Google Glass Explorer: Marketing Brilliance, or a Brag Too Far?

Amidst the hubbub of the first wave of real people getting their hands on the fabled Google Glass, something’s being ignored: the Explorer programme is a tech launch, done as we’ve never seen before. Thing is, it hasn’t been a no-holds-barred success for Google.

You’ve probably heard of Google Glass: basically a heads-up display for life, that theoretically lets you do lots of smartphone-y things, like checking your email or Googling stuff, without actually using said smartphone. Unveiled a year ago at Google I/O by Sergey Brin, Google co-founder and overseer of the Google X Labs, Glass has become the poster-boy of the wearable-computing craze sweeping the technology world.
One of the unusual (or ‘disruptive’, in Silicon-Valley-ese) facts about Google Glass is the beta-testing programme Google’s undertaken. Project Glass was first launched in 2012, and full retail versions aren’t expected until 2014. Nonetheless, Google launched the #ifihadglass campaign a few months ago, allowing wannabe cyborgs to tweet what they would do #iftheyhadglass. Around 8,000 lucky respondents were chosen, allowing them the chance to pony up £1,100 to buy a set of Google Glass Explorer right now. Add that onto those who pre-ordered Glass at I/O 2012 (for the same £1,100), and that creates around 10,000 people who are #wanderingaroundwithglass, almost a year before its general-public release.

This is a marked contrast to the normal state of affairs surrounding technology launches. Traditionally, prototypes are kept tethered to desks, protected by spies and FBI agents, and generally guarded like the MacGuffin in a C-rate action film. The idea behind this is that the ‘unveiling’ of a new product, with lots of anticipation and tension and probably scantily-clad ladies, will build a butt-load of hype around the new product, driving the Twitterati into a feeding frenzy and causing misguided souls to queue outside Apple stores for hours. It’s a tried and tested formula, so for Google to be turning their backs on conventional product-launch wisdom is a brave move.