Google Glass, as we know it, is toast. The Explorer program is closed and you can now no longer buy a pair from the shops. The experiment has failed and has been sent on to another department to see what can be salvaged.
Fortunately, for augmented reality and smartglasses fans, that’s not as hopeless as it seems. The program will now report to Tony Fadell, the man behind the hugely successful Nest thermostat and one of the brains that stormed the original iPod. Tony, if you’re reading, here’s what you need to do to fix it and make Google Glass 2 the success it deserves to be.
Make it less obvious
Of all the problems with the first Google Glass, this one is the biggest. It just looks weird or, more to the point, too prominent. It’s the other people knowing that you’re wearing Glass that’s largely responsible for the social stigma around it.
Lots of people can get over the fact that it makes them look a bit funny but add in paranoid thoughts over dirty, disparaging glances thrown your way and it’s all a bit unbearable. So, how's Google to overcome these aesthetic issues?
Lose the prism
This one’s not easy to solve. The Google Glass prism - the perspex lump on the right eye - is the main culprit for the all-too-obvious smartglasses look. It’s actually quite a clever system that projects the images that you see directly onto the wearer’s retina. It consists of a laser diode to beam out the pictures and a couple or mirrors to focus it to the correct distance. So, it’s bulky for a reason.
Fortunately, Toshiba came up with a way around this when it dreamed up its Toshiba Glass. Instead of a dedicated prism, the inside of the lenses is actually constructed of hundreds of tiny vertical mini-prisms to do the same job. They reflect and focus the light back onto the retina that’s thrown out from tiny projectors hidden on the inside of the arms. Hey presto, no one else could possibly know that you’re wearing smartglasses at all.
Not only does this mean losing the Borg look but, in theory, you can get more effective screen real estate too rather than that prism-sized poxy square that the original Google Glass could manage.
Thin out the chips
When it comes to the bulk, that prism and projector combo is only half the battle. The whole of the right arm is stuffed with chips and circuits when it needs to look as thin as a normal pair of glasses if Google Glass 2.0 is going to work.
Take a look at the teardown and you’ll see that it’s the flash memory storage unit and the main processor chip that make the housing as large as it has to be. Everything else could be crammed into a narrower space.
The good news is that the Intel Curie chip is here to save the day. Announced at CES 2015, it’s a low power system packing all the processing power, wireless technologies and 6-axis sensors into something the size of a button. Not only would it mean that Glass could be less obvious but it could most likely increase its much-maligned battery life too.
As for the storage, well, nearly a year ago, SanDisk came out with the world’s smallest 16GB NAND unit. Built from just a 19nm process, it was about the size of the tip of your finger. Twelve months on and we’re willing to bet these things are even smaller still.
Doubtless, there are plenty of other circuitry issues but the point we’re illustrating here is that the technology seems to be out there and, if not, where there’s enough will, there certainly seems to be plenty of ways.
Manufactured in 1956 and insanely popular ever since, we have a bit of a theory about Ray-Ban Wayfarers - everyone looks good in them.
Unfortunately, not everyone looked good in the old Google Glass frames. In fact, most people didn’t. The arms of them are also just about thick enough to hide a multitude of circuitry sins. So, build Google Glass 2.0 with the help of Ray-Ban and people might just wear them.
If this idea seems familiar, it’s because there's a little bit of history: Luxottica signed a deal with Google to make Ray-Ban branded Google Glass back in April 2014 – an agreement that yielded precisely zero hardware.
Clip on / clip off
Sony has come up with a reasonable, if slightly low rent, solution to making smartglasses cooler, with its SmartEyeglass Attach system, officially revealed at CES 2015.
The deal is that this AR device can clip on and off to your own glasses frames as you need. So, if you don’t want to walk around like a glasshole all the time, then that’s sorted. Of course, the trouble is that you’ll still look like a glasshole when you put them on and we rather get the feeling that SmartEyeglass Attach will either get left in your pocket or on your bedside table at home.
Still, food for thought.
