Is Google Glass dead?
That's the question bouncing around online after a report from Reuters that out of 16 Glass app developers contacted, nine had stopped work on their projects or abandoned them completely.
It didn't help that Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who is known for wearing Google Glass to major events and even the beach, showed up at a recent red carpet event without his computerized eyeglasses. Bad timing there.
And so a meme was born: Google's throwing in the towel on its wearable computer, which couldn't possibly make it out of the prototype stage.
For the more than 10,000 people who shelled out $1,500 to become early testers? Money down the drain.
Not so fast. It's too early to expect Google to declare defeat. The company may need more time to work out some kinks or Glass may be morphing into something that's quite a bit different. But whatever happens, Google is unlikely to give up on augmented reality.
"We're as committed to Glass as we have ever been," Anna Richardson White, a Google spokeswoman told Computerworld, adding that the company's not letting off the gas of developing Glass. "We're very happy with it."
White noted that the company just today announced that the 100th app is being added to the Glass ecosystem.
"Shout-out to all the amazing developers building for Glass: from running from zombies to finding your car, we've officially climbed into the triple digits, with 100 approved Glassware and counting," the Google Glass team wrote in a blog post Monday.
White did not have information on how many developers who already have built for Glass are still actively developing or updating their apps. But "this 100th app shows momentum and we've very excited about it," she said.
White declined to say when Glass will be officially released, though company PR people and executives stopped referring to a 2014 release date this summer, saying only that it would be released when it's ready.
It's not the first time Google has pushed back a release date. The company had initially said it would come out of beta and be officially released in 2013. BY late summer of that year, Google seamlessly began referring to a 2014 release date.
The lack of a firm release date is part of the problem.
After creating so much hype around the device -- remember the Glass-wearing skydivers dropping out of a plane at a 2012 Google I/O developers convention? -- Google company has been fairly quiet about Glass in recent months. Executives didn't even mention the project at this past summer's I/O convention.
"The level of enthusiasm for a new technology ebbs and flows over time," said Scott Strawn, an analyst with IDC. "There's almost always an example of a company that tries [something] and it fails at first and then they go back and retool or another company comes along and solves the problem. Google will not give up on the concept of augmented reality. It may not be happening today, but these initial efforts are important in getting software developers to get thinking about these concepts."
Strawn pointed out that just last month, Google invested heavily in Magic Leap Inc., a company focused on augmented reality.
Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner Inc., sees a lot of significance in that investment. "Something else is on the horizon and it's probably related to their recent investment," he said. "I'm positive that Google and their partners are working on something new. Their investment in Magic Leap is really interesting.
"We have yet to find out the details about it, but it's bound to push well beyond what Glass offers today," Blau said.
According to Strawn, Google has a lot of obstacles to overcome to get Glass, or another augmented reality product, to market.
If the company waits another four years, it could have a processor small enough for the wearable that's four times more powerful than the one the prototype uses today. By then, the device could have better battery life and designers who've figured out how to make the computerized eyeglasses less, well, dorky.
"We're just not there yet," said Strawn. "I'm not saying [Glass] is dead by any stretch, but it does seem to be facing some real challenges. I wouldn't say they're calling it quits on the concept, but this form may have more challenges than can be addressed in the near term."
Uncertainty about what Google is doing comes down to a lack of communication, which could be frustrating people who were once excited about the project, said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy.
"There is no doubt in my mind that both users and developers have lost interest in Google Glass," he added. "By not talking about it, they signal to both users and developers that they, themselves, aren't supportive of it, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anyone who has built ecosystems knows that developers need a constant stream communication whether it be good, bad, or ugly.
"Google needs to address this quickly or it will die and ugly death."