The Explorer program through which Google sold its Glass device to software developers, Silicon Valley celebrities, and celebrity wannabes was destined for PR disaster because of the Silicon Valley hype cycle. Yesterday, Google shuttered the Explorer Program, putting an end to Glass sales to the general public, as well as its PR problem.
Glass-wearing Google employees first appeared in public in late 2012. By 2013, valley celebrities like Robert Scoble arrived on the scene sporting Glass, piquing the public's interest. Tech mavens wanted to wear Glass to be cool by association with Google and Glass-wearing celebrities. Throughout 2013, tech celebrities and wannabes donned Glass en masse.
Google's first choice of Glass buyers was the right one – software developers. Amidst much fanfare, Google founder Sergey Brin announced Glass three years ago at Google's developer conference. Google Glass passed the developers' credit card test. About 1,200 of the 6,000 developers in attendance gave Google a credit card number to be billed when Glass shipped later in the year. This was smart. At release, Glass had productivity apps built by Google, like maps and email. Glass needed third-party apps to succeed because not even Google's elite team of engineers and software developers could build enough apps to match the many use cases for a head-worn, hands-free computer. Brin won the hearts and minds of 1,200 of the best developers on the very first day that Glass appeared.
When people who didn't code got their hands on Glass, things started to go very wrong. Glass made this group feel specially chosen and entitled – that they were somehow Google Glass ambassadors. And this group wasn't made up of just reserved software developer types; it included a disproportionate share of extroverted, attention-seeking publicity hounds. Hence the term "Glasshole."
A combination of Google's reputation, Glass-wearing celebrities, and the public's desire to understand Glass ignited the hype cycle. At first, Glass received great PR, but it turned negative as non-coding Glass Explorers with very little to add to the discussion elbowed their way onto center stage. At the same time, Edward Snowden revealed the NSA's surveillance methods, creating wholesale security-state paranoia that sometimes was misdirected at Google. So not only was the bravado of these Glass-wearing non-contributors offensive, it scared a privacy-minded public that was already upset by the Snowden revelations.
Yesterday was the last day that just anyone could buy Glass. This means that Google has wisely decided to stop making Glassholes. Why cancel Glass? Just because right now it didn’t find a consumer use case and the surveillance-sensitive fear it. The software, SDKs, and APIs are solid. And the hardware is solid. According to Forbes, Intel will supply its Atom chip for the next version of Glass.
Google has committed to future versions of Glass "when they're ready." The Glass group will move out of Google X, the company's advanced research organization. It will continue to be led by Ivy Ross, now reporting to Tony Fadell, the chief executive of Google's home automation business that includes Nest.
BBC reports that Google will continue to make Glass and support its partners. And Quartz reports that Google will continue to sell Glass to businesses through the Glass at Work program. Instead of continuing to fuel unmet consumer expectations with the anticipation of a cheap version of Glass for everyone, Google will now focus on commercial apps with big paybacks, for which enterprises will pay a premium for head-worn, hands-free computers and apps.
Glass runs Android. The legion of Android developers can build apps for Glass, but from here it won't look anything like smartphone apps, which have been monetized with millions of downloads and in-app purchases. Glass will continue to grow where Google's partners find premium-priced use cases in law enforcement, medicine, on oil rigs, laboratories, or anyplace that it can improve the efficiency of expensive people operating in expensive or critical situations who need both hands free.