Google has announced a new version of its business-focused Glass augmented reality headset, which it’s now designating an official Google product instead of an experiment. The Glass Enterprise Edition 2 costs $999, although, like its predecessor, it’s not being sold directly to consumers. It’s got a new processor, an improved camera, a USB-C port for faster charging, and a variety of other updates.
Google still isn’t positioning Glass as a mainstream product. It is still aimed at businesses. But it seems to be expecting greater sales of the Glass Enterprise Edition 2. The device has been moved out of Google parent company Alphabet’s X “moonshot factory” and into the Google family of products, letting Google “meet the demands of the growing market for wearables in the workplace,” according to a blog post.
The basic Glass design hasn’t changed much. It’s still a relatively simple heads-up display, not a Microsoft HoloLens-style mixed reality headset. But it’s gotten a processing boost with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR1 chip, which is designed for augmented and virtual reality. Google says that with the XR1’s power, the new Glass headset can incorporate “computer vision and advanced machine learning capabilities.” Google has already released a consumer-focused computer vision tool called Lens, which offers features like sign translation and restaurant recommendations.
Google is also adding new safety frames to Glass in partnership with Smith Optics, plus a bigger battery and other upgraded components. Glass also now runs on Android, with support for Android Enterprise Mobile Device Management. The Glass Enterprise Edition 2’s existence leaked months ago, complete with news that it would likely be moving to Android. But we haven’t gotten a full picture of Google’s plans for it until now.
Google Glass was originally billed as a mass-market augmented reality headset, but after complaints about privacy and functionality, Google reinvented it as a tool for surgeons, factory workers, and other professionals. Google boasts that businesses have reported “faster production times, improved quality, and reduced costs” by using Glass for hands-free computing or troubleshooting. The original “Explorer Edition” cost $1,500, so while the Enterprise Edition 2’s $999 cost isn’t cheap, it’s still significantly more accessible.
Several other companies are also working on business-focused augmented reality glasses, including Microsoft, Vuzix, and Epson. Meanwhile, consumer-focused AR hasn’t gotten very far, despite the existence of smart glasses like the North Focals. Moving Glass out of the X program seems like a vote of confidence from Google — but for now, there’s no sign that it’s coming to a broader audience.
But Google Glass still isn’t Augmented Reality
In the years since Google axed the Glass Explorer Edition, we’ve seen augmented reality and mixed reality pick up pace. Neither has quite made it into the mass market, at least not in a set of smart glasses. However we do know more about what that AR experience would feel like.
Products like Microsoft HoloLens have begun pushing into enterprise, offering multi-location teams a way to collaborate on virtual objects and projects, as well as into medical settings and retail environments. Magic Leap has gone from being a mysterious, cash-gobbling startup to having a product you can actually buy.
At the same time, consumer wearables have changed immeasurably. The smartwatch category has evolved from notifications and more on your wrist to a fitness and lifestyle accessory. Android Wear has lost much of its luster, hamstrung by manufacturers clinging to old chipsets and Google’s own apathetic approach to software and feature updates. The Apple Watch has cemented its place as the heavyweight in the segment.
All of the hardware upgrades we wanted
Glass Enterprise Edition 2 checks off plenty of the boxes for what many hoped Glass would evolve into. Some of the changes are obvious ones. A processor, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR1, which wasn’t already out of date before it first launched; a bigger battery and a form-factor more suited to prescription eyewear; maybe most important, a higher resolution camera and an indicator LED for when that camera is actually active.
The key way you interact with Glass, though, hasn’t changed. Google is still using an optical display module, and still with the same 640 x 360 resolution. It’s suspended just above your right eye: you glance up and slightly across in order to look through it.
Glass Enterprise Edition 2’s eyepiece is transparent still: you can see the world through it. However it’s still not capable of “real” augmented reality.
AR is about adding digital information to the real world. That might be overlaying game graphics atop physical objects like a table, or inserting navigation instructions into your view of the road ahead. It could be a HoloLens-like shared workspace, with a virtual car engine or a set of holographic lungs that a group of people could all collectively interact with.
Glass still doesn’t do any of that. It’s not about blending real and digital into one perspective, and it never has been. The AR label attached to it is a misnomer; all that has ever been intended is a hands-free way of accessing the power of your connected smartphone and cloud-based data.
Glass is still a sideshow
Google isn’t selling Glass 2 to consumers. While it may have a $999 price tag attached, the company is only interested in enterprise buyers at the moment. Its applications, too, are focused on work, rather than the consumer slant that got us so excited about the original wearable.
Augmented reality it is not. Neither is it an indicator of any sort as to where Google sees AR progressing. Glass is, and always has been, a phone on your face, and Google’s vision of consumer wearable tech, mixed reality, and mass-market applications for the form-factor beyond the smartphone remains cloudy.