Google will stop selling its Internet-connected eyewear to consumers until the company can develop a more polished and affordable version that’s less likely to be viewed as a freakish device.
The sales moratorium on the nearly 2-year-old “Explorer” edition of Google Glass goes into effect Jan. 19. The decision announced Thursday coincides with Glass’ spin-off from the secretive Google X lab where it was invented.
Glass will now operate in a division steered by veteran marketing executive Ivy Ross, whose past experience includes stints at fashion-conscious companies such as Gap Inc. and Calvin Klein. Ross will report to Tony Fadell, who played an instrumental role in the design of Apple’s iPod and now runs the smart-appliance maker Nest Labs that Google Inc. bought for $3.2 billion last year.
Google will still sell a version of Glass to companies that have found uses for the device in their offices, stores and factories. The Mountain View, California, company still plans to come back with a new consumer model of Glass, but hasn’t set a timetable for the next release.
By the time Glass returns to the consumer market, it will face more competition from other wearable computing devices, including a line of smart watches that Apple Inc. plans to begin selling this spring.
In a Thursday blog post, Google likened the Explorer edition of Glass to an infant learning how to walk.
“Well, we still have some work to do, but now we’re ready to put on our big kid shoes and learn how to run,” Google said.
Glass looks like a pair of spectacles except the Explorer edition didn’t contain any actual glass in the frame. Instead, the device has a thumbnail-sized screen attached above the right eye so a user can check email, see Twitter posts or get directions without having to grope for a phone.
Google began distributing the $1,500 device to computer programmers and about 10,000 randomly selected people in 2013 with the hope that the test group would come up with new ideas for using Glass and drum up enthusiasm for a hands-free way to remain connected to the Internet.
Although it generated plenty of intrigue and publicity, Glass struggled to win widespread acceptance. Part of the aversion stemmed from a design that made it look like a weird contraption rather than a hip accessory. Glass also turned off many people for its potential to intrude on people’s privacy by secretly taking pictures or video.
“It is a perfect stalker’s tool,” said John Simpson, privacy project director of Consumer Watchdog, a group has been among Google’s most strident critics. “It’s difficult to see how they solve that.”
About half of all consumers had privacy concerns about Glass, according to data compiled by Forrester Research.
The price also limited the demand for Glass when Google began selling the device to all comers last May.
“Google needs to construct a consumer image for the product, and deal with privacy concerns if they want it to be mass market,” said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder.
Google hasn’t disclosed how many units of the Glass’ Explorer version were sold. The company says about 100 businesses, including Hewlett-Packard, Boeing and Taco Bell, are testing Glass as a tool for work.