Eyes wide open: Why developers shouldn't give up on Google Glass just yet

Shane Schick

If I ever thought there was a possibility that Google Glass would fail before it even had a chance to succeed, it was when I started hearing people wearing them described with a term that sounds a lot like a swear word.

This is a professional publication, so I won't print the word here, but suffice it to say it's synonymous with "pompous jerk." That's not a great badge to have applied to your product, no matter what it is. Perhaps because it's shiny, metallic and presumably expensive, or because it could be viewed as a sign of elitist sophistication, Google Glass has been polarizing from the very start. Ultimately, it may be up to app developers to determine if the whole thing is finished.

A story on Reuters that showed nine of out 16 developers have stopped working on apps for Google Glass has been held up as proof that the wearable device doesn't have a promising future. TechCrunch declared it "the Segway of our era." With the announcement of the forthcoming Apple Watch in 2015 and ongoing smart watches from Samsung and others, it could be understandable if developers' attention is more focused on our wrists than our eyes. 

I'm not so sure, though. Wearables are controversial in part because they suggest a closer relationship to personal technology at a time when nearly every week there's a story about consumers spending too much "screen time."  At the same time, it's also historically been difficult for people to imagine how quickly new habits can form. "Why would you need to have an e-mail pager on your belt?" someone asked when I was testing out the first BlackBerry in 1999. "Who's going to want to type on a phone?" another wondered aloud when smartphones began to offer the then-revolutionary texting features. I hear the same doubts about smart watches today. The doubts about Google Glass are just a lot louder this month. 

All it really takes is one great app, or one great use case, for the tides to shift. After all, it was apps that made smartphones successful, not the ability to make calls on the go. Though enterprise or industrial apps may be the first places Google Glass finds real traction, I'm intrigued to see who in the consumer market tries it out first. It may not be the young, hip, male demographic everyone expects. It may not be about playing games, checking e-mail or the things we do on smartphones and tablets today. 

As some firms argued when I wrote my recent feature on smart eyewear, focusing on a product like Google Glass may be easier in terms of app discovery and engagement. Perhaps the device will never achieve the sales volume that makes it a developer's top priority, but those users could become the place they find their best users. Either way, writing off Google Glass now? Talk about short-sighted.--Shane