Consumer startups abandon Google Glass, healthcare companies weigh alternatives

By Aditi Pai
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google glassTwo and a half years after Google Glass was first announced, its hype train may have lost some steam.

According to a report from Reuters, a number of early developers for Google Glass have dropped their projects. Of the 16 Glass app makers that Reuters questioned, nine said that they have stopped working on their projects and three switched from direct-to-consumer offerings to B2B products.

Several Google employees working on the Glass project, including Google Glass lead developer Babak Parviz, have left the company. And a fund for Google Glass created by Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Andreessen Horowitz, called Glass Collective, has deleted its website.

The trend also extends to healthcare.

Healthcare-focused incubator, Glassomics, which was founded by Qualcomm Life and San Diego area healthcare provider Palomar Health renamed itself to Lensomics just a few months ago, an obvious move away from the Glass name. But the Glassomics website is no longer active and the Lensomics website hasn't added updates since August 2013. MobiHealthNews has reached out to Palomar for more information.

At least one company that was founded because of Glass' healthcare opportunity is also weighing a shift. In a post on Medium, Remedy co-founder and COO Gina Siddiqui explained that her company is hedging its bets when it comes to Glass: 

"Google Glass has had a rocky run this last year, and the medical field fell in love (or maybe infatuation) and rode along with Glass through all of it," she wrote. "We started our company to make Google Glass fulfill a vision for medical professionals — what is Remedy’s take now that the honeymoon is over? Did medicine (and our company) get ensnared into a toxic relationship? "

She writes that while Google Glass may not be advanced enough to be a marketable product, it still addressed a critical problem in healthcare.

"Google Glass broke through that mental block, and got doctors to rethink the big clunky computers in our offices… that maybe it would make for a better bedside relationship if we turned away from those computers and got close to our patients again," Siddiqui said. "...And what’s great is, now that doctors are thinking that way, it’s not about Google Glass anymore."

Although Remedy is still using Google Glass, Siddiqui explained the company is also working on extending its offering to other mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, which she said "could be much more useful to doctors, solving this same problem".

At Partners HealthCare’s Connected Health Symposium last month, Dr. Steven Horng, the emergency department lead for the Google Glass Project at Beth Israel, highlighted a few of the technical limitations his team had run up against with Glass.

“The first is processor power,” Horng said. “This isn’t a device that was meant to be worn as a heads up display that’s on 24/7 that’s constantly looking for voice commands. That’s not what Glass was built for, it was meant for episodic use. Using it in this way drains the device like no other. Glass [when used by consumers] is meant to have a battery life that lasts for quite a while, for us it lasts maybe two hours, maybe one. If you turn on all its features, probably less. You can certainly add on a battery pack, and that’s what we did, to get us to 12 to 14 hours. But then you have the processor going all the time and with external charging, this makes for a very, very hot device that is perhaps sometimes dangerous.”

But, on the same panel, Augmedix co-founder and Chief Product Officer Pelu Tran said he believed rumors of Glass’ demise had been greatly exaggerated. Tran explained that while the battery life of Glass is a concern, people should keep in mind that this is only the first generation of the device.

Today, in response to the buzz around the Reuters report, Augmedix CEO Ian Shakil told MobiHealthNews in an email that "Google is very invested in the longterm".

"As they pour more resources into the Google Glass team, Augmedix and our investors are excited to double down and commit to growth," Shakil said. "Outside of Augmedix, Glass is getting awesome uptake in healthcare and the enterprise in general. Just a couple weeks ago, Google doubled the number of Glass at Work partners. Healthcare is clearly dominating! Consumer will come eventually -- but that's a longterm play."

Augmedix has deployed Glass at commercial scale at three health providers, including a Dignity Health clinic in Los Angeles. Augmedix says its users have seen more than 20,000 patients across 17 clinics in the past 18 months.

Shakil also said that, while he can't speak in detail, there are "numerous credible Glass alternatives" that will be announced soon.

"More choice is good for all of us," he said. "The space is real -- and it's heating up. "