Google X chief admits that 'wearables are tough'

The head of the Google division that makes Glass talks about the challenges of wearables, and why putting a computing device on your body is "a big ask."

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

The head of Google X said wearables have to be "qualitatively better" than devices like smartphones CNET

Google's Web-connected headset, called Glass, is still just in its prototype phase, but its reception thus far has been polarizing. Astro Teller, head of Google X, the experimental division of the search giant that makes Glass, on Tuesday opened up about its challenges.

"I have learned, at a certain next level, that wearables are tough," he said Wednesday at a conference in San Francisco hosted by Vanity Fair.

Glass -- introduced at Google's developer conference in 2012 and currently available to the public -- has already seen its share of obstacles. It's been at the center of some controversy, including being banned from some bars in the US and prohibited from movies theaters in the United Kingdom because of privacy and piracy concerns.

In July, then-Google X director Babak Parvis, who was instrumental in Glass's creation, left the company for Amazon. A month before that, Google replaced him as the head of the Glass project with a more fashion-forward executive, Ivy Ross, former chief marketing officer of Art.com. Ross has held executive tenures at Calvin Klein, Coach, and the Gap.

Teller said on Tuesday that the big challenge is making sure a wearer gets value from the device that he or she couldn't get anywhere else -- like, say, from a smartphone in your pocket.

"It has to be qualitatively better," he said, while wearing a Turquoise blue set of Glass. Google declined to further comment on Teller's remarks.

The Google X division is responsible for the company's most ambitious projects -- known as "moon shots" in Google parlance. Other projects by the secretive lab include driverless cars, Wi-Fi beaming balloons, and a contact lens that reads glucose levels in tears.

The company has also also approached wearables outside of its moon shot projects. Google in March unveiled Android Wear, a modified version of its Android mobile operating system for phones and tablets, tailor-made for wearable devices like smartwatches. But unlike Glass, in these cases Google is just handling the software and leaving the hardware to manufacturers like Samsung and LG.

On Tuesday, Teller lamented the challenge of getting someone to keep a computing device on his or her body. "That's a big ask," he said.