Google on Wednesday announced that it has stopped selling its Glass Enterprise smart glasses, adding that it will also stop supporting its software on September 15. The move brings an end to a product that was first sold back in 2013. The Google Glass never really tasted success which led to Google eventually limiting it to enterprises only. But to know exactly why it failed we’d have to take a deeper dive, exploring its history and trying to see why Google created it.
What is Google Glass?
Google Glass is a wearable technology created by Google that looks like a regular pair of glasses. First launched in 2013 as the Google Glass Explorer Edition, the device included a small transparent display on the right side of the frame that displayed a variety of information, including text messages, emails, weather forecasts, and directions.
The device is operated by voice commands and a touchpad on the right side of the frame. It also has a camera for taking pictures and recording videos, as well as a microphone and speaker for making calls and listening to music.
While the initial version of Google Glass was intended for consumers, subsequent versions have been designed for use in enterprise environments such as healthcare and manufacturing.
Google Glass: History
Google first began exploring the idea of an optical head-mounted device (OHMD) back in the early 2010s through its R&D lab, X. The first prototype was finished in 2011 but it wasn’t anywhere close to a commercial launch – it weighed over 3kg.
Then in April 2012, Google showed off the device for the first time in photos and a concept video. The video called “Project Glass: One Day…” showed an elaborate device that let a user perform functions we’ve come to associate with smartphones (except it was on glasses) like checking the calendar and weather, listening to music, and more. The video generated much buzz and signaled an excellent start for the product. There was also another announcement by Google co-founder Sergey Brin who wore the Google Glass on stage, demonstrating features like video recording to eager tech fans.
More experimentation followed and eventually in 2013, Google arrived at a prototype that looked similar to the one from the demos. This version weighs less than 50g, which is prescription glass territory – and is a far cry from the original prototype that weighed more than a brick. This prototype was ready to sell exclusively to Google I/O developers for $1,500.
Dubbed the Google Glass Explorer Edition, this particular model was limited to just 8,000 devices. An additional $255 could fetch those devs prescription or designer frames from brand partners like Oakley, Ray-Ban, and others. The model was overall well-received by the few who got to try it but things quickly went downhill thereafter.
How the Google Glass failed
Several reviews of the Google Glass Explorer Edition went up when it was launched and most of them were positive. But if you took a step back and looked at the bigger picture, they described the product as being ‘promising,’ almost like the model being reviewed was in its infancy and wasn’t very useful in its state at the time.
Following the Explorer Edition debut, Google Glass opened up to the public in May 2014. This time, though, the product wasn’t as well received. It didn’t offer much over the 2013 model and the fact that it didn’t get much cheaper ($999) didn’t help either.
For that price, there wasn’t a lot of functionality the Glass had to offer, and it, therefore, didn’t carry the appeal Google would’ve hoped for. Most of what Glass did minus its ability to capture video and photos from its wearer’s POV could be easily done with a smartwatch or a smartphone, which costs significantly less.
Google also failed to answer some pressing questions: “Why does Google Glass exist?,” “Why is it so expensive?,” and “What’s the goal of the device?” The search engine giant simply chose to ignore the inquiries and kept developing and hyping up Google Glass without clarifying its essential functionality.
It took them a while but Google eventually realized by 2017 that Google Glass only works best in specific cases such as for medical and professional uses. The company then decided to pull Glass out of the market for the general public and instead limited the product to enterprise customers.
Google Glass Enterprise Edition was released in 2017 followed by its second generation in 2019. Google described it as a “wearable device that helps businesses improve the quality of their output, and help their employees work smarter, faster and safer.”
Why Google Glass failed
Prices: The biggest reason is likely the price. $1,500 is a lot to ask from customers, especially for a product that was still rough around the edges.
Design: Let’s face it – the Google Glass would be an awkward device to wear to social gatherings. It could be spotted from a mile thanks to its cyborg-ish look and wasn’t subtle enough in its form.
Functionality: As already mentioned, Google Glass failed to offer much over smartphones and smartwatches save from the ability to capture video and photos from its wearer’s POV. Google also failed to properly justify the device’s existence and what problems it aims to solve with the product.