It looks like Google Glasses is a short-sighted business promo

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS NEWS - Alexei Oreskovic, Sarah McBride and Malathi Nayak San Francisco

AFTER two years of pop­ping up at high­pro­file events sport­ing Google Glass, the gad­get that trans­forms eyeglasses into spy-movie wor­thy tech­nol­ogy, Google co-founder Sergey Brin saun­tered bare-faced into a Sil­i­con Val­ley red-car­pet event yes­ter­day.

He’d left his pair in the car, Brin told a re­porter. The Googler, who heads up the topse­cret lab which de­vel­oped Glass, has hardly given up on the prod­uct – he re­cently wore his pair to the beach.

But Brin’s tim­ing is not pro­pi­tious, com­ing as many de­vel­op­ers and early Glass users are los­ing in­ter­est in the much-hyped, $1 500 (R17 000) test ver­sion of the prod­uct: a cam­era, pro­ces­sor and stamp-sized com­puter screen mounted to the edge of eye­glass frames. Google it­self has pushed back the Glass roll­out to the mass mar­ket.

While Glass may find some spe­cialised, even lu­cra­tive, uses in the work­place, its prospects of be­com­ing a con­sumer hit in the near fu­ture are slim, many de­vel­op­ers say.

Of 16 Glass app mak­ers con­tacted by Reuters, nine said that they had stopped work on their projects or aban­doned them, mostly be­cause of the lack of cus­tomers or lim­i­ta­tions of the de­vice. Three more have switched to de­vel­op­ing for business, leav­ing be­hind con­sumer projects.

Plenty of larger de­vel­op­ers re­main with Glass. The nearly 100 apps on the of­fi­cial web site in­clude Face­book and OpenTable, although one ma­jor player re­cently de­fected: Twit­ter.

“If there was 200 mil­lion Google Glasses sold, it would be a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. There’s no mar­ket at this point,” said Tom Fren­cel, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Lit­tle Guy Games, which put de­vel­op­ment of a Glass game on hold this year and is look­ing at other plat­forms, in­clud­ing Face­book In­cowned vir­tual-re­al­ity gog­gles, Ocu­lus Rift.

Sev­eral key Google em­ploy­ees in­stru­men­tal to de­vel­op­ing Glass have left the company in the last six months, in­clud­ing lead de­vel­oper Babak Parviz; elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing chief Adrian Wong; and Os­sama Alami, di­rec­tor of de­vel­oper re­la­tions.

And a Glass fund­ing con­sor­tium cre­ated by Google Ven­tures and two of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s big­gest ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, Kleiner Perkins

Some peo­ple viewed the glasses as pri­vacy in­tru­sions, call­ing its wear­ers ‘Glass­holes’ not hip ‘Ex­plor­ers’.

Cau­field & By­ers and An­dreessen Horowitz, qui­etly deleted its web­site, rout­ing users to the main Glass site.

Google in­sists it is com­mit­ted to Glass, with hun­dreds of en­gi­neers and ex­ec­u­tives work­ing on it, as well as new fash­ion­ista boss Ivy Ross, a for­mer Calvin Klein ex­ec­u­tive. Tens of thou­sands use Glass in the pi­lot con­sumer pro­gram.

“We are com­pletely en­er­gised and as en­er­gised as ever about the op­por­tu­nity that wear­ables and Glass in par­tic­u­lar rep­re­sent,” said Glass head of business op­er­a­tions Chris O’Neill.

Glass was the first project to emerge from Google’s X di­vi­sion, the se­cre­tive group tasked with de­vel­op­ing “moon­shot” prod­ucts such as self-driv­ing cars. Glass and wear­able de­vices over­all amount to a new tech­nol­ogy, as smart­phones once were, that will likely take time to evolve into a prod­uct that clicks with con­sumers.

“We are as com­mit­ted as ever to a con­sumer launch. That is go­ing to take time and we are not go­ing to launch this prod­uct un­til it’s ab­so­lutely ready,” O’Neill said.

Brin had pre­dicted a launch this year, but 2015 was now the most likely date, a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said.

After an ini­tial burst of en­thu­si­asm, signs that con­sumers are giv­ing up on Glass have been build­ing.

Google dubbed the first set of sev­eral thou­sand Glass users as “Ex­plor­ers”. But as the Ex­plor­ers hit the streets, they drew stares and jokes. Some peo­ple viewed the de­vice, ca­pa­ble of sur­rep­ti­tious video record­ing, as an ob­nox­ious pri­vacy in­tru­sion, de­rid­ing the once-proud Ex­plor­ers as “Glass­holes”.

“It looks su­per-nerdy,” said Sheve­tank Shah, a Wash­ing­ton, DC-based, con­sul­tant, whose Google Glass now gath­ers dust in a drawer. “I’m a card car­ry­ing nerd, but this was one card too many.”

Glass now sells on eBay for as lit­tle as half its listed price.

Some de­vel­op­ers re­cently have felt un­sup­ported by in- vestors and Google it­self.

“It’s not a big enough plat­form to play on se­ri­ously,” said Matthew Mi­lan, founder of a soft­ware firm. – Reuters

PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Sergey Brin, Google Glasses’s co-founder. Brin had pre­dicted a launch this year but now 2015 is the most likely date. Glass prospects of be­com­ing a con­sumer hit in the near fu­ture are slim, many de­vel­op­ers say.

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