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Google denies sub-$80 materials cost for Glass

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Join the Community! took apart a $1,500 pair of Google Glass(s goog) and published estimates of the final bill of materials on Wednesday. The bottom line? Glass components cost an estimated $79.78, or a little more than 5 percent of its retail price. Google shot a quick statement to the Wall Street Journal, calling the estimate “absolutely wrong.” is not the first to take apart a pair of Glass. We’ve known what’s inside Glass since at least last June, when the second wave of Glass availability led two privacy-concerned engineers to take apart the wearable. What has done is compare individual parts to the wholesale component market and estimate the cost of the device as a whole — and they’re not the only ones saying that Google Glass is not expensive to manufacture.

Last August, my colleague Kevin Tofel noted the components in Google Glass are strikingly similar to the Motorola MotoActiv smartwatch that came out in early 2012. Using those components as a baseline, he estimated Google Glass to potentially cost as much as $225:

“Let’s go with the worst case though: $150 for all of the internal parts plus $35 for the display and another $40 — likely a high estimate on my part — for the speaker component and a camera sensor. That brings us to a conservative $225 figure. Of course there are costs involved for the actual wearable part as well as production. Even so, $299 doesn’t sound out of the realm of possibilities. We’re not looking at the chips and memory that are needed to make a $600 smartphone here.”

While $225 is nearly three times the amount that estimated, the two guesses are still in the same ballpark, especially compared to the $1,500 list price for a pair of Glass.

There are a variety of reasons why Google could have said the cost estimate is “absolutely wrong.” Glass’ dime-sized 640 x 360 display needs some pretty unique optics, and could conceivably cost significantly more than the $3 estimated. The estimate did not include research and development costs, which include entire teams of developers and engineers, most likely handsomely paid. And finally, the comment could be reflexive pushback to unflattering news.

Regardless of minor differences between cost estimates, the bottom line is clear: Google Glass’ price seems to have little to do with the marginal cost of producing a new unit. The rollout was not designed to get them in as many developers’ hands as possible. Instead, the entire Glass rollout process was a series of PR stunts meant to give the devices the appearance of a uncommon luxury good by ensuring only hardcore gadget geeks could get their hands on a pair due to high price and low availability. As Glass marketing chief Ed Sanders told Forbes earlier this month, “The high price point isn’t just about the cost of the device. We want people who are going to be passionate about it.”

On the other hand, the inexpensive bill of materials means that when Glass is eventually released to the public, maybe it’ll be priced so you can actually afford a pair.

16 Responses to “Google denies sub-$80 materials cost for Glass”

  1. Steve Slezak

    I look at cutting-edge tech similarly to how I look at new medical procedures/devices/medicines: Of course it is going to initially cost many times more than the cost of the actual components. I wear hard contact lenses by neccessity, due to my eye condition: These lenses have actually been around for decades, yet they still cost $80 each. What do you think the actual materials cost? A dime? My point is, there are many factors weighing into cost, and everyone should wait to pass judgement until they are for sale to the general public, i.e., once Wal-Mart is selling them next to their cellphones. I love my Glass, and although I have no need to wear it everyday, I still wear it on weekend road trips, vacations, and anytime I’m doing something neat (wore it today to record video while jumping on trampoline with daughter).

  2. Shmitelligent

    In marketing language, it’s called Skimming. They don’t WANT millions of users and the $1,500 is just that — a way to weed out people who are not serious about the glasses. It has nothing to do with commercial pricing when the product is eventually launched with Google services and ads

  3. Pinkie_Lardo

    It’s one thing to be able to afford Glass. It’s another thing to want Glass.

    If they gave glass to 100 people for free today, how many would be wearing them one month from now? I would guess a number substantially close to zero.

    Maybe the concept will work somehow someday. But not this version, and not now.

  4. Gary Doan

    Who cares what it costs, it not even available for sale and may never be? Announced in 2012 became an odd fashion statement for rich techies and the media, who are now called Glassholes.

  5. coder543

    It’s a developer kit still. Until they release a mass-market version of Glass, costing an exorbitant amount isn’t surprising or insulting. When they *really* decide to release Google Glass, they will be able to drop the price down into the realm of the actually affordable. I’d say $300 is a good baseline estimate for a retail price, but I could see higher or lower.

    Why does everyone seem to think this Glass Explorer Edition — which is a developer kit — is being marketed at average people? The $1500 price tag is a bright red flag that says it clearly isn’t. They want everyone to know about it — to whet their collective appetite, but it isn’t being marketed to them yet, and especially not as a purchasable product.

    • Sure, it’s a dev kit, but how many dev kits come with free champagne when you pick them up from a loft in New York? And I’m sure both Neil Patrick Harris and Soulja Boy — two celebrity explorers from the first wave back in 2013 — are hard at work hacking apps.

      • coder543

        Neil Patrick Harris and Soulja Boy could buy nVidia Jetson TK1 dev kits today — that action wouldn’t make the Jetson TK1 any less of a dev kit. You realize this, right?

      • coder543

        To tech pundits, maybe, but not to the public yet. Tech pundits are surely smart enough to figure out that this is a dev kit and that the price is intended to reflect that. The public knows about it, but so far they’ve only had one one-day chance to accidentally spend $1500 on a dev kit. Google has done a great job of keeping it away from the public at the current kind of crazy price.

        Google is selling the *concept* of Glass to the public… that has nothing to do with the public spending $1500 on a dev kit. When the consumer release happens, that’s when they’ll be selling Glass to the public, and not just the concept, and price will probably be lower.

        All of this whining about the $1500 price tag is just that: whining. It’s a dev kit. They never asked you to buy it.