We’re killing Google Glass by forgetting it’s just one big experiment

Wear Next 112414
Early this week, Sergey Brin may well have become the first tech executive to make headlines for what he wasn’t wearing. Maybe it’s just the world we live in, where Kim Kardashian’s oiled up bottom has a longer lasting effect on public consciousness than that spacecraft we landed on a comet. What was it called? Something French, I think.

What is clear is that something was … off when the Google co-founder hit the red carpet at a Silicon Valley event. Like when someone you’ve known your entire life goes and shaves their beard off without telling anyone. In the words of Bob Dylan, “you know something’s happening but you don’t know what it is.”

Google hand no intention of making Glass a mainstream product at that early stage.

For Brin, it was Google Glass that was missing. Asked why the technology’s biggest proponent had hit a big event with a naked face, the executive chalked the whole thing up to human error. He’d accidentally left the damned things in the car. What, in any other situation would have been easily written off as some standard computer science absentmindedness suddenly became a state of the union on Glass.

Was it possible that the product he’d devoted so much of his time to was such an abysmal failure that not even Brin was willing to be seen in public with it? Such speculation certainly wasn’t helped along by dozens of suitably sensationalistic headlines dating back to January declaring the untimely death of one of Google’s most fascinating technologies.

This brings up any number of questions surrounding the wearable, but let’s start with one really simple one: Pretending for a moment that Brin hadn’t invoked the car defense, and instead pulling a pair from his pocket and smashing them to bits with his Italian loafers. If Google halted all production and development on Google Glass tomorrow, would we consider the whole thing a failure?

Viewed in the larger context of the consumer electronics industry, the answer seems pretty clear. Two years is a pretty abysmal lifespan for a product line, and it seems pretty clear that we can toss it on the heap of rare, but mounting Google failures, alongside Buzz, Wave, and that overpriced movie streaming cephalopod, the Nexus Q. But should we hold all such products to the same standards? More to the point, what ultimately was Google attempting to accomplish with Glass in the first place?

Wear-Next-112414-Google-Glass-2

Two and a half years after introducing the product to the world, it’s easy to forget how the company initially framed the Glasses. Google’s first wearable was that rare peek into the company’s inner-workings, and exciting chance to pull back the curtain on the Wonka Chocolate Factory that is Google X Labs. It was that rare moonshot that Google not only wanted to show us, it wanted to actually send a few lucky souls home with a pair.

Unlike, say, self-driving cars or the drone delivery service Project Wing (both born out of the same semi-secret lab), Glass was a project that required developer testing. To call it a product was a misnomer — a disservice, really — for something that the company always saw as something of a proof of concept of a platform, perhaps. More than anything, Glass has always been an opportunity for Google to test the waters.

If Google halted all development on Google Glass tomorrow, would we consider the whole thing a failure?

It’s no coincidence, of course, that Google has long referred to its users as “explorers.” That’s more than just a fancy word for “early adopters.” It comes with all of simultaneous excitement and beta baggage of product testing — not to mention a $1,500 price tag. Many wrote the whole thing off as a bad deal for those suckers who will silly enough to shell out that kind of money in order to be the first on their block with the fancy new eyewear.

And really, they weren’t wrong. By just about any measure that’s a lot to pay for a product that, by its very nature, just wasn’t ready for prime time. Of course, people did pay the price, just as Google knew they would. And quickly, in the Silicon Valleys and Alleys of the country, Glass became an entirely familiar sight. Publications who got their hands on the wearable began writing it up like any other product and here in New York at least, the novelty quickly wore off.

In that time, we everyone began to lump the device in with the rest of the consumer electronics industry. Wearables were selling elsewhere, so why wasn’t Google Glass? Was it the price? The limited appeal? Well, yes and yes, but even more than that it was the fact that Google hand no intention of making Glass a mainstream product at that early stage. There were plenty of bugs yet to be worked out and the mere existence of the Explorer program was a very public acknowledgment of that fact.

