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Google is still struggling to carve a market niche for its wearable, despite public awareness

According to a new report in The Wall Street Journal, Google is regearing the product for 2015 with an Intel Corp. (INTC) based Glass edition.  Thus far Google has only committed to smaller hardware changes for Glass Explorer, such as double the memory and adding the ability to add prescription lenses to Glass Explorer Edition.

Google Inc.'s (GOOG) nascent Glass Explorer project -- aka "Google Goggles" or "Google Glasses" -- has managed to make it off the drawing board and into the wild.  And it's become somewhat of a pop culture icon, entering the fringes of general consumer awareness, even.

Google/AP  -- Glass Explorer
Google Glass has a way to go to win universal usability. [Image Source: AP]

Yet Google struggles with several tough issues in terms of establishing its device as an ubiquitous mainstay of the consumer electronics market.  These challenges include concerns about privacy, questions of censorship, etiquette, utility, and cost.  Still there's signs of early sales success, with at least one version of the Glass Explorer Edition developer device -- priced at $1,500 -- selling out.

How would a switch to Intel processors change all of this?  It's a complicated question, and it depends partly on whether the switch is wholesale, or if Google's simply looking to add an x86-based model to the family.

While it's possible that Google might try a strategy like Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) used with the Surface hybrid tablet, offering an ARM version and an Intel x86 version side-by-side, the WSJ report seemed to suggested the move to x86 was more of a switch than an addition.

Google Glass Explorer Edition

Intel chips are pricier, typically, than ARM chips from companies like Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM).  That certainly doesn't help with the device's already somewhat lofty sticker ($1,500 USD).  On the other hand, there's a growing feeling that Intel's increased focus on mobility and its large lead in semiconductor processes will eventually lead it to dominate the high end smartphone/tablet space.

Until this year Intel lacked a system-on-a-chip with a built-in cellular baseband modem.  In that regard it struggled to compete with solutions from Qualcomm who could boast superior power performance from the antenna chain.  But Intel has closed that gap and its new lightweight Atom processors are threatening ARM Holdings plc's (LON:ARM) long-standing hegemony on mobile device processing.

Intel Merrifield
A Merrifield die

Versus Intel Atom adoption in smartphones and tablets, one key advantage in the wearables space is the lack of compatibility concerns.  On the smartphone a switch to x86 will break some apps who compile using the less-used option of tapping the power of native code development or compiling to native bytecode.  That can create some big headaches for users who expect Android to guarantee access to most, if not all, of the world's most popular apps.

On the Glass front, though, there are few if any expectations app-wise and there's no public native development coding-wise from third parties.  So if Google switches to x86 for its wearable it has little to worry about on the compatibility front.

Intel's Quark microprocessor family (a smaller x86 Atom-derived group of processors), is one likely target for the 2015 Glass Edition, if a full-fledged mobile Atom isn't onboard.  Intel has formed an entire team -- the New Devices Group -- to tackle the challenge of building the company's presence in the wearables market, as well as to target other future emerging form factors.  

Intel Quark

The New Devices Group has been showing off a bracelet wearable called MICA ("My Intelligent Communication Accessory") that includes health tracking and second-screen features.  No mere proof of concept, the device is launching at select Barneys locations plus the New York and Los Angeles Opening Ceremony stores.  It will also be available online at Barneys.com [1][2] or Openingceremony.us.
MICA @ Barneys
Intel's MICA wristband wearable launches this month. [Image Source: Barney's]

Google Glasses support would be a huge coup for Intel's maturing wearables effort.  It remains to be seen, though, whether this rumor proves to be reality.  According to the WSJ report, part of Google's bid to make Google Glass more relevant will be to target it at select commercial uses, such as offering it as a smart wearable assistant to doctors or nurses in medical settings.  Such applications have already shown promise, with some police departments testing the device as a street activity recorder.

Source: WSJ





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