Google has appeared to admit that it hasn’t quite cracked Glass, as the tech giant announced that it would halt sales of its high-tech specs. The company said it remained committed to launching a consumer version of its smart eyewear, Google Glass, but would stop making the headset in its current form and focus instead on “future versions of Glass”.
The Glass Explorer programme, which allows software developers and early adopters to acquire the device for $1,500 (£990), was launched in the US in 2013 and the UK last year, and was expected to be followed by a mass market rollout. Now, Google says the Explorer programme will come to an end and it will stop taking orders for headsets from 19 January.
Originally touted as the first major wearable tech item, Glass was reportedly the brainchild of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who has rarely been seen in public without a pair since its launch. The device, which consists of a glasses-like frame with a small screen above the user’s right eye, promised to deliver multiple, revolutionary hands-free applications. Yet modest sales were compounded by concerns over privacy – with some bars and restaurants ban Glass, whose users earned the nickname “glassholes”.
Google Glass: Everything you need to know
Google Glass: Everything you need to know
Think of Glass as having a smartphone on your face. You control it either using voice commands (eg, 'Okay Glass, directions to British Museum') or the touch panel on the right arm (eg, swipe down to go back in any menu). It can shoot video and photos without connecting to the internet but you need to connect to the web via a smartphone or Wi-Fi to use apps (dubbed 'Glassware). Google hopes it's the future (ie you'll be using Google all the time), others think it's just too geeky or creepy to ever take off.
Glass is about as powerful as a mid-range smartphone with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of memory slotted into the right arm of the frame. The prism-style screen has a resolution of 640 by 360 and sound is conveyed either by a bone conduction speaker (using vibrations into your skull) or using an earphone. The camera has a five-megapixel resolution and can shoot video at 720p. There's also a proximity sensor to turn it on automatically when picked up. Engineers have estimated that the innards cost around £100 with Google's R&D accounting for the rest of the cost.
3/6 Glass in the UK
Anyone in the UK over 18 and with £1000 burning a hole in their pocket can buy Glass. It's available online or through Google's London 'Basecamp' - essentially a fitting station to give you an introduction to the technology (that's the LA one on the left, expect London's to be less sunny). Glass has launched with five apps (known as 'Glasware' in the UK) including a running 'audio game', a star map and a news app from The Guardian.
The location of Glass's screen in the top right of users' vision has led to complaints of headaches. Experts say that the display is in one of the least comfortable areas of humans' field of vision (early prototypes put the screen directly in front of the ye but was too obstructive), although Google says that its only a problem for a small number of users: “Glass is designed for micro-interactions, not for staring into the screen, watching Friday night movie marathons or reading War and Peace.”
Google has been keen to market Glass as a fashionable product, placing the device on catwalks and between the covers of Vogue. The company has partnered with Luxottica (owner of the Ray-Ban brand) as well as designer Diane von Fürstenberg to make special frames. Google's own designs are known as the Titanium Series (left) with perscription lenses costing extra. However, this association with the catwalk has done nothing to shake the criticism that Glass - and its price tag - are elitist.
6/6 Using Glass
Google has partnered with everyone from doctors to engineers to show how Glass can be useful - essentially by helping people in high-pressure professions who need hands-free access to information on the spot. However, this isn't an argument for Glass becoming a consumer product. Advocates of Glass say that it takes away a layer between technology and peoples' lives - and while this may be useful some of the time it's hardly a killer application. Besides, having to make a conscious decision to look at our smartphones may actually help us look at them less. If there's no separation between reality and tech, why would ever put the latter away?
Google said it would still offer support to companies that already use Glass.
The announcement comes days after Tesco became the first major UK retailer to launch a Glass app, Tesco Grocery, which lets shoppers browse supermarket shelves and make purchases hands-free. Last year, Reuters surveyed 16 Glass app developers, nine of whom admitted they had abandoned or stopped work on their apps, due to the device’s technical limitations or lack of popularity.
Speaking to an audience in Bogota, Colombia this week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared to suggest another reason for Glass’s failure to take hold in the public imagination: the device just looks “weird”. Asked to predict how tech hardware might evolve, Mr Zuckerberg said: “In another 10 to 15 years … we will have something that we can wear. Maybe it will look like just normal glasses so it won’t look weird like some of the stuff that exists today.”
Despite widespread predictions about so-called “wearables”, no single product has yet taken off spectacularly.