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Key Points

  • Google Glass is a pair of smart glasses that are wearable and voice-activated.
  • The device was released in 2013 and displayed information to the user in a head-up display.
  • Google Glass ultimately failed due to price, battery issues and functionality.

To get ahead in tech, a company needs to be constantly innovating, evolving, and coming up with new offerings to keep itself at the head of the pack.

Naturally, not all of these innovations are going to be ultimate successes. As a matter of fact, the track record of many tech giants suggests many of these attempted innovations won’t even be remotely successful. Just look at the way Google Glass failed.

But, why did Google Glass fail, and what was the purpose of Google Glass in the first place? What mistakes did Google make in the research, development, announcement, and eventual release of Google Glass? And, what can other tech companies learn from the way Google Glass failed? Let’s take a look at all these questions and more as we dive deep into the history and legacy of Google Glass.

The Significance of Google Glass

Known as an OHMD, a.k.a. an optical head-mounted device, Google Glass was a brand name for smart glasses from the early to mid-’10s.

Google Glass displayed information to users through a lens on the right side, and it did so completely hands-free. In order to use the device, users would have to speak to it with voice commands. It was developed by Google’s semi-secret research and development lab, Google X. Users could also choose to place prescription lenses in their Google Glass, making them doubly functional.

If your mind is picturing a virtual reality headset, you wouldn’t be wrong. Google Glass was ahead for how it brought VR features to the real world. Instead of having to fully immerse one’s self into virtual reality, however, Google Glass allowed wearers to function as they would in the real world with the virtual display only taking up a small part of their field of vision. In truth, the wearable technology more closely resembled AR, or augmented reality, than full-on VR.

This made Google Glass a fun toy for the casual user, but an essential part of the profession for others (specifically those in the medical field). From surgeons to those with impaired vision to children with autism and countless other subfields in between, Google Glass became an integral part of treatments, procedures, and examinations across the board. While the wearable tech might not have caught on with the general public as Google had hoped, it sure did catch on with the medical community.

Google Glass’s Reception from Critics

Naturally, given the somewhat silly look of Google Glass, it’s no surprise that critics weren’t very kind to the product. Even with its many cutting-edge applications within the field of medicine, critics were quick to point out the ridiculous look of Google Glass. (You may recall the nickname ‘glassholes,’ which was quickly and widely adopted in reference to those seen walking around wearing Google Glass.)

The biggest criticisms of Google Glass were about so much more than just the aesthetics, though. Another major complaint had to do with the price of the device. It went for a whopping $1,499, which is just plain unreasonable compared to today’s VR headsets. For instance, your average entry-level Oculus headset will retail for under $400. Google Glass was far less immersive than a proper VR headset, yet it cost nearly four times as much.

Last but not least were issues with privacy and safety. How could Google encourage people to walk around in public looking at a virtual display? What if they wandered into the street? Worse yet, what if they drove with them on?

Not to mention the fact that Google Glass could record video. Was it ethical for Google to create a device that could record people without their knowledge or permission? Some even questioned what might happen if a malicious QR code was placed in front of a Google Glass. Could it be hacked?

These were just some of the (very valid) questions critics raised about Google Glass.

Google Glass Specs

Release DateMay 15th, 2014
TypeOptical Head-Mounted Display (OHMD)
Price$1,499
RAM2GB
Flash Storage16GB
Display640p × 360p
Camera5 MP photos, 720p video
DiscontinuedJanuary 15th, 2015
SuccessorGoogle Glass Enterprise Edition

Google Glass: A Complete History

Google—through their R&D lab, X—first began tinkering with the idea of an OHMD device in the early 2010s. Their first prototype was finished in 2011, but it was nowhere near where it needed to be in order to be commercially viable (for one, it weighed eight pounds).

More experimenting over the following years led to a much lighter and more stylish Google Glass prototype by 2013. This version weighed much less than the first iteration, coming in at less than two ounces. For context, the average pair of prescription glasses weigh around eight or nine ounces.

While Google was still deeply immersed in the R&D phase in 2012, the tech giant still made the decision to publicly announce Google Glass in April of that year. Google co-founder Sergey Brin wore a pair on-stage as the announcement was made, demonstrating features like video recording to an audience of eager tech fans. Brin made a point to show how useful Google Glass could be to the medical community by doing a similar demonstration at an event for the Foundation Fighting Blindness that same month.

By the spring of 2013, Google had a finished prototype ready to sell exclusively to Google I/O developers. (For the hefty price of $1,500, mind you). Dubbed the “Explorer Edition,” this first-generation Google Glass was limited to just eight thousand devices. For an additional $225, prototype purchasers could take advantage of prescription or designer frames from brand partners like Oakley, Ray-Ban, and more. It would be another year before the general public would be able to purchase a pair themselves, but it didn’t matter—this first beta group effectively sealed Google Glass’s fate.

Google Glass
A few reasons tied together to cause the ultimate failure of Google Glass.

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Early Signs of Imminent Failure

Google Glass sales would open up to the public on May 15th of 2014, but, by this point, the very idea of owning a Google Glass device had already been lampooned to death. The look, the price, the lack of any truly innovative functions… it was social and financial suicide to buy a Google Glass, and it hadn’t even hit the shelves yet. It’s hard to recall a greater or more substantial misstep from a tech company of this size. What’s most surprising is that the signs that Google Glass failed were there practically from the start.

