Reports of the death of Google Glass have been greatly exaggerated.
Google launched the Google Glass Enterprise Edition (or Google Glass EE) on Tuesday, officially rebooting the wearable as a workplace tool, with Backchannel’s Steven Levy first reporting the news.
Instead of logging everyday life events, answering random search queries, and generally creeping everybody out, Glass will now be a staple of factory floors and emergency rooms. Workers will wear the headset to get hands-free guidance on tasks while keeping their eyes on their work.
The small team that adapted Glass for the workplace is part of Alphabet (not Google), the report says. For the most part, Glass 2.0 works as the wearable always has—putting messages and information directly in the wearer’s field of view—with one important difference: At the end of the day, the users leave their headsets at work.
There are a few other differences, too. The pictures of Google Glass EE show it has a special kind of visor, one that protects the wearer’s eyes better than, say, the trendy frames that were an option on the consumer edition (though it’s unclear if the new visor can be made to prescription). Also, workers activate their company-specific software with the command, "OK, Glass, proceed." The frames are also foldable.
Since the beginning, Glass has had a role to play in the workplace, with early adopters like North Carolina firefighter Patrick Jackson creating Glass apps specifically for their lines of work. As the headset got more exposure and the tide of public perception started to turn for the worse, Google started playing up those enterprise applications. It was too late, though: Just as those workplace applications were gaining credibility, Glass had become a joke—a ridiculously geeky symbol of tech excess and a cautionary tale of how not to do consumer wearable technology.
But Glass was never officially dead. Google said all along that Glass had "graduated" from Alphabet’s moonshot factory, X, and a software update in June of this year proved someone was still keeping the lights on at the project.
Now Glass is getting a second life as what it probably should have been all along: a workplace tool. Boeing, GE, DHL, and Volkswagen have all been testing the device, and some are expanding their pilot programs into full-on adoption because they’re seeing big gains in productivity. With custom software designed by its partner Upskill, GE claims mechanics using Glass boosted their efficiency by 8-12 percent.
Will Glass find in the workplace the success that eluded it among consumers? It’s apparently off to a strong start, but it’s also facing a resurgent field of smart-glasses upstarts from the likes of Vuzix, ODG, and Epson—and those competitors promise true augmented reality with transparent displays that cover close to the entire field of view over both eyes (as opposed to Glass’s smaller display, which is only above the right eye).
Still, Glass has a lighter form factor and an ease of use that competitors lack. Plus it has the benefit of renewed focus—Google flirted with the consumer market, but found that it wasn’t ready for smart glasses. Google Glass 2.0 will know to keep its relationship with its users strictly professional.