Google (GOOGL) is making headlines once again – but not for a unique piece of new technology, a hit new product, or a game-changing new service.
Rather, Google itself is changing. The company as we know it will become part of a new parent company called Alphabet under a big reorganization plan.
But while the world digests Alphabet, I want to talk about Google’s M.O. – innovation.
In fact, I want to talk about one of the company’s rare failures.
However, Google is hoping that its “failure” with Google Glass has merely given the company the insights needed to make the product a future success.
From Fanfare to Flop: The Rise and Fall of Google Glass
In 2012, Google Glass was introduced with much fanfare as a bold new consumer device.
The company believed that within a few years, millions of people would be walking around with these $1,500 augmented reality smart glasses attached to their heads. The device would take photos and videos, give directions, alert you to landmarks and neighborhood activities, and much more.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and the product was soon withdrawn.
But Google didn’t scrap the idea and give up. Its designers went back to the lab and then on to a special team to rethink the device. And when Google reorganizes into Alphabet later this year, Google Glass will join the other “moonshot” projects within the parent company.
Indeed, Google Glass is nearing a relaunch.
Google Glass: Coming to the Workplace Imminently
Patent applications and filings with the Federal Communications Commission hint at a new Google Glass coming soon.
The biggest difference is that the revamped version appears to be designed for use in the workplace, rather than as a general device for consumers.
This makes more sense. After all, consumers are still learning to get the most from their smartphones, and even more conventional devices like smart watches are having a difficult time catching on. So smart glasses with an “always-on” video display in front of the user’s eyes are probably years away from mass consumer adoption… if hey’re ever adopted at all.
In the workplace, however, augmented reality glasses have a much better chance of success. There are many jobs where workers might have to access information while both hands are busy and it’s either inconvenient or impossible to stop and look at a screen.
For example, imagine a construction worker or building technician who’s operating machinery, but needs to consult an operations manual while working.
Or a surgeon performing a delicate operation, but needs access to vital statistics or an instructor’s advice without stopping to turn around. In turn, that instructor can see the operation as it happens in real time from thousands of miles away.
In these cases, Google Glass could provide the necessary information seamlessly to the user.
And by aiming Google Glass at the workplace, there are a few advantages for Google here, too…
Minimal Software: Under this business model, Google wouldn’t have to equip the devices with multiple software applications. It would just need to design the devices with minimal software, such as the operating system. The bespoke software needed for each device would depend on where it’s being used, and would be provided by specialist partners who know the businesses to which they’d be selling.
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Performance Improvements: With customized devices for businesses, Google Glass could offer improvements in performance, productivity, safety, and other measurements that would be enough to justify the high cost of the device.
Forget Fashion: When aimed at the workplace, the look and style of a device like this is less important to businesses than it would be for general consumers. You may recall the criticism of Google Glass for the consumer market – the device was highly conspicuous (an invitation for muggers), not attractive, and even creepy, given that users could secretly photograph or video people without them knowing. Some wearers were even labeled “glassholes”! But a technician fixing an antenna at the top of a huge tower doesn’t care about fashion; he’s just happy to have pertinent information right in front of his eyes.
However, the business market does bring other challenges…
Competition Is Heating Up
Just as consumers are demanding (and sometimes fickle) of their devices, so too are businesses.
To justify the cost of incorporating Google Glass, companies will demand more durability, longer battery life, and better connectivity than the original Google Glass had. And while Google and its component makers are certainly up to the challenge, there will be cost and functionality considerations along the way.
But the biggest challenge for the business version of Google Glass is that it won’t have the market to itself.
Since Google Glass was taken out of commission, other tech companies have recognized the potential of the augmented reality business market – and they’ve paired up with other partners to bring products to market.
Just a couple of months ago, in fact, a convention in Santa Clara, California attracted over 200 companies that are involved in augmented reality in some way. Names included giants like Intel (INTC) (which is providing the CPU for the revamped device), QUALCOMM (QCOM), and Epson (SEKEY), along with a host of others, all the way down to startups.
With augmented reality technology taking off across the board, the market for business will become very large and fiercely competitive. Now, while Google is certainly no stranger to competition, often blowing its rivals away with its sheer wealth of expertise and financial resources, that won’t help if its partners don’t deliver the right business-specific software.
Either way, whether it’s from Google or one of its rivals, you can expect to see augmented reality glasses become a real reality soon. Not at tourist attractions, but your mechanic, dentist, the cable guy, and a host of others might be wearing them while doing their jobs. And who knows… maybe someone will introduce a device with live stock market information for the trading junkies out there!
To living and investing in the future,