From the moment Sergey Brin emerged wearing Google Glass at that debut event in 2012, the wearable tech was a punchline like no other. Nobody cared about the device’s features, like the touchpad on the side of the frames that allowed users to navigate the device. Nor did they care about the AR display. The same went for the device’s photo and video capabilities. The sheer absurdity of the device’s actual look was a non-starter for most. (And that was before the astronomical price was even known).

Still, in spite of these very serious red flags present in full view from practically the very beginning, Google continued to develop and hype up Google Glass. Instead of answering pressing questions like, “why does this need to exist?” or, “why does it cost so much?” or, “what’s even the point of it?” Google ignored the inquiries and moved forward without hesitation. Instead of recognizing these early signs of imminent failure, they accelerated straight toward the device’s imminent demise.

The Eventual Demise of Google Glass

Whether you place the blame on the shoulders of its aesthetic design, its lack of clear or essential functionality, or simply its expensive price tag, the fact that Google Glass failed seems inevitable in hindsight. However, in 2014, Google failed to pay attention to the signs. They put the device out in May of that year, and by January of 2015, it was already off the market. In less than nine months, all those years of hard work had completely gone down the drain.

Google Glass failed, but the tech giant wasn’t going to just give up on all those years and all that money spent. Instead, they simply waited a couple of years. During that time, Google took stock of what worked and what didn’t. By 2017, they had realized what the rest of the general public knew from the beginning: Google Glass worked best in specific real-world applications. It wasn’t meant to be released to the general public. It needed to be reserved for those who could actually get something out of it. Namely, the medical and professional communities.

Google Glass Enterprise Edition was released in 2017, with an updated second edition (at a marginally lower price) released in 2019. Doctors, therapists, engineers, and other professionals were always the ones who got the most out of Google Glass. This pivot to an Enterprise Edition was a smart way for Google to try and recoup some of the losses from their initial (and seriously major) failure. Still, regardless of how well Google Glass does with the professional community, there’s no getting around the fact that Google Glass failed to perform how the company intended.

Why Google Glass Failed

There’s no single answer to the question of why Google Glass failed. Truthfully, there are a number of possible culprits—each one just as legitimate as the one before. At the end of the day, it comes down to these three factors:

  • Price
  • Battery
  • Functionality

Price

A $1,500 price tag is quite a lot to ask of a customer, even for the most functional of products. For context, one could purchase a brand new Macbook Pro and an iPad with that kind of money and still have some cash left over after checkout. Paying that much for something that does so little essentially doomed Google Glass from the very beginning.

Battery

Battery life was another major concern for Google Glass. Video recording, AR display, voice command… all of this takes energy, and a lot of it to boot. The Google Glass device would only last around four hours per charge for most, and it would get quite hot in the process. Overheating batteries with a very minimal life to them? Not exactly the best selling point.

Functionality

Last but not least is the functionality of Google Glass. What was so great about being able to see a display in the corner of your field of vision when you could simply take out your phone and look at it? Especially for those who used their phones to navigate their Google Glass (talk about frivolous). Plus, a cell phone could take better photos and videos, and hands-free recording could be done better by a GoPro. The Google Glass just wasn’t worth it.

Why Did Oculus Succeed?

Looking at the success of the Oculus and other VR headsets that are all the rage right now, you might ask yourself why these devices succeeded where Google Glass failed. The answer seems to lie in the actual function of the headsets themselves. Oculus headsets fully immerse users in the world of virtual reality, allowing them to virtually transport themselves to a new place. Google Glass, however, asks users to remain with one foot in the real world and one foot in virtual reality. This is the problem with artificial reality, or AR: it blurs lines that VR is not afraid to fully cross.

Plus, Oculus is much cheaper than Google Glass ever has been. Today, you can get your hands on an Oculus VR headset for around $400. That’s a fraction of Google Glass’s $1,500 price tag. Its battery is better, its function is clearer, and its price is cheaper.

It’s obvious why Oculus has succeeded where Google Glass failed. There’s no confusion about what it does, no question as to why it costs what it costs, and no concerns about the privacy or ethics of recording others without permission. In the end, Oculus and other VR brands will continue to succeed, while Google Glass will likely never compare.

Up Next

The Real Reason Google Glass Failed Spectacularly FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What did Google Glass do?

Google Glass was marketed as a wearable, hands-free computer/smartphone hybrid that let users browse the internet, take photos and videos, get navigational directions, and more through the use of AR and voice commands.

When did Google Glass come out?

After initial beta testing in the years prior, Google Glass sales officially opened up to the public in May of 2014. It was later pulled in January of 2015.

How much did Google Glass cost at launch?

Google Glass retailed for a whopping $1,499.

Was Google Glass a VR headset?

Google Glass was not VR, but rather AR (or augmented reality). Its virtual display only took up a portion of the wearer’s field of vision.

How much did Google lose on the development of Google Glass?

Google spent upwards of $400 million to create Google Glass. While they likely earned back a portion of that sum, there’s no doubt they lost tens (maybe even hundreds) of millions on the device.

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More from History-Computer

  • Forbes Available here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/siimonreynolds/2015/02/05/why-google-glass-failed/
  • Google Available here: https://www.google.com/glass/start/
  • Google Developers Available here: https://developers.google.com/glass
  • Wired Available here: https://www.wired.com/story/google-glass-reasonable-expectation-of-privacy/
  • The New York Times Available here: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/style/why-google-glass-broke.html