Google recently announced that they are moving Google Glass out of their Google X development unit and establishing a stand-alone unit for the device. Google would like you to infer from all this that they envision a viable commercial future for the polarizing device. Or it could mean that Google views the current iteration as a failure and its back to the drawing board.
But as Google winds down its Google Glass program without any specifics on what is coining next, or even whether Glass owners will receive any future software updates or support (or simply start selling them on eBay alongside the Apple II), you have to take a minute to admire a program that got thousands of people to spend $1,500 each to serve as lab rats, or as Google calls them, “explorers.”
Google was very clear on the purpose of the explorer program: buy these, use them and know that we are tracking every click with an eye toward better understanding what works, what doesn’t and (in true Google fashion) what else can we learn about our users that can be monetized down the line. They even set up a Glass Community (on Google+ of course) to encourage interaction and sharing among the Explorers.
Whether the Glass ever achieves broad-based commercial success remains to be seen. But either way, Google has pulled off something just as valuable: proving that they are capable of innovating products with the sort of cachet one normally associates with Apple, and inducing people to spend a lot of money for something just because it’s cool.
What about you? Did you buy a Google Glass? What company could get you to spend $1,500 (on a product whose production cost is estimated at $80) just to be part of their product development process?