In the three years since Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) introduced Google Glass – the eyewear that brings all the features of a smartphone right up to your eye – the technology has been ridiculed and occasionally banned for privacy or safety concerns.
But it hasn’t been widely adopted. Even in Silicon Valley, ground zero for early adoption of tech gadgets, most people just don’t wear Google Glass. Think Segway rather than iPhone.
Given the pace at which other game-changing technologies like the iPhone or even Google’s very own search engine took off after they were introduced, it seems fair to ask, is Google Glass a dud?
Google recently said, “No.”
The search giant has temporarily pulled the product from the market, but has promised to work on an overhaul to develop a more consumer-friendly model. This news has given rise to both criticism that the company is clinging to an idea that’s already failed, and defenders who trump Glass’ multiple applications in everything from surgery to dance lessons.
So will Google ultimately prevail with its geeky, bordering on creepy (it films video on command) Glass? This is not the forum to say. It’s also impossible at this point to calculate the potential drain on Google’s earnings from this work in progress, or to assess the potential payoff, since the company doesn’t disclose much about how much it invests in different research initiatives.
We do know, however, that the investment has been substantial. Last year Google was the lead investor in a $542 million venture funding round of Magic Leap, a maker of lightweight wearable technology that could support Glass.
Investors who buy Google shares should invest based not on strong expectations for Google Glass, or on any single product for that matter. Rather, they should buy based on the company’s commitment to innovation and its willingness to fail as part of that process.
This notion that failure is a part of innovation is especially strong in the technology sector, and it has given companies like Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Google the freedom to tinker with products that have sometimes failed and sometimes succeeded spectacularly.
I could offer a prediction about whether Google Glass will prevail or flop, but the truth is all we know now is that Google is serious about revamping its original product to make a better version. We also know that it’s this commitment to innovation that has made Google such a success not just in search engines, but in Internet browsing, mobile and cloud storage.
We certainly can’t count Google out for building a Glass that works better and looks better. It wouldn’t be the first technology that was eventually embraced after initially being ignored.
But either way, I’m willing to bet on Google, which earned fourth quarter net income of $4.74 billion, as continuing to be a leader in search and technological innovation – whether or not Google Glass ever becomes a household name. Technology companies like Google, after all, don’t prevail on the basis of “killer apps,” but with hard work, experimentation and careful execution.
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