Google Glass Is Gone—Here's Why VR Needs to Learn From That Failure

Building virtual reality headsets comes with a host of potential pitfalls

  • Google is discontinuing its smart glasses project. 
  • Observers say the move by Google shows that future headsets need to be more comfortable and respect privacy. 
  • Augmented reality, driven by AI, could be the next step in smart glasses.
England captain Alastair Cook wears pair of Google Glass glasses during a charity event at R. Premadasa Stadium.

Gareth Copley / Getty Images

Google is pulling the plug on its Glass project, and experts say the move highlights the challenges of building successful hardware for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

Google has halted sales of its Glass Enterprise smart glasses. The company will also stop supporting its software in September. Google Glass was criticized for its high price, limited functionality, and lack of aesthetic appeal. While Glass was intended as a simple display rather than for virtual or augmented reality, the lessons learned from Glass could affect Apple's rumored upcoming augmented reality headset

"Glass was seen as a device for early adopters and tech enthusiasts rather than the general public," Natalie Bidnick Andreas, a digital strategist who teaches communications at St. Edward's University, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Moving forward, AR and VR developers must prioritize creating devices that are affordable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing to the user. The end goal should be to create devices that seamlessly integrate with daily life, rather than ones that require significant adjustments and changes."

Get Smart

Google Glass is a wearable technology device developed by Google that resembles a pair of glasses but includes a small computer display mounted on the frame. The device can display information in a hands-free format, allowing the user to interact with the internet and other digital content in a way that is more natural and intuitive. 

The smart glasses can be controlled using voice commands, touch gestures, or a companion app on a smartphone. Some of the features of Google Glass include taking pictures and videos, sending and receiving messages, making phone calls, and getting directions. While the original product was discontinued in 2015, Google Glass continues to be used in various industries, such as healthcare and manufacturing, for its hands-free capabilities. 

"The end of Google Glass was a significant moment for the VR/AR industry," Andreas said. "While Google Glass was not a VR/AR device per se, it was one of the first mainstream products to incorporate AR technology. Its failure highlighted the challenges of creating AR devices that are user-friendly, fashionable, and practical for everyday use. However, the end of Google Glass did not spell doom for the VR/AR industry. In fact, it may have been a necessary step in the evolution of AR technology, as it allowed developers to learn from the mistakes and limitations of the product."

The failure of Google Glass to catch on highlights the importance of understanding user needs and preferences, Anthony Clemons, who teaches in the Instructional Technology program at Northern Illinois University, told Lifewire via email. He said that future VR and AR devices must be designed with user comfort and practicality in mind. 

"Privacy concerns must be addressed to gain public trust," he added. "Developers should focus on creating meaningful applications for VR/AR technology rather than creating a product that feels gimmicky. For users, these lessons will translate into more refined and user-friendly devices that offer real value and benefits."

Someone wearing smart glasses in an urban park.

Tim Robberts / Getty Images

The Future of Smart Glasses

While the end of Google Glass shows the challenges in building headsets that users want to wear, observers say it's hardly the end of the road for augmented reality as an interactive experience that combines the real world and computer-generated content. Clemons said that AR and VR have the potential to succeed long term due to their ability to create immersive experiences that enhance our everyday lives. 

"From gaming and entertainment to education and professional training, VR and AR offer a unique way of interacting with digital content," he added. "As the technology improves and becomes more affordable, we can expect to see VR/AR devices becoming more accessible and integrated into various aspects of our lives, especially in higher education and organizational training environments."

Nils Pihl, the CEO of the augmented reality company Auki Labs, told Lifewire via email that Google Glass showed that "having private information displayed right in your field of view, instead of shared information manifested in space, is, ultimately, of very limited value." On the other hand, he said, the promise of AR is "essentially the next pinnacle of human communication, especially when combined with the powerful new generative AI models that allow us to create compelling versions of our vision faster than ever."

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