On Wednesday, May 17, Google will kick off its annual I/O event in Mountain View, California. As its main developer’s conference, the company oftentimes uses I/O to launch new projects and products. Many of them become hits like the Android mobile OS and the Nexus 7 tablet.
But not everything Google pitched at I/O became gold. There were other endeavors that either fell flat or eventually met its demise later down the road.
Google Wave (2009)
Wave was a computing platform that was like Google’s Gmail, Docs and Gchat combined. You could message friends, collaborate and edit files, share photos and even publish blogs directly from Wave. It even had “robots” you could add to a Wave conversation, which worked similar to chatbots. There was one for Twitter and one that carried out real-time translations.
Despite a lot of initial interest though, it had a complicated and overwhelming interface. (Who knew consolidating several online clients would look so exhausting?!) The next year, Google announced it would no longer develop it as a standalone product. These days, a lot of Wave’s elements can be seen in other chat clients. For instance, it had the ability to conduct polls and share locations via Maps.
Google Glass (2012)
Glass made a big splash at I/O when a stunt person skydived out of a plane to demo it, handed it off to bikers, who then hand-delivered it to co-founder Sergey Brin inside the Moscone Center. It was a head-mounted wearable that could be triggered by the phrase “OK Glass,” and it displayed info about phone calls, maps, your email and more.
Glass looked futuristic even by today’s standards, but its initial “Explorers” edition cost an obscene $1,500. And while it garnered lots of hype and curiosity, it raised privacy and safety concerns and had an uncanny ability to increase one’s level of douchiness while wearing it. Ultimately, Google paused the project in 2015, halted the Explorer program and discontinued production of the prototype.
Nexus Q (2012)
The Nexus Q was a digital media player that played content from Google Movie, Music and Play, as well as YouTube, onto your TV. It was also Google’s first project that was developed and created in-house.
The Q straddled the line between looking sophisticated and adorable, and its design attracted a lot of attention. But in the end, it was an overpriced device that at $300, had a lot competitors like AppleTV and Roku that did much of the same thing. After a delayed launch, Google gave away the Q for free to those who pre-ordered it, and stopped selling the device in 2013. A lot of the Q’s technology ended up in the much cheaper Chromecast dongle.
Project Ara (2014)
Though buzz for Project Ara developed as early as 2013 when Google acquired Motorola, it increased when the company showed off a prototype at I/O 2014 (though the demo failed to work properly onstage). Ara was a phone concept that allowed users to hot-swap core hardware components like the camera and battery, and was a thorough imagining of the long-desired modular phone.
Afterwards, Google announced Ara would be ready for developers by the end of 2016 and consumer-ready by 2017. The company also circulated more prototypes, designed a new logo and released a promo video. It seemed like we were always weeks away from Project Ara becoming finally realized. Then on September 2016, it was revealed that the endeavor was put on hold, indefinitely. Google never officially explained why and the group that worked on it, ATAP, went onto different directions. Facebook later hired key ATAP members for its skunkwork Building 8 division.
The upside to the downside
Despite these services and products either failing to reach the market or failing to make a big splash within the market, there’s always the possibility that we’ll see these things reincarnated in future Google endeavors. And to the company’s credit, the freedom to allow its projects to fail likely gives Google the breadth to explore and innovate. Whether all projects become hits or not, no one can knock Google for at least going out on a limb and trying something new.