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Google halts Glass shipments, insists the project isn't dead

Fashion blogger Adriana Gastelum is seen wearing Google Glass on the Streets of Manhattan on September 5, 2013 in New York City.
Fashion blogger Adriana Gastelum is seen wearing Google Glass on the Streets of Manhattan on September 5, 2013 in New York City.
Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images
  1. Google is halting sales of Glass, the groundbreaking computer you wear on your face.
  2. Google says it's not dropping support for the product; instead, the company is working on transforming Glass from an experimental device into a mainstream consumer product.
  3. The Glass team will now report to Tony Fadell. Fadell was a key member of Apple's iPod team and then co-founded the home automation company Nest, which Google acquired last year for $3.2 billion.

Google Glass has been plagued with problems

Google Glass has been one of the search giant's highest-profile product announcements in recent years, with co-founder Sergey Brin taking an active role in the project. Glass was formally announced in 2012, and the device was released to developers in 2013.

And then ... not much happened. Developers have experimented with the device, but haven't come up with any breakthrough applications for it. Software updates from Google have slowed. The project's founder was poached by Amazon in July. As Ars Technica put it in December, "The official forums, once a bustling hive of optimism, now mostly discuss declining usage or low morale among remaining Glass users."

The mainstream release of the product, originally slated for 2014, never happened.

One big reason Glass hasn't caught on is the cost. At a price of $1,500, Glass needs some pretty compelling applications to get people to buy one. And with few people buying them, there was little reason for developers to create Glass software.

And Glass has also attracted a lot of public hostility. Many people don't like the idea of someone walking around with a camera attached to their face, potentially taking a picture at any time. Many people also believe that Glass users look ridiculous.

Most importantly, Google has struggled to make the case that Glass is actually useful. The efficiency gains from having your computer screen attached to your glasses, instead of in your pocket, don't seem very big. And while Google has done impressive work making Glass user-friendly, the user interface still strikes many people as clumsy compared with a touchscreen phone.

Will Glass shift to the workplace?

Despite Glass's poor reception, Google says it's not giving up. The company is hard at work building the next iteration of the device.

One intriguing possibility is that Google may shift its focus from the mainstream consumer market to more specialized applications in the workplace. Six weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google had inked a deal with Intel to supply the chips needed to power the next iteration of Google Glass.

"Google is working with software developers including Augmedix Inc. and APX Labs LLC to encourage use of Glass in industries such as health care, construction and manufacturing where employees work with their hands but need information," the Journal reported.

Marketing Glass at work could address several of the product's challenges simultaneously. A device that's worn only at work would raise fewer privacy concerns than one that's routinely worn at social functions. And while consumers might balk at paying $1,500 for a gadget, employers routinely spend much more than that on equipment to make their workers more productive.

Still, in November Google was still insisting that it expected Glass to be a mainstream consumer device. To make that happen, they'll have to create a device impressive enough to overcome growing public skepticism about the technology.

Disclosure: My brother is an executive at Google.