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GoogleX exec: Where Google went wrong with Glass

Sharon Gaudin | March 19, 2015
The company oversold the wearable too soon and learned some lessons.

astro teller googlex director
Astro Teller, who oversees Google X, speaks at the South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive film and music conference in Austin on Tuesday. Credit: Laura Buckman/Reuters

Google botched its wearable, Google Glass, and now the director of GoogleX labs is openly talking about it.

Astro Teller, Google's director of its research arm, GoogleX, was speaking to an audience at the South by Southwest conference in Austin on Tuesday when he said the company made mistakes with Glass.

Google, according to Teller, needs to work out its wearable's battery and privacy issues, and address miscommunications about the state of the project.

Google Glass, even when it was being sold to early testers for $1,500, was never close to being ready for official sale. It's a prototype and still solidly in the experimental phase.

The company, however, did not make that clear, especially when its executives and its PR people were repeatedly putting timeframes on an official Glass release.

Looking back at the Glass Explorer program, Teller said Google did one good thing it launched the project but it also did one thing wrong.

"The bad decision was that we allowed and sometimes even encouraged too much attention for the program," he said. "Instead of people seeing the Explorer devices as learning devices, Glass began to be talked about as if it were a fully baked consumer product. The device was being judged and evaluated in a very different context than we intended."

That tactic frustrated a lot of early adopters.

"While we were hoping to learn more about how to make it better, people just wanted the product to be better straight away , and that led to some understandably disappointed Explorers," Teller said.

While thousands of people bought Glass to become early adopters, or Explorers , the application ecosystem for the product didn't grow and the project became the target of jokes and waning interest.

"It sounded reasonable to them to have an alpha testing program where, rather than paying the folks testing the product and keeping it secret, they got the testers to pay for the privilege in a kind of a Tom Sawyer scheme, and made the test public," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "Now the product has to dig itself out of a hole that wouldn't have existed had they done the testing using traditional methods."

Teller said the Explorer program, which ended in January, was invaluable.

"I can say that having experimented out in the open was painful at points, but it was still the right thing to do," he said. "We never would have learned all that we've learned without the Explorer program, and we needed that to inform the future of Glass and wearables in general."


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