The Blurry Future Of Google Glass

Though Google's new technology was once hailed as revolutionary, product disappointment has set in and technology watchers are predicting that Google Glass is doomed.

Time to focus on something else?
Time to focus on something else?
Nicolas Rauline

PARIS — After months of being inseparable from his Google Glass, Google co-founder Sergey Brin appeared at an event a few weeks ago without the smart eyewear. That's all the tech world needed to conclude that Google had lost interest in its much-ballyhooed gadget.

The violent backlash toward Google Glass was as sudden as the enthusiasm it had sparked earlier. Rumors swirled that interest in the project was waning, that the number of apps developed for it was falling and that even Google had ceased to believe in what had been branded as a revolution in the making. One moment studies forecasted sales of 10 million Google Glasses in the next three years and a $10 billion market, and the next there were alarming reports that the glasses might be bad for the eyes.

Even those who embraced the technology early went on to reconsider their positions. Bloggers and tastemakers who used their personal networks and spent $1,500 to obtain the first models began to openly express their disappointment. Robert Scoble, an influential U.S. technology blogger who initially raved about the project, wrote a devastating post a year ago.

"Google Glass is doomed," he wrote. "And that's not necessarily because of the criticism that we regularly direct at it. Google can work on less intrusive, cheaper models. The product has potential. But we'll inevitably end up comparing Google Glass sales to that of the Apple Watch, and given the advancement of both products, Google will lose the PR battle."

There are an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Google Glasses in circulation in the world today.

The loss of interest seems to be confirmed by Google's announcement about closing its Basecamp stores, the physical retail stores where it sold Google Glass. In London, New York and San Francisco, early adopters could buy the technology and could get assistance from Google experts. The service was eventually considered to be of little use.

This is probably symbolic of a failure if we choose to see these stores as a place to display the product and demonstrate its technological prowess. But it could also reveal the beginning of a new strategy if we consider that those who have been using the glasses are professionals, people with influence or developers who have no need to be taught how it works.

"For me, these closures mean exactly the opposite of what people have been saying," says David-Henri Bismuth, consultant for the French digital agency Niji. "Google's message is, "The testing phase is over, and we're ready for commercial launch.""

Still fledgling

Google Glass is still no more than a prototype, even though it has evolved and has had both its software and hardware updated. "When it was released, we quickly saw astounding videos," says Thomas Gayet, head of the innovation lab at SQLI. "We all started to fantasize over the object and its possibilities. We created new ways of using it without even getting our hands on it. And when we finally did, some of us were disappointed."

Google co-founder Sergey Brin sporting Google Glass in 2013 — Photo: Steve Jurvetson

Google's idea was to use the enthusiasm Google Glass generated to let the community come up with new ways to use it and develop apps, like both Apple and Google have done for their smartphones and tablets.

But strategic questions arose. Is it reasonable to allow such a long testing phase (almost two years) without actually launching the product? Won't privacy concerns doom Google Glass? Didn't Google go too far in its buzz strategy at the risk of disappointing users?

"Before the glasses are even really available to the public, they're already banned from all sorts of places in the U.S. — in cars, in some public spaces, in theaters, for security, privacy or royalty reasons," Gayet says. "This doesn't really inspire confidence."

For developers, the object is a promising one, but it's far from being perfect and they're still looking for a "killer app" that would make it a must-have. Innovative ideas exist, but the fact that it's not available to the larger public means it can't be tested on a full scale.

Because companies have easier access to Google Glass with special offers, software developers have chosen to focus on business-to-business apps. That's how France's state-owned railway company SNCF has created an app that enables inspectors to scan tickets with the glasses, displaying on the screen the journey's details and the documentation the people might need to show. But because of the price tag and the public's fears regarding their privacy, it was never tested live. Still, the company is thinking of other ways to use the technology — for example, to better report malfunctions in carriages or on the railways.

Other industries are also working on all sorts of projects, from banks to doctors. Besides, business-to-business apps fit nicely into Google's global strategy to appeal to companies so as to find growth engines. The Mountain View giant is currently pushing its solutions to small- and medium-sized businesses, and it even goes door-to-door in some cities to raise awareness about the digital revolution.

In France, media distribution company Presstalis invited start-ups and developers to imagine the future of media and how news desks could use new interfaces, from glasses to smart watches. Many of them believe that it would be no big deal if Google Glass never made it to the next stage.

"We have integrated our developments into a more global devices strategy," explains developer Denis Mancosu. "It doesn't matter whether the end object is a watch or glasses or anything else. This experience will have been useful, and the same logic can be applied on other platforms. The most important is to be ready when the market takes off."

With or without Google Glass.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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