Google Glass 'reset' shows it's just the seed of an idea

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It turns out Google Glass didn’t “graduate” after all.

Although Google has tried to put a positive spin on the recent end of Google Glass Explorer sales and the management shake-up that came with it, CFO Patrick Pichette was frank in an earnings call this week. The high-tech eyewear, he said, wasn’t achieving its goals.

“When teams aren’t able to hit hurdles but we think there is still a lot of promise, we might ask them to take a pause and take the time to reset their strategy as we recently did in the case of Glass,” Pichette said (via 9to5Google).

Google isn’t killing Glass entirely, as the Explorer edition will remain available to businesses and developers. But Pichette’s comments make clear that a consumer version of Glass isn’t happening anytime soon, as Google goes back to the drawing board.

As we’ve seen from Google in the past, the product comes next could be something entirely different.

Of spectacles and spheres

The “reset” of Google Glass brings to mind another failure, the Nexus Q. Announced at Google’s I/O conference in 2012, the spherical device could stream music and video to televisions from YouTube and Google Play, with a particular focus on audio quality. But instead of having a television interface with a remote control, the Nexus Q was controlled entirely through the existing YouTube and Google Play apps for Android.

The Nexus Q was a laughingstock due to its $300 price tag, limited functionality and initially buggy software. Before it could launch to the public, Google put the Nexus Q on hold indefinitely; I/O attendees were the only people to receive one.

The Nexus Q was expensive, buggy and feature-limited, but not a fundamentally bad idea.

Still, the failure of the Nexus Q contained the kernel of a clever idea: What if you stripped away the interface of a streaming TV device, and instead relied on the phones and tablets we already use so often? Not only would this be simpler than a clunky, button-laden remote, it would also require less processing power on the device itself. The resulting product could be smaller, cheaper and in many ways easier to use than any other device on the market.

That product was Google’s $35 Chromecast, which has been a huge success since it launched in 2013. A recent survey by Parks Associates found that Chromecast was the second-most popular streaming media device in the United States last year, behind only Roku and ahead of Apple TV. Few people would call Chromecast a direct successor to the Nexus Q, but it’s the same basic concept with considerably better execution.

Google clearly sees similar seeds of success in Glass. It could be the idea of a lightweight, wearable, Internet-connected camera, or it could be the idea of a persistent, eye-level display that helps us better navigate the world. But if Google’s last pause-and-reset is any indication, we’ll barely recognize what those ideas will turn into.

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