterred by the negative feedback, Google plowed forward. It continues to push Glass as a potential fashion accessory, and third-party developers still experiment with potential uses for the hardware and software. At the same time, however, there are signs that Glass may be losing some momentum. In a March posting on Google Plus, Scoble broadcast his fears that Google would abandon the project, after seeing Google CEO Larry Page give a talk without his Glass in place; then came this year’s Google I/O conference, in which Glass was a virtual no-show; and Google still hasn’t released Glass from Beta (or lowered the price from an eye-watering $1,500).
Google isn’t a wet-behind-the-ears startup that needs to rush a product to the broadest possible audience in order to make a profit and survive; it can afford to keep a product in limbo while it pushes along incremental updates. But the longer Google waits before attempting to make Glass a mass-market product, the less influence it can exert on the nascent wearable-electronics market, leaving an opening for Apple and other rivals to exploit.
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