Google Glass is back. Last week, X, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, announced a revival of its most embarrassing wearable mishap with a new focus on the enterprise market. In the past couple years, Google Glass Enterprise Edition (EE) has been silently tested in pilot programs with companies such as GE, DHL, Boeing, Volkswagen, and Sutter Health. After last week’s announcement of Glass EE, the wearable device will now be more widely available via a network of partners. As of now, there are no further plans to bring back the original consumer edition.
The original version of Google Glass, the Explorer Edition, was introduced in 2012. Google banked on the hardware device to be the next wave of mobile connectivity. Explorer was worn like regular glasses but also had a rectangular piece attached for the camera and projection device to produce the digital overlay. The intention of Explorer was to give the user quick, hands-free access to notifications, navigation, emails, and streaming content.
However, the excitement of Explorer’s initial release soon turned to disappointment as failure to deliver on its touted capabilities became apparent. The device that was intended for lightweight, all-day use was actually buggy, awkward to handle, and embarrassing to wear. Soon after, negative backlash rose as people in range of Glass Explorer users became concerned about their privacy since there was no visible indicator of when the camera was recording. The final nail in the coffin was when establishments started banning the device. In January 2015, Explorer officially went dark.
Still, even with the end of the consumer edition, some companies began to use Explorer for a much different purpose – as a powerful solution for the worker needing real-time digital assistance in the workplace. Companies found Google Glass could be the solution in circumstances where having a laptop or even a tablet is not an option; for instance, performing complex wiring in cramped quarters.
Without prompting or direction from Google, companies began to piece meal Explorer Edition units with custom software to tackle enterprise specific tasks – a trend that Google saw. “We talked to all of our explorers and we realized that the enterprise space had a lot of legs,” says Glass Enterprise Project Lead Jay Kothari.
In April 2014, Google, via X, started a “Glass at Work” program to focus on companies adopting Explorer. What they discovered from that program was mind blowing. Companies, such as Boeing, who were testing Explorer saw drastic increases in worker productivity and product quality. The following year, X developed the Enterprise Edition and launched dozens of pilot programs to measure necessity and guide development.
Today’s Enterprise Glass still has a camera, but a green LED light turns on when the camera is recording. The technology can now be retrofitted to existing prescription or safety glasses as the camera button is also a release switch to remove the electronics portion of the unit, called the Glass Pod. EE also aids the worker by offering OSHA certified safety shields or frames; a former division of 3M, Hoya Vision, has been manufacturing these frames specifically for EE. X has also increased the speed and reliability of its Wi-Fi, heightened adherence to security standards, lengthened the battery life, upgraded the camera (from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels), and implemented a faster processor.
Google is smart to capitalize on the trend of redirecting Glass towards the enterprise. What the company completely missed in 2013, it has nailed today. The success of Glass in the enterprise is due to answering all of the missing links that arose at Explorer’s first introduction. Enterprise has a specific function and role; it enhances the tools in place rather than acting as a time-killing distraction device. Readers considering an AR solution in the workplace should explore Enterprise Glass’ solution.
By: Tracy Woo