How Google Saved Google Glass

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Ever wonder why a doctor wears a white lab coat? Or a surgeon wears scrubs? Take a walk around any medical or laboratory environment and you’ll see a lot of people wearing silly-looking outfits like these. But it’s not just the medical environment. Utility workers and machinists wear oversized protective goggles. Environmental crews put on hazmat suits. Construction workers clomp around in industrial boots and safety jackets. Depending on the occupation, it’s common for workers to wear hairnets, gloves, bright yellow jackets or even oxygen masks. UPS drivers wear uniforms. Airplane captains wear hats. Think about it. Don’t they all look kind of silly? But it’s accepted – these uniforms all have their purpose, be it safety, cleanliness or for just plain identification. It’s work. It’s OK.

Which brings me to Google Glass.

Last year, I wrote about how Google screwed up the marketing of its Google Glass product. The launch was murky. The price was high. The look of the product was terrible.  People were confused by what it did. And so the company ultimately retreated, announcing just two weeks ago that the product would not be offered to consumers and that the group responsible for Google Glass would be re-organized with a new leader on top. Some in the media say it failed because it “just wasn’t cool.” Others believe it was an “accident waiting to happen.” Supporters say it “deserves a second life.”

And everyone seems to be missing the main point: Google Glass has been saved. It’s not dead. It’s just been living in the wrong place. According to this report, the Glass team will still be led by Ivy Ross, but will report to Nest CEO Tony Fadell and the current Google Glass Explorer Edition hardware will only be available to business customers.

“The opportunity is not with consumers right now,” says Kevin Spain, a general partner at Emergence Capital Partners, a San Mateo, California venture capital firm. “It’s with the enterprise market.” Spain knows this because he invests in this.

Take Augmedix, one of Emergence Partners’ investments, which is one of many companies building products around the “SmartGlass” platform. Augmedix has developed a Google Glass application for doctors. By wearing Glass when visiting with patients, Augmedix enables them to record everything they’re doing and then offers the ability to transcribe that data into electronic health records, which as we know is required for doctors to get medical reimbursements. “It’s an enormous pain point for the medical industry right now and this technology is solving that problem using Google Glass,” said Spain. Another company called CrowdOptic uses Google Glass technology to help paramedics provide live streams of information back to doctors from the field while their hands are free to work on patients. It seems kind of easier to explain why a doctor or paramedic would wear Google Glass just like a lab coat or scrubs, doesn’t it?

Outside of the medical industry, Google Glass applications in the enterprise are growing. For example, Virginia-based APX Labs has recently partnered with Boeing to help their employees use smart glasses equipped with APX Labs’ Skylight platform for hands-free, real-time access to engineering specifications and complex assembly instructions. The company is focused on building applications where employees can use Google Glass on the assembly line, installation jobs in the field, logistics, operations and compliance. And products from Wearable Intelligence, a San Francisco company, use Google Glass to enable their customers’ employees, from medical technicians and oil field workers to warehouse managers to also do their jobs hands-free, like working their way through medical procedures, getting and providing remote assistance and conducting training and continuous improvement exercises.

What do these companies have in common? Take a look at their websites. Each one shows workers proudly wearing goofy-looking Google Glass-type products. But no one’s laughing. Information is being collected and streamed. The workers are doing their job, hands-free and more effectively. It’s just work. Google Glass was wrongly trying to be cool with consumers while meanwhile it’s been growing in the enterprise…where cool doesn’t matter. There’s no stigma to wearing Google Glass in the workplace. No patient would fault their doctor from wearing an Augmedix product to record their examination so that they can have the best records available – and no doctor would mind wearing the product (along with their lab coat) knowing that it’s solving an enormous administrative task. And no employee would mind strapping on a pair of Google Glass any more than they mind strapping on protective gear or work clothes particularly if the product is helping them do their job more efficiently and safely.

Sure, Google made a bunch of embarrassing, public mis-steps in trying to market Glass to the consumer market. But the company developed a brilliant, useful platform for the enterprise. And that seems to now be the focus. By suspending sales to consumers Google didn’t kill Google Glass. It saved it.

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