The decision to manufacture in California will boost President Barack Obama’s drive, set out in his State of the Union address, to ensure “the next revolution in manufacturing is ‘Made in America’”. In December, Apple chief executive Tim Cook pledged to invest $100m in American manufacturing. Foxconn has also said it is considering expanding its US operations in response to growing customer demands.
Glass is an ambitious example of so-called wearable computing, Silicon Valley’s latest gadget obsession. Its inbuilt camera is controlled by voice recognition software and can send photos and videos directly to the web, via a connected smartphone, while a small screen above the wearer’s right eye displays search results and other information.
The small scale, high cost and complexity of the project’s initial run makes it practical to base manufacturing operations near the search company’s Silicon Valley headquarters, according to people briefed on the plans.
Only a few thousand Google Glass devices will roll off the Californian factory line in the coming weeks, rather than the millions of iPhones and other electronics which Foxconn typically produces at its plants in China, where the vast majority of the world’s gadgets are made. It is also not clear how many people the facility will employ.
Google said on Wednesday that it would give 8,000 contest winners the opportunity to buy the $1,500 devices. Although no launch date has been set publicly, Glass is expected go on sale to the mass market later this year.
Manufacturing locally will allow Google’s engineers to be closely involved with the production process and provide more opportunities for last-minute fixes and for personal customisation.
Although many components are being sourced from Asia, final assembly will be done in Santa Clara. Foxconn and Google declined to comment.
Such moves may also blaze a trail for Silicon Valley’s resurgent community of hardware start-ups, which remain largely reliant on cheaper offshore manufacturing. As contract device makers scale up production for large clients such as Apple and Google, their prices will fall and provide capacity for smaller companies too.
Many of the people waiting to receive Glass include developers who ordered a pair at last June’s Google I/O event in San Francisco, as well as some handpicked Google partners. Some tech and media companies, including Evernote, Path and the New York Times, are already creating apps to work on the headset. The “Explorer Edition” of Glass currently being manufactured is likely to be unveiled at this year’s I/O.
Google’s first attempt at building its own hardware was last year’s aborted Nexus Q, a music and movie-streaming device that was also made in Silicon Valley. The physical design of the small spherical unit, which included touch sensors, precision-machined zinc housing and 33 LEDs, was widely praised. But Google pulled the unit from sale last August, just weeks after unveiling it, without providing any reason for the move.
Google’s previous hardware partners have primarily been other branded electronics companies such as Taiwan’s Asus and South Korea’s LG, with which it has developed different generations of the Nexus line of flagship Android smartphones and tablets.
Additional reporting by Sarah Mishkin in Taipei and Richard Waters in San Francisco