Make it useful
When it really boiled down to it, Google Glass was mostly used for two things - as a camera that you didn’t need to reach into your pocket for, and for heads-up mapping. That’s ok, but really not enough for the £1,000 outlay and the clunky aesthetics, especially given that the camera on your phone is far better.
So, if Google really wants Glass 2 to be a success, it’s going to need to make it much more useful.
Glass is quite limited on the sensor front. It’s very good at knowing where it is. It’s loaded up with gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers and such but, while it has a grip of its place in the world, it doesn’t know an awful lot about the person wearing it, and that cuts out a whole load of context.
Strapped to your head, there’s plenty it could be picking up, the most obvious of which would be vitals like your heat rate. It'd be easy enough to measure behind your ear, perhaps at your temples or even possibly across the bridge of your nose.
Another good option would be using the Electro Oculography we saw demoed in the Jins Meme smartglasses at CES. Sensors around the frames look for changes in your eye, as well as eye movements, and they can pick out signs of fitness and health as well as check to see that you’re not falling asleep at the wheel.
And just as with the OKU skin coach, it could even monitor the state of your epidermis to keep metrics on your dietary intake too.
Throw in more sophisticated sensors and you can start to add more sophisticated uses too.
Better launch apps
Google’s approach to Glass app was very much ‘build it, and they will come’. The trouble was that they didn’t. Getting devices into the hands of developers to see what they come up with is a decent idea but it doesn't have much longevity. These people have got money to earn and there’s only so much time that they’re going to devote to writing speculative applications for a platform with hardly any users before they move on to something with more of a future to it.
On the other hand, Google has lots of money. So, how about ploughing a load of that into making sure that the launch apps are there in the first place. Sure, it’s a lot harder than getting other people to do the work for you but that’s one of the pillars upon which Apple has built its success. When Apple launches a product, it works.
The other thing that Apple does is get some seriously solid launch partners to stand up on stage at every product release to show off compelling applications and uses. Whether that’s Nike showing you how the iPod’s going to get you fit, or Infinity Blade demoing how great the iPad is as a gaming device, there’s always good reasons to get excited without the audience having to stretch their imaginations too far.
So, it might take quite some head scratching, a fair bit of cash and a lot of work with other companies to get it right, but it will be worth it in the long run. Use TomTom, Garmin, Jawbone or Fitbit to turn Glass into something for exercise. After all, why look at your wrist for live info while jogging or cycling when you can have your pace, cadence and distance on-screen at all times?
Try an Instagram or Snapseed tie-in if you really want that camera experience to shine and, probably most important of all, get some quality partners to bring live AR information to Glass 2 owner’s eyes. Whether that’s Lonely Planet, Wikipedia or even someone like BBC or CNN for news that’s relevant to where you are and what you can see around you; Google needs to work out these possibilities for itself and use them to sell the idea of Glass to the world.
Make it free (or cheap, at least)
That’s right. You heard. If Google wants Glass 2.0 to be a success, then they should be given away for free. Come on, that’s not as silly as you think. Google’s best products are free and it’s not as if they cost nothing to design, implement and maintain. Gmail and search are free. They're excellent and so almost everybody uses them. Google then makes money on them with advertising. So, why not use the same model for AR glasses?
Obviously, the thought of getting display ads right to your eyes is not the nicest, but do bear in mind that Google’s something of an expert at striking the balance so that those commercials aren’t so intrusive that they ruin the experience. What’s more, doubtless someone will come up with ad-blocker software anyway.
The subtle approach to all of this is not making them completely free but at least heavily subsidising them rather like Tesco and Amazon do with the Hudl and the Kindle series. Make these things cheap enough to get in people’s hands and then sell them content through them. Whether that be apps, films, movies or information, is up to Google.
Most importantly, a low price barrier means that enough people will end up wearing them to remove any social and cultural stigmas around Google Glass - something that damaged it very badly the first time around. They won’t be elitist, they won’t be geeky and, you never know, they might even catch on.
That’s what we think, but what do you think Google has to do to make the next iteration of Glass a success story? Will the world ever be ready to wear computers on their faces? Let us know using the comments beloiw.
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