Whether you think of Google’s face-computer, Glass, as the harbinger of the next wave of technology or not, it’s difficult to ignore the $1,500 price tag for such a seemingly limited device. Competing products with comparable hardware are significantly cheaper to the tune of $1,000. Why is Glass so expensive?
We’ve discussed the merits of the current version of Google’s Glass before, and a teardownearlier this month revealed that the hardware specs weren’t anything to say “Okay, Glass” and email home about. The current guttyworks feature a Texas Instruments OMAP4430 SoC, 16GB of internal flash memory, what seems to be 1GB of RAM, and an underwhelming 570mAh lithium-polymer battery. Basically, the Glass is around as powerful as a cheap modern smartphone.
It is often expected that, when a new genre of device is created, it won’t start off very powerful as it tries to find its footing. It’s also often expected that a new genre of device would be sold for more money than it initially seems worth, charging a premium for being the next great new thing. Before Google’s Glass has even released on any kind of consumer scale — with the Explorer beta program the only real way to get your hands on one — other competitors have emerged, charging significantly less money for a comparable device with comparable specs. That begs the question: What in the world makes Google’s Glass as expensive as, for example, a Retina 15-inch MacBook Pro, or nearly four PlayStation 4s?
To figure that out, you should compare Glass’ hardware to that of its competitors. Though the power of the Glass hardware won’t blow anyone’s smartsocks off, perhaps the quality of the the hardware is at least significantly higher than the competitors’? Recon Instruments recently announced the Jet, a face-computer in the same vein as Google’s Glass, except marketed and designed for a more energetic lifestyle. Unlike Glass, the Jet looks like real sunglasses (pictured above). Also unlike Glass, the Jet only costs $499, one-third the price. The Jet sports a 1GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor, 1GB of RAM, an 8GB of on-board flash memory. It features 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer, an HD camera, and speaker and microphone. Aside from the 8GB less of flash memory, the Jet is comparable to the Glass. If the devices had the same apps and were styled the same way, your grandma likely wouldn’t know the difference between the two. However, the Glass’ prism display (pictured below) might be the difference.
Even Apple, notorious for charging a premium for comparable hardware, doesn’t charge $1,000 over a competitor’s similar product. Why, then, is Google charging such a premium? There are answers that won’t induce any ire, and answers that won’t portray Google in a positive manner. The negative possibilities are simply that Google is leveraging its recognizable brand, and charging a huge premium because Glass is a genre of technology that looks like real-life science fiction. If that is the case, then Google is essentially disguising the capabilities of the Glass and preying on the public’s desire for science fiction technology.
A believable answer for the huge price difference that won’t make you mad at Google is that the aforementioned prism “screen” is just very, very expensive. Remember, Glass is essentially a projector that beams an image into your eye, whereas competitors like Jet appear to just use a tiny HD screen that is placed in such a way so as to appear like a large screen. A prism that refracts an image into your eyeball certainly sounds expensive, or at least more expensive than a cleverly placed but regular screen.
Finally, another answer that will likely be bothersome-but-understandable is that the current $1,500 price is just the entry fee for the early-access Explorer program. The final retail unit could be significantly cheaper, and Google is charging a high price for this beta program in order to attract serious testers only.
If Glass remains this expensive at its retail launch, though, Google might have some serious justification ahead of itself.