The Reason Google Glass Was Such A Flop

Remember Google Glass? It's been almost a decade now since the smart glasses-like wearables were launched as a prototype in 2013. The fanfare for Glass at the time was promising. Time Magazine named it the "Best Invention of the Year," and it was worn by celebrities, including Kelly Osbourne, Prince Charles, and even Homer Simpson. That was then, but where is it now? The hype seemed to fizzle out as quickly as it started. What is the reason Google Glass was such a flop?

Google Glass was a flop because it wasn't ready for consumers

Speculation was rife in 2015 when Google announced that it was pulling the plug on its "Explorer Program" (which involved giving free Glass prototypes to beta testing "Explorers"). Many Google employees agreed the decline of Glass could be attributed to the fact the device was simply launched too early. "The team within Google X knew the product wasn't even close to ready for prime time," a former Google employee told the New York Times.

Explorers offered significant feedback about the device, which Google was quick to address, a source told Business Insider, but the device still quickly began to lose its luster. In fact, early reviews described the device as "a first-generation product that's very buggy, and will probably fail to revolutionize the tech industry."

"I think it was the wrong way to put out a product," the source told the NYT. "We were having people pay $1,500 to tell us how to fix this thing... I think a lot of people saw [the end of Glass] coming. People just weren't ready to wear this thing on their face. It didn't normalize the way they anticipated."

Google Glass was neither fashionable nor seamless

Despite Google's best marketing efforts, which even included a live demo featuring skydivers, stunt bikers, and wall scalers, and a promotional stint at New York Fashion Week, Glass simply couldn't summon sustained interest from consumers.

"It just wasn't cool" enough, according to Harvard Business Review, which suggested that Google had attempted to "buy cool" through product placements in fashion magazines, on runways, and via influencers rather than earning it organically. In fact, Forbes accused Glass of "literally [making people] look like cyborgs."

It also didn't integrate as seamlessly into the lives of the early adopters as Google's marketing suggested it would. At a TED event, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said that Glass was motivated by a desire to "make something that frees your hands, your eyes, and ears." He added his vision when he started Google was "that eventually you wouldn't have to have a search query at all. You'd just have information come to you as you needed it."

While the Glass prototype simply wasn't advanced enough to fulfill Brin's vision, society also pushed back against the product that seemed to be fraught with privacy concerns. A bar in Seattle banned Google Glass, saying that it violated their policy of not allowing patrons to film and taking photos without consent.

Google argues Glass wasn't a total flop

Google/YouTube

Despite what seems like a clear failure, Brin said that over the lifetime of the project "we've learned an amazing amount." This was echoed by Tony Fadell, Google Glass project lead, who added that "early Glass efforts have broken ground and allowed us to learn what's important to consumers and enterprises alike," according to the New York Times.

Speaking with the NYT, Designer Diane von Furstenberg, who collaborated on the prototype design, added that she didn't have regrets because "Google Glass was nothing short of revolutionary. This was the first time that people talked about wearable technology. Technology moves on faster and faster, and Google Glass will always be part of history."

Wearable technology is ubiquitous today, as von Furstenberg predicted – although not in the form of smart glasses. However, Glass isn't actually dead. It lives on as Glass Enterprise Technology, which focuses on making hands-on and frontline jobs safer and easier by offering on-the-job training and instructions, along with real-time collaboration.

This may seem like a consolidated prize, but even the early versions of Glass showed industrial promise, according to Mark Frydenberg, a senior lecturer at Bentley University. Some surgeons used it to record operations, consult medical information, and contact other medical experts. It's encouraging to see that those years of development and user feedback have resulted in a better, more practical iteration of the original device – because isn't that how innovation improves the world, after all?