Google tries to reset Glass embarrassment with cooler wearable

Is it too late for Google Glass to become the big hit that people are excited to be seen wearing and will use in their everyday lives, taking video of their work projects and vacation adventures?

Pulling Glass out of the limelight and rethinking how the wearable computers look and function could make the device less of a widely mocked science project and more of what it should have been – a cool, useful new technology.

Google is also trying to move away from the embarrassment that its Glass Explorer program had become.

“With this move, Google is definitely pressing the ‘reset’ button,’ said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights Strategy. “It’s a good move to end the Explorer program because it had really turned into an embarrassment with overall negative sentiment. This was a stumble because Google exposed real consumers who paid a lot of money for an experiment that wasn’t ready. Glass was really still in the research stage and should have stayed in the lab.”

However, pulling back Glass from the public eye and retooling it could be the best thing to happen to the device.

“This whole time Glass has been housed at Google X and its move out of that blue sky group is good news for the future of Glass as a product,” said Brian Blau, an analyst with market research firm Gartner. “In their announcement, Google indicated there will be future Glass products, so I take them at their word that there will indeed be future versions. Is that starting over? Possibly, but you have to think that many of the lessons learned from their experiences with the Glass Explorer program will somehow translate forward to their new efforts.”

Google will likely produce a better Glass product than anything seen in the market to this point.

Google on Thursday said it would stop selling prototypes of its computerized eyeglasses on Monday, closing out its Explorer program, which opened to early adopters at the company’s annual Google I/O developers conference in 2013. Users paid $1,500 for each pair of Glass and Google reportedly sold more than 10,000 pairs.

Related: Why I’m sending back Google Glass

In a Google+ post, the Glass team said the company remains committed to developing the product. Glass development will be moved out from under the guidance of GoogleX, the company’s secretive research lab that works sci-fi-sounding technologies, including Internet-connected balloons and self-driving cars.

Glass, like the company’s ubiquitous search engine, and Android, the mobile operating system, will be its own entity within Google. The new team will be led by former fashion executive Ivy Ross, who previously worked at Calvin Klein, Gap Inc., The Disney Store and Coach.

The team will be overseen by Tony Fadell, who heads Nest and was in charge of producing Apple’s first iPod.

“Since we first met, interest in wearables has exploded and today it’s one of the most exciting areas in technology,” the Glass team wrote on Google+. “We’re thrilled to be moving even more from concept to reality … We’re continuing to build for the future, and you’ll start to see future versions of Glass when they’re ready. Thanks to all of you for believing in us and making all of this possible. Hang tight — it’s going to be an exciting ride.”

Since Glass has suffered from waning interest and an increasing amount of mockery, it’s not surprising that Google decided to change course.

Over the past few months, rumors swirled online that Google was going to dump the entire Glass project.

Google repeatedly pushed back the Glass’ release date. Initially, the company said it would release the wearable in 2013. Last summer, Google stopped giving out a release date at all.

App developers also seemed to be losing interest in creating new apps for Glass. Meanwhile, Glass was getting bad press over privacy issues, with a bar, movie theaters and a Las Vegas casino banning them from being worn inside the establishments.

The term “Glasshole” began to get a lot of play online.

This is a good time for Google to pull back Glass and rework the project, said Jeff Kagan, an independent technology analyst.

“The question everyone is asking is simple … Is Google Glass ever going to be successful?” Kagan said. “Google Glass was always an interesting idea, but for some reason it just has not been catching on with the public. Google is not used to working on a product that is becoming a sour punch line. I don’t think they like it. That’s why this is going to have a lower profile while they try and figure out how to re-engineer and re-design.”

The break also might give the marketplace a chance to catch up to the idea of people wearing computerized eyeglasses that have a head-mounted display screen.

“At this early stage I would not say Google Glass is dead,” Kagan said. “Rather, think of this as a second chance — a way to reinvent the product. If it is successful next time, everything will be good. If, however, Google Glass cannot really break through, they will pull the plug.”

So what will the next version of Glass look and act like?

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said he expects the device will be better looking, cheaper and easier to use.

Moorhead expects the next version of Glass will not only be a lot smaller but will indicate when it’s taking photos or recording audio and video. He also expects the wearable will have a larger image area and a better augmented reality environment.

“Sadly, I think it should have been a big hit and may still be if Google can overcome the initial Google Glass experiences,” Enderle said. “Unfortunately, that is often hard to do. Folks don’t like to change opinions once set.”

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