What does the end of Google Glass's "Explorer" program mean for early adopters?
Image: Max Braun/Flickr
Goodbye, Google Glass, we hardly knew ye. Ok, to be fair, Google isn't saying it's officially ending its three-year-long experiment in face-worn computers, but the current Google Glass model—the $1,500.00 Explorer edition—is being retired today after a final day of online sales.
Google said late last week that Glass is "graduating" from the company's secretive Google X labs to its own team within the company, and promises that future versions of Glass will be made… at some point. The word on the street is that the project is being taken over by Apple iPod father-turned-Nest creator Tony Fadell, who joined Google over a year ago. Fadell has a proven track record of making sleek and sexy pieces of technology, which seems like it could only help the aesthetically-challenged Glass.
But where does that leave the so-called "Glassholes," those early-adopters who paid $1,500-a-piece to be part of a program that Google is now unceremoniously shuttering?
A quick glance at the comments on the official Glass page on Google Plus (the official discussion forum of Explorers/Glassholes) reveals a wide range of reactions, nominally confusion. "What does this mean for those of us working with Glass and being explorers right now? Do we become extinct : )" asks one user, a question that recurs in various forms. "Is this device going to be a brick in two weeks?" asks another. A few express outright frustration at Google: "You failed Google, and it isn't the first time," writes one. "I'm left feeling it was all a big waste of time, effort, and money," says one poor gentleman who just purchased Glass less than a month ago.
While others are more optimistic, praising Google for moving "ahead" with the program—whatever that means—the general feeling among the Glass faithful seems to be one of disappointment.
"While Google is trying to assure commercial clients that the Explorer product isn't dead, operating system updates have stalled with the announcement," writes Det Ansinn, founder of BrickSimple, a software development company whose employees widely adopted Glass to make applications after it became available in 2012. "Corporate clients aren't viewing the Explorer Edition as something actively supported anymore. We're all excited about where Glass goes next, but the immediate impression has been that the device is EOL'd (end of life)."
Glass began as one of the most-hyped technology products in generations
That's a fairly dismal assessment for something that began as one of the most-hyped technology products in generations. Early rumors that Google was working on computerized glasses appeared in late 2011. But it was Google's completely over-the-top video in April 2012 announcing "Project Glass" and showing a series of imagined uses (including seamless video-chatting and navigation) that really propelled Glass to mainstream attention.
Google made Glass the star of its developer conference later that year, strapping it to a bunch of skydivers and broadcasting their POV feeds live to the world. It was at that conference that Google began taking pre-orders for Glass, at first only from those in attendance of that show. In early 2013, the company expanded availability slightly through its #ifihadglass contest, effectively asking Americans to beg for the privilege of paying $1,500 for the novel tech. All the while, a wider consumer launch was teased, but the date kept slipping.
It was around this time that the backlash to Glass truly began in earnest, with a Seattle bar banning patrons from wearing Glass over privacy concerns and Robert Scoble's infamous, widely mocked Glass-only shower photo. More Glass confrontations and bans followed. By the time Google got around to opening up Glass for any US customer to purchase in May 2014, much of the early luster had faded.
Google's Glass Explorers don't think that negative media attention or public perception tarnished the project's chances, though. "The invite system frustrated a lot of people and it seemed to favor bloggers and internet personalities—people who don't create apps," Ansinn notes. "The exclusivity of the club, and we aren't even talking about the price point, was detrimental to developer interest. Over time, as it became clear that 'consumer Glass' wasn't dropping any time soon, those who were developing consumer experiences stopped development voluntarily and/or ran out of money."
Although the wider public seemed to viscerally reject it, in many ways, Glass's downfall may have been crystallized by Google's own overhype—slowly releasing the product to a select few for lots of money only made Glass seem that much more elitist, unattainable, and unfamiliar. But you know what they say about hindsight.