This, naturally, is one of the relative downsides of Google’s transparency. And it’s no doubt one of the reasons Apple keeps its lips so tightly buttoned with regards to hardware releases. Some buggy missteps aside, the company has a lot invested in the idea that its products enter the world as fully-baked representations of Apple’s flawless ecosystem.

Wear-Next-112414-Google-Glass

The Explorer program was created as an attempt to answer some important questions through real world usage. Among them was how interested the public was in such a product, how people would react to such privacy concerns and what developers could do with this fascinating new platform. Each one of those points has raised some fascinating pros and cons that will no doubt be incorporated into future Google wearables regardless of the state of Glass.

Sadly, however, the whole process raised another important point: when it comes to technology, the public has a hard time distinguishing beta testing from final product — particularly in this Kickstarter era. And by that measure, Glass was, perhaps, doomed from the beginning. Hopefully this won’t discourage Google from such experiments in the future, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Brin and co. opted to lock their future gadgets in the lab a lot longer.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

Google’s Pixel 3 is a hair away from pocket-sized perfection

Google’s Pixel 3 smartphone is the best Android phone you can buy. It doesn’t have the best looks or the best hardware, but you’ll be hard pressed to find better software and unique A.I. functionalities.
Gaming

These are the coolest games you can play on your Google Chrome browser right now

Not only is Google Chrome a fantastic web browser, it's also a versatile gaming platform that you can access from just about anywhere. Here are a few of our favorite titles for the platform.
Mobile

Google rolls out Night Sight to Pixel 3 and 3 XL camera app

Google's latest flagships, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, are now official and we have all the details from the October 9 event in New York City and Paris. Here's everything we know about the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
Deals

Here are the best Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa deals for Black Friday

Apple products are the most sought-after products for Black Friday, the leaked preview ads show what discounts retailers will have for the Apple Watch Series 3 and other smartwatches, such as the Fitbit Versa, this holiday season.
Music

Music to our ears: Spotify at long last arrives on the Apple Watch

Spotify subscribers are now able to jam out to their favorite tunes on their favorite workout accessory, as the Swedish streaming service has finally released its official Apple Watch app.
Wearables

Check out 25 of the best Wear OS apps for your smartwatch

Looking for some ways to spruce up that new Android smartwatch of yours? Here are the best Wear OS apps to download and use with any Android smartwatch, including a few specially enhanced for Wear OS 2.0.
Product Review

With style and feature upgrades, Misfit's next-generation Vapor 2 gets it right

Misfit’s next-generation smartwatch, the Vapor 2, packs built-in GPS, a heart-rate sensor, and more, into a beautiful design that starts from $250. We take a closer look at the company's latest device.
Health & Fitness

Withings new Pulse HR is a customizable, connected fitness tracker

Inspired by Withings first ever fitness tracker the Pulse, the new Pulse HR is updated with the latest in fitness tracker technology including smart notifications, 24/7 heart rate tracking, and more.
Emerging Tech

Believe it or not, this fire-proof exoskeleton isn’t designed for space marines

A company called Levitate Technologies has developed a fire-resistant upper body exoskeleton that’s capable of lowering exertion levels by up to 80 percent when you carry out manual work.
Mobile

The Motiv smart ring is coming to 20 more countries and physical stores

Remember Motiv's activity tracking smart ring? It's back with a raft of new features that adds biometric identification and token authentication, all on a device that fits on your finger.
Wearables

Everything you need to know about Garmin’s GPS watches and trackers

Garmin jumped into the GPS smartwatch and fitness tracker market five years ago and has built a portfolio of devices that rivals competitor Fitbit. Here's your guide to the latest and greatest fitness devices that Garmin has to offer.
Wearables

Google's Wear OS update 'H' promises battery life improvements

Google has rebranded its Android Wear operating system to Wear OS. Removing the Android name may help people better understand Google-powered smartwatches, which also play nice with iOS devices. 
Product Review

This featherweight Fossil might be the lean smartwatch you've been waiting for

Fossil has released its first-ever smartwatch featuring Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100. For $255, it comes equipped with a heart-rate sensor, built-in GPS, and more, but does the Fossil Sport live up to the hype? We take a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I. selfie drones, ‘invisible’ wireless chargers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!