The rise and fall of Google Glass

Brian Ho

When Google announced that it was killing Google Glass as we know it last month, it was a big surprise to all of us; we weren’t expecting the company to abruptly pull a device it had spent so much time and money promoting. So how exactly did Glass fall from the hottest gadget in tech?

A new report from The New York Times, entitled “Why Google Glass Broke,” documents the spectacular rise and fall of the search giant’s novel wearable — from its inception in a secret Google lab back in 2009, to its public debut in 2012, and then its assassination less than three years later.

It describes how the idea of Glass was born when Google’s founders and a team of executives came up with a list of 100 “futuristic ideas.” Others included indoor GPS systems and a project called Google Brain, apparently, but Glass was by far the most exciting.

As a result, then Google CEO Eric Schmidt hired Sebastian Thrun, a researcher at Stanford University, to come to Google and make Glass more than just an idea. Thrun started the Google X team and began working on Glass in a secret lab on the Google campus.

Soon after, Google co-founder Sergey Brin joined Thrun and the team he had assembled. More than a year went by before anyone — including other Google employees — found out what the Google X team had been up to.

“At the time, unknown to anyone outside X, an impassioned split was forming between X engineers about the most basic functions of Google Glass,” The Times reports. “One faction argued that it should be worn all day, like a “fashionable device,” while others thought it should be worn only for specific utilitarian functions.”

But there was one thing almost everyone in the X team agreed on, and that was that Glass was nothing more than a prototype that needed lots of improvement — far from a product that Google could sell.

Brin had other ideas, however. He felt Google should put Glass in the hands of consumers, and then use their feedback to improve it. He obviously got his own way as the company’s co-founder, so the Glass Explorer program was launched and the device became available to a select few who could afford its $1,500 price tag.

Initially, Glass was a major talking point — not only among nerds who had to have the latest gadgets, but also among businessmen and women, and even designers and fashionistas. Everyone wanted to try it out.

Time Magazine named Glass the “Best Invention of the Year,” other magazines wrote big features about it, it appeared on TV shows, and it was even worn by the hottest celebrities, including Beyoncé, Oprah, and Jennifer Lawrence. Even Price Charles was pictured trying a pair.

Glass also made an appearance at the 2012 New York Fashion Week, thanks to Diane von Furstenberg, who had her models wear the device in different colors while they walked up and down the runway.

But it didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off. Once Glass was in the hands of the media and journalists, its many flaws — such as its terrible battery life and various bugs — were suddenly brought to light. Privacy concerns were also raised, thanks to the wearable’s ability to record video without anyone but its owner knowing about it.

The big hit didn’t come until early 2014, however, when a scandal hit the Google X lab.

“Amid the 3-D printers and microchips, a love affair had developed between Mr. Brin and Amanda Rosenberg, a marketing manager on Google Glass who had helped organize the Diane von Furstenberg fashion show,” The Times reports.

“Mr. Brin was leaving his wife for Ms. Rosenberg, who was in turn leaving her boyfriend, who also worked at Google. In an even stranger twist reported in Vanity Fair, it turned out Mr. Brin’s wife had been friends with Ms. Rosenberg.”

After this, Glass and the team behind it were never quite the same. Original members of the X lab began to leave for new jobs elsewhere, and Brin, arguably the biggest supporter of Glass, stopped wearing his device out in public.

Just a year later and Glass as we know it is gone. But despite the speculation, there’s still plenty of hope for it.

Google hasn’t killed Glass altogether. The prototype is no longer available, but there is a team — headed up by none other than former Apple executive and creator of the Nest, Tony Fadell — that is hard at work redesigning it from scratch.

According to a source close to Fadell, the plan is to bring it back — but not until it is a finished product that’s ready for consumers. There will be no more experiments this time; Fadell wants to make it perfect, which means we could be waiting a while for the next model.

[via The New York Times]

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