Benner on Tech: Google Glass, We Hardly Knew You

Katie Benner is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about technology, innovation, and the cult and culture of Silicon Valley. She lives in San Francisco.
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People are Talking About…

Google Glass is dead. Long live Google Glass.

The company finally announced that it was shutting down the Google Glass Explorer program, which lots of people (including Alexei Oreskovic, Sarah McBride and Malathi Nayak at Reuters) sensed was doomed. Forget how ugly the thing was. Society just wasn’t ready for a face camera that could secretly record and photograph other people. (And I hope we never get there.) Glass could have been better looking. It could have included a light to indicate that the camera was on. It could have been less expensive.

But Glass wasn’t any of that, and now it’s gone. After months of promising some sort of full consumer launch, the company realized that it had created the Segway of wearable tech.  I’m told by two people with knowledge of operations that the company hasn't moved more than tens of thousands of pairs of Glass, despite having spent hundreds of millions on the program. A meeting was held in December to finalize plans for a “pivot,” and this week the company announced that it would retool the product under Nest Labs chief executive Tony Fadell.

Google is understandably spinning this all as very positive. (“We’re graduating from Google[x] labs.”) The Explorer program, afterall, was designed to gather feedback and information. Fadell told the BBC that he’s excited to “integrate those learnings into future products.” It’s reasonable to argue that something like Glass has more commercial applications than it does consumer applications. Businesses will spend more money per pair than you or I will or could and it doesn’t matter how ugly the things are if they’re being used on factory floors and in hospitals.

But it’s hard not to wonder what Google’s fortunes ultimately will be in hardware. The phones, tablets, thermostats, smoke detectors, face computers and self-driving cars form an ecosystem of sorts -- everything we do each day connected to something else. The idea is very compelling, I just don’t know that Google will be the company that executes on it the best.

One question: What becomes of Ivy Ross? I’m sure the company would love for her to stay. But if Glass becomes an industrial computing device, is it necessary for someone with marketing and jewelry design chops to help lead that product?

Weekend read:

** Tech has made life weird and awkward, but no more stressful that it’s been in the past, according to the New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller.

Ventureland

Instacart used to charge customers a slight mark up on every item for its grocery shopping and delivery service. GigaOm says that the company has changed that business model and now charges stores to provide a shopping and delivery service.

Mixpanel CEO Suhail Doshi caused a stir when his company’s official Twitter account tweeted: "No doesn't mean no ... no just means not yet." Doshi told Gawker that he definitely wasn’t referring to rape. No. Way. As Gawker’s Dan Lyons put it, “You know what? I believe him. I believe that he used that line and probably didn't even get the connection, because he's probably that clueless.”

OneWeb has raised money from Virgin Group and Qualcomm to create an Internet service powered by satellites that connects rural and developing world markets, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Skydio raised a $3 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz and Accel Partners to build safer drones, GigaOm reports.

Uber was ordered to cease and desist operations in the state of South Carolina, BuzzFeed reports.

Xiaomi has created a media-streaming device that’s the size of a 2” x 2” power charger, TechHive reports.

Zoosk, the online dating service, laid off 15 percent of its employees, TechCrunch reports. The company has also delayed its IPO plans indefinitely.

Do startups really matter to the broader economy? My Bloomberg View colleague Justin Fox weighs in with a resounding shrug.

Beijing is launching a seed fund with $6.5 billion in capital, the Financial Times reports.

People and Personnel Moves

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler talks to CNET about net neutrality, President Obama and John Oliver.

Companies

Amazon…

** European regulators say that the company’s tax arrangements in Luxembourg give it an illegal competitive advantage. The Wall Street Journal lays out the five things you need to know about the company’s EU tax case.

** The company’s video-game-streaming platform Twitch launched a free music library for users.

Apple…

The company plans to open five more stores in China, 9to5Mac reports.

Disney…

The company’s Maker Studios content network created a partnership with Vimeo, TechCrunch reports. The deal gives Maker an ad revenue stream other than YouTube.

Facebook…

TheStreet.com explains how Facebook has made headway against YouTube in the fight for video ad revenue.

Google…

The company teamed up with the peer-to-peer lender Lending Club to get money to “eligible Google partners,” VentureBeat reports. As part of a pilot program, Google buys the loans and pays the interest, and the money is given to the resellers, consultants, system integrators and other players that set-up Google apps and services for enterprise customers.

Intel…

The world’s largest maker of PC chips gave a revenue forecast that missed analyst expectations, sparking fears of overall weakness in the PC industry, Bloomberg reports.

Yahoo…

The ad technology division is being reorganized, with former Flurry employee Prashant Fuloria overseeing all ad products and reporting directly to CEO Marissa Mayer, the Wall Street Journal reports. Scott Burke, who previously ran ad tech, and Tod Sacerdoti, who founded Brightroll, will report to Fuloria.

Cybercrime Blotter

An arrest was made. The National Cyber Crime Unit and the FBI arrested an 18-year-old man for his role in the recent DDoS attacks against the Playstation and the Xbox systems.

David Cameron was probably wrong. A report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council says that encryption is the best way for computer users to protect private data, the Guardian reports.

A government report supports the government’s actions. The National Academy of Sciences released a report saying “no software-based technique can fully replace the bulk collection of signals intelligence.”

Need some hacking done? The New York Times has a story on the hackers for hire who would love to rifle through your spouse’s e-mail accounts.

Hackers review “Blackhat,” and Wired has all the details.

Media Files

Media outlets want to use drones. A coalition of 10 news organization have partnered with Virginia Tech to figure out how to use drones in news gathering, the New York Times reports.

News and Notes

A couple of interesting details from the ongoing Silk Road trial. The government that that Mark Karpeles, who ran the now failed Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, might have been the mastermind behind the emporium of drugs and guns, Wired reports. Karpeles denied any involvement in an e-mail exchange with Motherboard. And if you were wondering what Silk Road looked like, prosecutors say that it was a lot like Amazon.com or any other online retail site, Bloomberg reports.

Patent Wars. A huge lobbying coalition called United for Patent Reform was recently formed to combat patent trolls, the Washington Post reports. The group includes Google, Facebook and Adobe, along with retailers like Macy's and JCPenney. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.