Google Glass Just Won't Die

Credit: Joel Saget / AFP / Getty Images

Google Glass should be dead and buried. More than 18 months after the much-hyped and oft-ridiculed device was discontinued, it's probably still too ripe to be exhumed for study as a cautionary tale of brazenly awkward industrial design and an even more brazen ignorance of — or possibly indifference to — the public's fears of pervasive surveillance. More than just a computer worn on your head, Glass featured a camera that might or might not have been filming everything the user looked at, without even a red recording light to alert subjects. It made pariahs out of its users, inspiring at least a handful of reported physical assaults. Becoming a magnet for scorn didn't come cheap, either. It cost $1,500. However innovative or ambitious it was as a piece of technology, as a product, Google Glass deserved to disappear.

But some gadgets keep shambling through the marketplace, long after their intended lifespan. As of right now, Google Glass is up for sale — or resale, really — on multiple online marketplaces, including eBay and Amazon. Prices vary widely, ranging from $80 to $395 for the frames alone, to as much as $1,998 for the most recent version of Glass bundled with titanium frames, a 3D-printed charging dock, and other accessories.

Of course, the Internet can act as a kind of garage sale stuck in amber, with listings collecting dust for months or even years as people hope in vain to unload their excess or unused possessions on anonymous passersby. After all, you can still pick up the Dreamcast, Sega's failed, but beloved 1999 game console for $300. But unlike with some of these online offers, there's activity on Google Glass listings, particularly on eBay, where prices for the device tend to land well below offers on Amazon. Bids are being made, and auctions are closing. There are real people out there buying Google Glass in 2016, and real people shipping out their defunct gadgets in exchange for hundreds of real dollars.

Don is one of those real people. The 47-year-old from New Jersey bought his Google Glass Explorer Edition XE-C in 2014 for roughly $1,500. “I was an early adopter back then,” says Don, who declined to share his last name, or other identifying information about himself. “This technology seemed really promising. I wanted to be part of it from the beginning.” The apps he tried seemed interesting, but it was clear to Don that the developers would have to unlock the device's real potential.

Six weeks later, Don realized the magnitude of his mistake. “I hadn't put it on for a few weeks, at least. There was no reason to,” he says. “And then there was the whole Glasshole thing.”

By the time Don picked up his Google Glass, the backlash against the device was already in full swing. Wearers had been booted from movie theaters, restaurants, and other businesses, out of fear that they might be surreptitiously recording. The gadget's most unique features came from its integrated camera, which would allow for such sci-fi tricks as searching the Internet for something the wearer was looking at or overlaying your point-of-view with data and graphics. Capturing stills and video may have been the least innovative functions of Google Glass, but it was the function that seemed to trigger the most violent reactions.

The most infamous Glass-related clash came in February 2014, when social media consultant Sarah Slocum alleged she was assaulted in a San Francisco bar. Slocum's own video shows two patrons reaching for the device, and one saying, “You're killing the city.” The dispute seemed to center on the idea of being filmed without permission, with Edward Snowden's NSA leaks still part of the national discussion. No one believed Google was piping footage to the government, but the notion of ubiquitous, even aggressive surveillance was a thorny one. But the reaction to Slocum's Google Glass was also an outgrowth of rising tensions within the Bay Area, as some residents blamed the booming tech industry for rising real estate prices and increased income inequality. Rather than generating sympathy for Glass owners, Slocum's attack seemed to make the device a greater target, leading more businesses to ban it from their premises.

“I've always really valued privacy,” Don says. It's one of the reasons he stopped using his newly purchased Google Glass so quickly. “I understood the Glasshole thing. I didn't want to be a part of that.” Resale prices in early 2014 were around $1,000, so Don held onto the device, hoping to get a better return on his investment as the product matured. But development stalled throughout the year, and in January 2015 Google officially pulled the plug. A year and a half later, Don realized used Google Glass units were selling for around $500 on eBay, and he put it up for auction without a minimum bid. And as further proof that the Google Glass secondary market is alive and well, the price climbed from an initial offer of just $50 to a final bid of $560.

For his part, Don doesn't believe Google Glass buyers are hapless suckers or nostalgic collectors. $560 is too much to spend on a whim, and there's no reason to think its resale value will increase with time. They're tech-savvy tinkerers, he thinks, who want to see what's possible with a full-fledged wearable computer, even without official support from Google. Maybe there's a vibrant community of Glass-modders out there, who've somehow escaped the Internet's all-seeing eye. Or maybe some unsung genius is using a resold Glass to cook up the biggest thing in augmented reality since Pokemon Go. Whatever the case, Don is just happy to be rid of his. He's recovered about a third of his investment, and learned an important lesson. “I'm not an early adopter anymore. If technology is revolutionary, there's no rush,” he says. “The next big thing can go from the coolest thing in the world for a few weeks to something you forget about in a drawer forever.”