Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The end of Google Glass, and what we can learn from it

By Johnny McCabe

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(Ted Eytan/Flickr)

(Ted Eytan/Flickr)

Tech and software giant Google is not known to retreat. However, at the time of this article’s printing, its high-profile and infamous “Google Glass” headset is no longer available for consumer purchase, as the company made clear in an official Google + post last Thursday.

The so-called “Glass Explorer” program is a type of physical beta test in which users would pay $1,500 for the right to wear the instantly recognizable, gawky, lens-free frames and chunky microcomputer, complete with blocky always-on display. Since its outlandish introduction by parachute at Google I/O in 2012, the Glass program has been beset by all the manner of controversies, ranging from health concerns to questions about consumer privacy in an age dominated by digital surveillance, making its rather unassuming demise an anticlimactic end to one of the most talked-about stories in tech in recent years.

However, the meteoric rise and gradual fall of Google Glass are a revealing insight into the trends and themes that govern technology’s interaction with society.

The late Google Glass began its life in 2012, just as the wave of wearable tech, which today crashes around our collective ears, was beginning to gather on the distant horizon. The first generation of smartwatches, spearheaded by the intrepid Pebble, was only just beginning to creep its way into public view. Seemingly out of nowhere came Google with a wild and unapologetically futuristic device that seemed to challenge every idea about the way people used and interacted with technology.

Fast forward to 2015, and the covert operations of Google[x]’s Project Glass team are being dismantled – or “graduated,” as Google so politically puts it – and redistributed throughout the rest of the company, with no word given to the fate of Project Glass itself. The company did announce that Tony Fadell, founder of smart-home tech startup and recent Google acquisition Nest, would be taking control of whatever remains to be done with Glass for however long it needs to be done.

If there exists one person to put in charge of Project Glass, it’s Fadell. His tenure at Nest oversaw the creation of safety and security conscious products like smoke detectors and thermostats, which seems an almost perfect fit for the rash of concerns and public outcry toward Glass.

Countless users spoke up in regards to the strain and pain Glass caused their eyes, some theorizing that the tiny screen’s close proximity to the eyeball would unnaturally bombard sensitive tissue with light. Furthermore, an almost immediate outcry of the headset’s violation of civil liberties followed its entry into public space, with assertions of infringement on privacy leading Google itself to try to dissuade beta testers from the types of behaviors that would lead them to be perceived as “glassholes.

Both health worries and ethical concerns do not work to the advantage of such a risky product, and the final nail in Glass’s coffin was its price. The $1,500 premium was directed primarily at developers and interested parties within the tech community, most likely intended to build a strong, knowledgeable testing base through which to refine and enhance its product.

What Google got instead was an inbox full of complaints for people who felt ripped off by the buggy and half-finished kludge they received instead of a sleek and enviable first-class ticket to the future. The steep price of adoption conveyed a certain expectation of quality, an idea that the consumer was entitled to something after giving up their valuable money.

In the wake of the bursting of the crowdfunding bubble, it seems only logical that this specific brand of disappointment could be met with violent backlash.

The tale of Google Glass is long and fraught with missteps and issues. Although it may seem like a wasted investment on Google’s part, the saga of the world’s first (and hopefully last) pair of smart glasses is a crucial example of both the types of thinking and the problems technology will face as the future comes ever closer.

By foregrounding important questions about usability, consumer privacy, and wish fulfillment, Google Glass set the groundwork for the current generation of wearables, and anticipated some of the biggest challenges in store.

Though Google Glass is dead, it will not be forgotten.

Johnny McCabe is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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