Google Is Finally Letting Everyone Buy Glass, Please Don’t

The velvet rope is no more. If you want Google Google Glass, the sometimes-hard-to-define, next-big-thing from Google, you can now plunk down $1,500 and order a pair. But even if you’ve really been dying to have Google Glass, you should pass. Why? Because what Google is offering amounts to a really expensive beta program for an incomplete product. You’re getting hardware that is likely to be quite inferior to the final shipping version and you’re going to pay a lot more for it than whatever the final version costs.

As a gadget junkie, this isn’t easy advice to give. I have Android and iOS tablets, multiple connected-TV devices, a fitness band, three game consoles and a bunch of other toys here. Even with its lousy battery life and imperfect user experience, there are times when I think Google Glass would be terrific toy to play with. But despite Google’s protestations about various analyses, Glass is not a product that will ultimately retail for anywhere near $1,500. Two recent teardowns put the build cost at $80 and $152. Nearly a year ago, I did my own work here and concluded that Glass cost less than $200 to produce and would retail for between $299 and $500 when the final version ships. (It’s very unusual for consumer electronics to sell for more than 3x their build cost and they often retail for less.)

Let’s be clear, until Google decides to make Glass widely available, we don’t know what the price will be, but it will be significantly lower than $1,500. That price is designed to keep demand low so Google can deal with relatively small numbers of customers, taking their feedback and working on improving Glass. This should be applauded on some level. The battery life in Glass is not good enough and the decisions Google made to get you through the day make things like seamless photo uploading more challenging than they ought to be at times. Google needed a large pool of users, both technical and otherwise, to sort out how to perfect Glass before a general release.

We can quibble over whether charging $1,500 to beta testers was reasonable, but Google clearly felt it would get only a group of seriously committed people that way. That the group probably skews toward the “geek set” might not even be a terrible thing in that the earliest adopters are most likely to find the flaws and bugaboos with the product. (Ancedotally, from talking with dozens of Glass users, it seems most are somewhat technical, but there are definitely people who were just taken with the product and had to be among the first to own it.)

Screenshot 2014-05-13 17.48.10

But just because Google has now decided that you can buy Glass without getting invited into the club, it’s important to understand that from a hardware perspective little has changed. Yes, you get to choose an aesthetic frame along with the base Commander La Forge piece. And there is a better earpiece than when Glass first arrived. But too many tradeoffs remain, especially when Google would like you to pony up what could easily be 3-5x the final price of Glass.

This may be tempting, but instead of jumping in, remind yourself that a public release of this beta hardware is a step on the path toward the version of Glass you really want. And stay on the sidelines for now.

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