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Google Glass — which aimed to revolutionize wearable tech — was a 'carnival of failure' according to the author of a dishy new book on the early 2010s non-phenom

Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert   

Google Glass — which aimed to revolutionize wearable tech — was a 'carnival of failure' according to the author of a dishy new book on the early 2010s non-phenom

Google Glass, the early 2010s would-be phenom that never made it to market, made a lasting impact on augmented reality technology — and its public perception — despite the device's lackluster launch and eventual discontinuation.

The wearable, computerized glasses aimed to revolutionize personal tech and replace cell phones, but its public debut was a "carnival of failure," according to Quinn Myers, author of "Google Glass: Remember the Internet no. 3."

Released on September 20, the book chronicles the creation of the wearable device through a series of interviews with its developers, fans, and critics, tracking its meteoric rise and fizzling end. While the devices have been largely relegated to punchlines of jokes about tech bros, Myers argues the Google Glass legacy offers lessons on privacy, AR technology, and corporate responsibility.

"Dunking on Glass is not just fun and easy: it's our only hope if we want a future where corporations can still feel shame and where our tech overlords can still be persuaded to help solve our most dire problems instead of creating new ones that destroy us all," Myers writes in the conclusion his book.

Though Myers condemns the attempt Google made to "reprogram the entire human race" using Glass, he argues the devices may have succeeded were it not for key flaws — not just in the technology and design, which have been mercilessly mocked for years — but because of poor marketing that exacerbated the divide between the 'haves' and 'have nots.'

Google did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

Headaches, both literal and figurative

Announced on April 4, 2012, the ambitious project aimed to allow users to stay connected "through notifications about what's going on in the digital world, and being able to socially share your experiences," Sebastian Thrun, who founded the Google X research lab responsible for Google Glass and other projects like self-driving cars, said in an interview for Myers' book.

A team of Google engineers sought to develop the technology needed to achieve that by utilizing augmented reality to project information through the lenses of glasses, allowing users to gesture and speak to control the device.

Early iterations, some so large they had to be stored in backpacks, suffered from issues like overheating and short battery life. Even as the tech advanced, Glass users reported headaches, dizziness, and eye strain because they were forced to look toward unnatural angles to use the device.

"When we started, I was always excited about augmented reality, and a lot of the vision that we had for it involved that," Babak Parviz, a director at Google X who formerly lead the Glass team and is credited with creating the headset, said in an interview for Myers' book, "But very quickly it became clear that the state of the technology was not there for us to do it."

Technology constraints also contributed to Glass' clunky look, which, despite bringing in a design specialist to help streamline the specs, remained unfashionable. Engineering problems around head shape, the eye box, and optics factories left it impossible to improve at the time, Myers wrote.

While the early-development technology limited the utility for Google Glass upon its debut — it could perform basic searches, display map directions, send and receive messages, take pictures and record short video clips — the avid fanbase behind Google's device may have carried it through the early years of debugging and troubleshooting if Glass had not also faced tremendous public backlash and what ultimately proved to be an insurmountable marketing problem.

From "Explorers" to "Glassholes"

In its initial announcement about the prototype device, Google released a video titled "One Day" which teased what users may be able to do while wearing Glass — showing a man scheduling his day, responding to messages, and navigating his errands using his glasses. The video immediately attracted viral attention from excited would-be consumers.

Two months later, at the June Google I/O conference in 2012, the Project Glass team demonstrated the power of Glass by livestreaming the view a parachuter had while jumping out of a blimp. The devices were featured on the runway of New York Fashion Week in September 2012. That October, TIME named Glass its "Invention of the Year."

Glass was wildly anticipated from the moment it was announced and inspired fervor for its futuristic feeling interface, promising an integrated user experience that would be a major advancement in the next generation of wearable technology — two years before the Apple Watch ushered in a wave of people who prefer their accessories computerized.

That anticipation kept Glass in the headlines through its public release. In early 2013, Google hosted a Twitter competition encouraging users to submit what they'd do #IfIHadGlass in hopes of winning a chance to buy a pair of Glass for a $1,500 pricetag, plus travel expenses to pick it up and be trained to use the device in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York.

The hefty expense, coupled with an early adopter audience that consisted largely of tech developers and select celebrities, began to shift the public perception of Glass from an exciting innovation for the masses to one which underscored a class divide.

"I believe [Glass] became a reference point of wealth, of being special, and I could feel that— because I would wear it every day and bring it to meetings, or go dancing, go to a party," Thrun said in Myers' book. "I was celebrated like a rock star because of it, [which] was shocking in the sense that I'm a geek. I'm in the dork category myself...but it had this effect on people."

As more people began to explore the world wearing their Glass devices, spotting a pair in the wild became a bit of a digital game. The Tumblr blog "White Men Wearing Google Glass" became popular, documenting "in the wild" encounters with Glass users, and the portmanteau "Glasshole" was popularized to describe users more engaged with their device than reality.

"Glasshole" quickly eclipsed Google's preferred label of "Explorers" for users of the Glass technology, further damaging its reputation.

