Google Glass is back—just don't call it that anymore.
Two-and-half years after Google announced it was retiring the Google Glass Explorer Edition—the $1500 model designed for early adopters that failed to find a mainstream audience and instead spawned the term "Glassholes"—the computerized glasses have returned as the Glass Enterprise Edition, designed for workplaces. They're also now under the control of X, a sibling company of Google under its parent Alphabet (so no more "Google" Glass, as a Google spokesperson wrote me in an email).
The new version looks strikingly similar to its predecessor, but differs in key ways, as writer Steven Levy explains in a Wired feature, with reportedly better battery life, better Wi-Fi, a green light that shows when wearers are recording video (a persistent complaint was the original did not indicate this), the ability to easily switch to different glasses frames, and more.
Perhaps most importantly, it's not for sale to the public. Instead, if you want to buy the new Glass, you have to go through one of X's "network of partners"—12 companies around the world focused on various industries, from healthcare to food to manufacturing and logistics, which bundle some of their own software additions to the Glass Enterprise models and resell them at different (unlisted) price points. Anyone individually can theoretically inquire about ordering Glass from these companies, but they are mostly gearing toward other businesses.
X is touting the fact that already, some 50 companies are using Glass in an enterprise context, such as helping GE workers assemble airplane engines. But how do the original Glass wearers feel about these changes?
"I think that it's great for Google to be returning to the space, but those 'gap years' hurt the product badly," Det Ansinn, the president and founder of BrickSimple, an augmented reality startup in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, told me in an email.
"Those 'gap years' hurt the product badly."
Ansinn was one of the first in the world to get his hands on the original Google Glass, and his company designed eight applications for the gadget before Google sunsetted it in early 2015. Now, Ansinn says BrickSimple has switched its attention to designing software for Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset.
"Microsoft HoloLens is everything that we wanted to Glass to be the first time around. It's a very different market in 2017—AR is really here," Ansinn wrote.
Sample of a HoloLens app developed by BrickSimple. Image: Det Ansinn.
Ansinn told me that he would consider getting a Glass Enterprise Edition, but that the distribution model made him uneasy. "I would like to be able to order one through a web site, not do a quiet dance with a Google 'partner' to get one," Ansinn wrote. "There are other players in the wearable space—EPSON comes to mind—that can deliver their products at real volume. At the end of the day, that's most important to our customers. Google has a bad track record with hardware—feels like a hobby."
EPSON—yes, the printer company—began selling augmented reality glasses called Moverio before Google, back in 2011. It's one of a handful of companies (XOEye is another) that have since targeted AR devices for enterprise, the very same customers the new Glass is hoping to reach.
Other early adopters are more positive about the announcement that Glass is still being actively developed and released, at least in some form.
"I was thrilled to hear that the Enterprise Edition has finally been publicly acknowledged, and excited to see how people are using Glass at what it was designed to do best, as a tool to help them do their jobs better, focus on the task at hand, yet still have access to the resources they need," Allen Firstenberg, a "project guru" at Objective Consulting and early Glass adopter, told me in an email.
"I still use my Explorer Edition on a daily basis."
Firstenberg said he was so interested in the original consumer version of Glass that he helped others develop applications for it, and was eventually invited by Google to become one of its "developer experts"—people not employed by Google, but who are selected by the company for speaking engagements and "content creation" for its products and services. He said he receives no paycheck for this work.
Firstenberg told me he continues to wear his Explorer edition of Glass for several hours each day, to the point that he even forgets it's on. "I still use my Explorer Edition on a daily basis," Fristenberg wrote. "I got the notification of your message while I was out walking. I still send and receive messages with it. It still meets the needs I got it for—keeping me connected while immersing myself in my life, rather than immersing myself in my phone."
Finally, there are those who think the new Glass, and its enterprise focus, are necessary course corrections for a promising product led astray by overhyped marketing.
I sent an email to Robert Scoble, the tech luminary infamous for posting a photo of himself wearing Google Glass in the shower while screaming. He's now part of the Transformation Group, a consulting company "dedicated to helping big brands develop and implement Mixed Reality (MR) strategies."
Scoble's business partner Shel Israel responded to me, writing: "As his co-author and business partner, I think Google is doing now what it should have done back then. The biggest mistake was not Glass, which has inspired developers into the current AR [augmented reality] transformation, it was marketing a severely limited, developer's version to consumers with skydivers, subway rides and runway models. " Scoble followed up a little while later, writing: "I agree."
Maybe this time around, we're all a little less starry-eyed when it comes to Glass's prospects.
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