Well, Google’s (GOOG) (GOOGL) first bold push into wearable computing was fun while it lasted. The search giant is suspending sales of Google Glass, the high-tech specs that apparently courted more controversy than buyers.
It’s not technically the end of the initiative. Google is folding the team responsible for the eyeglasses that run apps, project online content and record video into a different division at the company. We may very well see the technology behind Google Glass emerge as something else as the future. However, with sales of the Google Glass Explorer program now coming to a close, it also wouldn’t be a surprise if this is the last we see of the futuristic device that was probably too far ahead of its time for its own good.
Google doesn’t miss often, so let’s look at a few of the things that doomed the product.
1. Google Glass Was Too Expensive
Let’s start with the obvious deal breaker: price. Paying $1,500 for glasses that would run applications and provide GPS navigation wasn’t a very compelling value proposition for folks with smartphones and tablets that can do just that.
Google has historically taken an aggressive pricing approach with its rare hardware rollouts. From Chromecast media players to Nexus-branded gadgetry, the dot-com darling knows that it has to be reasonably inexpensive if it wants to reach the masses. That certainly didn’t happen with Google Glass.
TechInsights tore apart one of the $1,500 glasses to assess the cost of all of its components. The specs on the specs were shocking: TechInsights concluded that all of the parts making up Google Glass, including the assembly, cost a mere $79.78.
Google wasn’t going to sell the product at cost. There are marketing, research and other expenses to factor into the ultimate selling price. However, by pricing Google Glass at a point where only affluent early adopters and developers were willing to give it a shot, it never stood a chance.
2. Let’s Not Forget Privacy Concerns
Let’s face it, Google Glass was creepy. If you ever ran into someone wearing a pair in the wild — and that was rare outside of Silicon Valley — the mind would fill up with plenty of problematic questions. Is he recording me? Is she checking my online profile? Is he watching porn?
Movie theaters were the first to stop Google Glass-donning patrons at the door. Some bars, event venues and restaurants followed suit. It made surrounding guests uncomfortable. Someone could always whip out a phone or camcorder and start recording in a public place, but with Google Glass you just didn’t know if you were in a frame of a recorded clip.
3. Google Glass Failed the Fashion Test
Wearable computing has to look good. The reason sleek fitness bracelets have been a hit and bulky smart watches have been duds is that fashion ultimately matters more than functionality. Google Glass wasn’t very stylish, and while Big G tried to make up for that by offering designer-quality frames, the protruding projector made it look more like a medical device than mainstream eyewear.
When Apple (AAPL) finally rolls out the Apple Watch this year, it will be stylish. A product can do cool things, but if it doesn’t look cool too, it just won’t fly with consumers.
That’s a shame. Google Glass got a bad rap, but there were plenty of cases where it was genuinely making the world a better place. There were stories out there about early responders using Google Glass to send accident and disaster images to hospitals so that medical teams could get a heads-up on the injuries of incoming patients. Surgeons could multitask, pulling up an X-ray during a procedure. Google Glass made navigation easier and more enjoyable for folks working out, and even the New York Police Department and U.S. Air Force were testing them out to improve their operations.
Google Glass may come back in some incarnation, but it’s going to have to tackle the three things that held it back this time if it ever wants a shot at the masses.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple and Google (A and C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool’s one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.