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Google Glass eyewear isn't dead, Eric Schmidt confirms

The executive chairman says that reports of Glass' death have been greatly exaggerated and that the tech remains "a big and very fundamental platform for Google."

Google Glass won't die, despite some claims to the contrary.Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET

The Google Glass smart eyewear might no longer be available, but it will be making a triumphant return, according to the search giant's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt.

Glass is "a big and very fundamental platform for Google," Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Monday. He went on to say that the company's decision to stop selling the initial version of the controversial gadget gives Google the opportunity "to make it ready for users."

Schmidt's comments are meant to blunt some suggestions of an irrevocable demise for the camera-equipped, Internet-connected eyewear, which allowed users to do everything from snap photos with the blink of an eye to get location-based information whenever they asked. In January, Google announced that it would no longer sell the Google Glass Explorer Edition, and moved the technology from the secretive research lab Google X, where it was developed, to Google proper. Glass is now under the supervision of Tony Fadell, who once led Apple's iPod to dominance among music players and who now heads the Nest connected-home project at Google.

The $1,500 Glass eyewear, which was unveiled in 2012, was first offered in April 2013 to so-called "Explorers" -- developers who intended to do something interesting and appealing with the technology. Google started selling the smartglasses to the public in May 2014.

In January, with no warning, Google said that it would stop offering Glass and go back to the drawing board under Fadell's supervision. The company said that it learned several things from its and that it's now working on improvements intended to appeal to consumers. Fadell, Google said at the time, would provide "direction and support." A new version of Glass could arrive later in 2015.

While Google has sounded at least a temporary retreat on smart eyewear, other tech companies are setting their own flags in the ground. In February, for instance, Sony unveiled a developer edition of its SmartEyeglass gadget, which carries a price -- $840 -- just a little more than half of what Google was charging.

Last week at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, the head of the Google X lab, Astro Teller, stood by the Glass technology itself, but acknowledged that Google overplayed its hand. "We allowed, and sometimes even encouraged, too much attention to the program," he said. "We also did things to encourage people to think this was a finished product."

Other quirky but ambitious projects undertaken by Google X include self-driving cars and high-altitude balloons that relay Wi-Fi signals.

Suggestions that Google might kill Glass outright are likely rooted in the belief that the public just wasn't ready it. While the technology itself was fully functional, concerns over privacy were significant, and many critics found the devices obnoxious and intrusive. Google called wearers "Explorers," but critics and jokesters had a harsher term -- "glassholes," a name that stuck and cast a sour light on the technology.

Other fault-finders included the likes of the Motion Picture Association of America, which worried that wearers could illegally record movies. The technology was banned in some theaters.

Still, wearable technology is building momentum, which is likely why Schmidt is adamant about keeping Glass in the minds of consumers. According to research firm IDC, shipments of wearables -- a category that also encompasses smartwatches and fitness trackers -- will reach 100 million units by 2018, a nearly sixfold increase compared to 2014.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

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