Already most heavily adopted by engineers and computer scientists, the image of the Glass user got progressively less cool — with a viral image taken from inside a shower by a Glass user exemplifying the product's image problem.

"The whole episode was such a carnival of failure that it's honestly hard to say, but I think you could argue the leading reason Glass failed was Google's marketing," Myers wrote in a Reddit thread discussing his book.

The device would have been better marketed as a sport-utility camera like a Go-Pro, Myers wrote, which developers realized too late.

"Instead, Google tried to market Glass as a piece of high fashion. Their argument was that if they wanted people to wear it all day, they had to convince the public that ~cool and hot people~ wear Glass," Myers wrote. "So they strapped it onto runway models, celebs, and slapped an exorbitant price tag on it to make it seem exclusive. Unfortunately, the only people who took the bait were rich white dudes, and everything else came crashing down when people started realizing Glass couldn't actually do what Google promised it could do in their now-infamous "One Day" YouTube video."

Government surveillance and anti-Glass "hate crimes"

Even if Google had been able to overcome some of the concerns around its Glass audience — either by lowering the price point or making them widely available to a broader consumer audience — another blow to its public perception was dealt in June 2013.

That summer, National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed — through a series of whistleblowing leaks — that the government accessed and collected data from Google and other tech companies such as Facebook with a program called PRISM.

While there had been some rumblings about privacy worries among non-Glass users prior to the PRISM revelations, Snowden's information brought to a head the concerns about covert recordings made by users and whether the government may be able to access views seen through Glass devices. Police departments eyed the technology and the device's potential as a surveillance tool became more obvious and worrying to the public.

"If PRISM hadn't happened, maybe the privacy issues may have passed," Myers told Insider. "I always come back to Google Home and Alexa and when those first came out people were skeptical and didn't trust it, but now everyone has Ring doorbells and smart speakers."

Non-Glass users began targeting those wearing the devices in public, shaming and sometimes attacking them for wearing the potentially privacy-violating glasses in public. Glass users, who had already developed a reputation for being out of touch, lamented the "discrimination" they faced for wearing their gadgets in public.

One woman, in a segment on The Daily Show, described her experience as a "hate crime."

"We hadn't fully scoped out the very strong backlash to the camera in private spaces," Thrun said in Myers' book. "It was kind of funny because internally, our conversation about privacy was that the microphone is much worse than the camera. If there's one thing you want to hide it's what you say rather than how you look, but the public was very concerned about the camera."

The general harassment and bombardment of questions from strangers further diminished the Glass experience for Explorers once passionate about their glasses. Combined with the existing technical issues and limited functionality, many stopped wearing them entirely.

"A good number of Explorers stopped wearing [Glass] in 2013/4-ish when it became too much of a hassle to go out in public with them, or because it became clear they weren't going to catch on," Myers wrote. "A lot of them just realized they paid $1500 for Glass and then continued having to do beta-testing work for Google (sending bug reports, etc.) for free, which irked them to the point of quitting on the tech."

"We must never stop dunking on Google Glass"

Ultimately, Glass in its earliest iterations could not overcome its technical and marketing problems and the device stopped being available to the public in 2015. In 2020, Google Glass Explorer Edition ceased to be supported by new software updates.

Though the gadget wasn't yet ready for widespread commercial adoption at the time of its launch, Glass pioneered "OK Google" voice commands, which have since become commonplace — as well as influencing the development of augmented reality technology and popularizing wearable tech.

The year Glass stopped being available for public purchase, Snapchat launched video-capturing sunglasses to be used with its social app. Microsoft launched its mixed-reality headset HoloLens in 2016 and two years later, the US Army chose the HoloLens technology for a $480 million contract to create headsets for its troops.

"A lot of what's happening with AR now would not be around were it not for the major, major breakthroughs made by the Glass team," Myers told Insider. "A lot of what's around now, from a computing power standpoint and such a small camera you can wear on your face — a lot of those little things that've been figured out, Glass paved the way for a lot of that."

As augmented reality technology becomes mainstream, dissecting the original concerns surrounding Glass is more important than ever, Myers argued, because it was the public backlash that prevented the potentially dangerous unfinished technology from being unleashed.

Glass, Myers told Insider, had an insidious way of influencing social interactions that developers simply "didn't consider" when creating the tech that he thinks could have caused permanent changes to people's interactions, had the tech caught on the way Google intended.

"Imagine if everyone wore cameras all the time, everyone would just tense up," Myers told Insider, adding that Glass was extremely disruptive of existing social norms, like when people gather to take a picture together, even with very few users. "There'd be less natural human interaction. If there were facial recognition — which may be a weird tech nightmare we should pay attention to — you'd immediately know everything about someone instead of having the magic and mystery of finding all that out."

With companies like Meta pioneering even more AR and VR advancements, Myers told Insider it's important to remind companies of the public derision faced by Glass to keep the corporations in line and influence them to help solve social problems instead of creating new ones.

"We must never stop dunking on Google Glass," Myers writes at the end of his book. "We must never forget the most spectacular public failure of one of America's most trusted and respected tech titans. We must never stop telling the story of how Google thought they could reprogram the entire human race using dorky goggles, skydivers, and a fashion show."

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