Glass Half Empty

Last week Google made Glass available for purchase to anybody who wants to pay $1,500 for it. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice. What started out as one of Google’s most hyped products more than two years ago, now finds itself on the brink of failure.

It’s unclear how many people bought Glass this week, but it doesn’t seem like there was a massive run on it. Two years ago, that would have been unthinkable.

no-glassAt its I/O developer conference in 2012, Google won the Internet with the mother of all tech demos. Glass was riding high on a mixture of mystery and excitement. A few people were able to try Glass briefly at I/O, but Google also allowed developers to pre-register for the $1,500 Explorer Edition at I/O to be among the first to try it.

Fast-forward a year to 2013 and Google finally starts sending out invites to those developers. The first experience was exciting, but also pretty underwhelming. The early apps on Glass weren’t all that interesting, and it would be a long time before Google would launch the Glass Development Kit, so developers could build more interesting interactive apps instead of just pushing Google Now-style cards and video to the devices.

A year later, Glass is on sale and nobody really cares. Glass has become an inadvertent symbol for all that is wrong with Google — real or perceived — and with the tech world in general — especially in San Francisco. People don’t actually want to be seen with them.

I’m not going to say that Glass is dead — it’s still officially in beta, after all — but my feeling is that it took Google far too long to go from hype to showing the prototype to consumer launch. This allowed Glass to get caught up in a spiral of negativity that will be hard to stop at this point. Some of this may not even have been Google’s fault. Glass arrived just as privacy became a hot-button topic, for example, and just as our relationship with large tech companies started to become increasingly complicated. Scoble taking a shower with it also didn’t help, of course, and once the first bar banned Glass and got some press for it, others quickly followed.

2014-05-18_0905The fact that Google allowed so many myths to crop up around Glass (the camera is always on, it can recognize people’s faces, the military is experimenting with it) is something it might have been able to control by making more units available to the public (and maybe press) early on.

It’s been two years since we first saw Glass, but the overall design hasn’t changed and the software is pretty much still the same. The next I/O is just around the corner, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a new version of Glass were already in the works for a release later this year.

Now that Google is mostly emphasizing the Glass as an accessory to real prescription glasses and frames, maybe some of the style issues will solve themselves (though the fact that Google is including prescription frames for free for new buyers is leaving a bit of a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of those who bought the early versions — myself included). Bringing in Ivy Ross — who has some experience in the eyewear business — will surely help as well.

Looking at this year’s I/O schedule, it’s clear that Google is moving ahead with Glass. There are daily sessions to help developers build better Glass apps. At the same time, the program also features even more sessions about wearables in general, so my guess is that in the near future, we will hear quite a bit more about Android Wear and less about Glass.

Google is clearly deeply invested in the Glass project, however, and even if this first version doesn’t catch on, there will be others.

But Google may have missed the boat with this current iteration. It’s not for a lack of functionality, which is only increasing as more apps for Glass arrive, but because it’s fighting an increasingly uphill battle around perception. Maybe that’ll change as more people get to actually try it, but I’m not sure it will.

So I’m still ambivalent when it comes to Glass’ future. Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments below (and yes, we know your friend made $5,000 in his first month working from home — no need to tell us again).