Google Glass just couldn't handle the stress

The search giant's wearable headset was plagued by numerous problems, including an excess of attention for a product that wasn't ready for a mass-market audience, according to The New York Times.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
3 min read

Google Glass may have been far ahead of its time, but a bad image and too much hype killed the prototype before it even had a chance. CNET

No piece of consumer technology in recent memory was as divisive, hyped up and emblematic of a spooky dystopian future as Google Glass. The search company's wearable eyeglasses only ever left the secretive research labs of Mountain View, Calif., as a grossly overpriced prototype for early adopters. It was killed last month before it ever hit store shelves.

The reasons for the wearable's failure are many, but the most significant, says a report from The New York Times on Wednesday, was the oversize image the high-tech specs attracted -- despite the $1,500 prototype being years away from a finished product -- and the endless stream of bad press Glass generated. All the while, Google executives, fashion icons and celebrities were trying to pretend Glass's arrival was simply a matter of when, not if.

"The team within Google X knew the product wasn't even close to ready for prime time," the Times reported, citing an unnamed former Google employee.

Still, to introduce them to the world in June 2012, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who helps run the Google X research lab that developed Glass, hosted a demo at the company's I/O developers confab in which skydivers jumped out of a plane while wearing the glasses. After its celebrated arrival, Glass went on to generate headlines, but not for the tech behind the device. Instead, Glass was called out for being banned from bars, cars and movie theaters, getting wearers into fights with strangers and being lampooned by pop culture staples such as "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." Soon enough, "Glasshole" entered the industry's lexicon, only to remain relevant for the few months Glass owners dared to wear the headset in public.

The product is now a case study in how not to deliver next-generation technology. Google's research labs are responsible for some of the most out-there tech we can imagine today, from self-driving cars and air-balloon Wi-Fi to modular smartphones and glucose-measuring contact lenses. Yet Glass's public and drawn-out implosion shows it takes more than hardware and software to bring a smart idea to market.

Even Astro Teller, the current head of Google X, told CNET in November that at $1,500, Google's Glass explorer edition prototype needed to be about 90 percent cheaper if it was going to win over a mass-market consumer audience.

Over time, the project began to lose both app developers and dedicated Google members. Not helping the matter was an unpleasantly public executive love triangle between Brin, Glass marketing chief Amanda Rosenberg and Rosenberg's boyfriend, Android VP Hugo Barra, the Times noted. Brin's marriage splintered in the process, and Barra left Rosenberg and Google behind to join Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi.

Glass was left with one crack too many, it seems.

But though Glass may be broken, it isn't dead -- at least not yet. Google has put the project under the direction of Ivy Ross, a jewelry designer, and Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive known as the father of the iPod and the founder of smart-devices maker Nest, which Google acquired last year. Fadell reportedly plans to rebuild Google's wearable efforts from the ground up, having learned from the mistakes of Glass.

"There will be no public experimentation," one adviser to Fadell said, according to the Times. "Tony is a product guy and he's not going to release something until it's perfect."