Wearable technology is an industry that’s still in its infancy, and some of the earliest projects in the area didn’t go exactly as planned. The Explorer Edition of Google Glass, for instance, was a major flop, at least in part because Google rolled it out like a beta release of a product that’s almost ready to go to market. Instead, it was more like a pre-release version, one that Google made the unusual decision to share in order to gather feedback. (Most of which, it turns out, ended up being negative.)
But despite that failure, Google is planning to follow up the Explorer Edition with new prototypes. According to a report for The Information by Jessica E. Lessin, Google’s renewed Google Glass project, now called Project Aura, is working on a wearable with a screen and at least one without a screen. (Project Aura was established in June as a successor to the Glass division.)
As The Cheat Sheet reported earlier this year, Google made it clear that it wasn’t giving up on Google Glass, even though the Explorer program was shut down and widely regarded as a failure. At the time, executive chairman Eric Schmidt had said that the wearable, like Google’s self-driving car, is a long-term project, and writing Glass off as a failure would be “like saying the self-driving car is a disappointment because it’s not driving me around now.” He added, “These things take time.”
Google Glass was criticized as a device that could easily invade the privacy of people around the wearer, and as much because of that concern as on account of Google’s failure to demonstrate why you should or would want to wear a computer on your face, the staff behind the project went back to the drawing board.
Sources tell The Information that Google has been working on three versions of the head-mounted device, though they note that it’s possible that those three models have been consolidated into two. A version that’s targeted at enterprise customers reportedly has a screen, like the original version of Google Glass. But the other model or models, reportedly intended for “sport” users, doesn’t have a screen and instead relies on audio. These models use bone conduction technology, like the original Google Glass. “In other words,” Lessin explains, “headphones worn on your face.”
As Nick Statt reports for The Verge, it’s unclear how a wearable without a screen would be different from headphones or a Bluetooth earpiece, but it’s true that an audio-only device could still achieve Glass’s original goal of enabling hands-free computing. Particularly as users become accustomed to giving spoken commands to increasingly sophisticated software like Google Now, Siri, and Cortana, the boundaries of what’s possible via voice control and other audio interfaces is expanding.
Tony Fadell, who is overseeing the strategy for Project Aura and has been since Google moved the program out of the Google X research lab into its own division at the company in January, experimented with head-mounted designs at Apple many years ago. That’s likely one reason why he’s overseeing the project. The Information has learned that the team working on the project includes audio experts hired from Amazon, as Statt reports that Google went on a hiring spree last August when Amazon laid off numerous engineers from its Lab126 hardware division.
The staff is aiming for a release next year. While the original Google Glass, as a product, is dead, it seems that the original concept isn’t, since Google still seems to be considering head-mounted devices with screens. It’s hard to imagine exactly what form Google’s new wearables will take — especially when you try to imagine Google Glass without a screen — so we’ll just have to see what Project Aura develops as it moves forward with the lessons learned from the early experiments with Google Glass.