Less than a year ago, Google Glass was seemingly doing great. At a 1-day sale organized in April 2014, Glass was reportedly sold out. A month later, images of Roger Federer sporting Google Glass started doing the rounds on the internet – fueling public interest further. And then, the tables turned – sale figures tapered off (they were nothing great to start off with), and although Google does not reveal actual sales figures of its products, Glass has been acknowledged as one of biggest tech flops since the turn of the century.
Apple Watch, which would probably rank even higher in terms of hype in the domain of wearable technology, is slated to start shipping from 24 April. General tech enthusiasts, software experts and app developers have a common query: Will Watch’s fate be similar as that of Google Glass? We will here point out why that is not likely to be the case:
- Less emphasis on technology – Glass was about technology, and Watch is also about high-end technology. However, there is an important difference between the two. While Google chose to highlight the tech features of Glass, Apple has been raving more about how Watch would double up as a fashion accessory as well (the Gold Edition, anyone?). Not naming the product a smartwatch, or iWatch, has also been a smart move. Unlike Google, Apple has not assumed that technology would automatically appeal to potential buyers.
- Support of a paired device – To use Watch, it has to be paired with a compatible iPhone (read: iPhone 5 or higher). This, according to mobile software and app development experts, is a major support. People have a clear idea about how Watch apps would work (with the WatchKit extension). Google Glass was a standalone wearable gadget, and all that people knew about it was that it offered augmented reality views.
- Elegance vs Awkwardness – With all due respect to the designers of Google Glass, it has to be said that the thing made wearers look like thoroughbred geeks. On the other hand, Apple Watch (all the three editions) is high on the glamour/prettiness counts, and would take up the style quotient of users by a couple of notches. It’s only natural that the latter would appeal to general users more.
- Watch would not interfere with people’s lives – Earlier this year, Phil Schiller, the marketing head at Apple Inc., came out with a statement that he had a hunch that Glass would flop. The ever-interfering nature of Glass is one of the key causes behind this belief. People gradually fell out of love with the concept that they would be continually filmed by Glass, and understandably, moved away from it. There has been no indications (till now at least) that Watch would ‘disturb’ people in any such manner. Wearers won’t have to worry about invasion of privacy.
- Non-intrusive vs Intrusive – Let’s follow up the previous point a bit further. Google Glass, for all its technological excellence, was heavily intrusive in nature. Right from early adopters of Glass to Android app developers, everyone talked about how Glass offered weather information whenever a wearer looked up at the sky, or displayed maps as soon as (s)he viewed any particular road. The problem was, such information was being ‘pushed’ to users, even when the latter did not want/need it. Contrast that with Watch, on which third-party apps, created by WatchKit developers, can be installed. People can activate and use the apps, and avail the benefits of Glances/Notifications WHEN they require. At all other times, Watch will be…just a snazzy wristwatch.
- And then…there was the idea of attaching a mini-computer to the face – Hardcore UI/UX designers working on the Android platform might disagree, but Google Glass was too chunky a device to succeed in the long-run. In effect, it was a mini-computer that had to be attached to the user’s face. Sites could be browsed and views changed by flicking the screen from the outside…which was plain ridiculous. In comparison, the taptic engine of Watch (which would generate haptic feedback on a real-time basis) is much smarter and sophisticated. The incompatibility of several popular websites with Glass further compounded the problem for Google.
- Contrasting app scenarios – iOS app developers have correctly pointed out that strong app support would be key to the success of Apple Watch. The Cupertino company is obviously aware of this – given the sheer range of applications that are embedded in the smartwatch. In addition to taking calls and viewing messages, Watch apps would help users monitor their activities, check in hotel rooms and airports, and even share images. The first set of 3rd party Watch applications has also been released. Google Glass had no real app-support to speak of, and that definitely hurt.
- Not releasing Glass in stages – Google Glass had too many features – and since initial ‘Explorers’ did not know much about the gadget – it was all too overwhelming for them. The smart approach would have been launching a basic version of Glass first, with only a few elementary features. Google could have then proceeded with more advanced versions. Tim Cook and Johnny Ive have definitely taken a cue from this, and have created the introductory version of Watch as a fashionable timepiece which supports a fairly wide range of WatchKit apps. If the sales are robust enough, a newer, more advanced edition of Watch might be announced. The iPhone had also not been released in stages – but then, it was a revolutionary device, unlike Glass.
- Much more pleasing to the eye – Apple Watch may or may not turn out to be the absolute marvel it is being hyped to be, but the hard work and innovative thinking gone in for designing it is pretty much evident. The Digital Crown is a lovely addition, and is high on usability. Software and mobile app developers feel that the Cupertino company clearly wants Watch to become a mainstream device – something that Google did not probably intend Glass to become. How else can you explain the jagged edges and riffs, and the uncomfortable-looking frames (the initial lot did not even have lenses). It’s still cool to say “I am wearing Glass” to anyone who is listening – but there is not much in the way of visual excellence in it to boast of.
- The ‘first-mover advantage’ factor – Google Glass had that much-sought-after ‘first mover advantage’, and that mostly backfired. Since people had not come across a similar smart device before it, there was lack of information – leading up to low interest levels. In stark contrast, Apple has willingly given up the first-mover advantage position (there already exists plenty of Android smartwatches, although none of them are very successful). The opportunity has opened up for Apple to take wearable technology to the next level, prove its superiority, and show the world that the company is in good hands in the post-Jobs era.
- Watch is not an ‘incomplete’ product – Until Apple’s ‘Spring Forward’ event on March 9, no one was sure about the launch date of Watch. During the iPhone 6 launch event last September, only the first look of Tim Cook’s ‘one more thing’ was revealed. Apple has not been in any hurry to bring Watch to the market – which, unfortunately, cannot be said for Glass. On the 19th of March, Vanity Fair ran a report in which Astro Teller, the maker of Google Glass, admitted that the device was ‘incomplete’ when it was first released. This was what app developers and software testers have been saying for months. Watch, on the other hand, has been willingly delayed, and all probable issues with it ironed out prior to release.
- The price barrier – Apple (with the exception of the disappointing iPhone 5C) has never bothered to position its products as anything but ‘premium’ devices. Watch carries on that tradition, with its cheapest version bearing a price tag of $ 349 (the Gold Edition will cost more than $10000). However, at least on the lower end, these figures appear small in comparison with the price of Google Glass – which was available for developers and explorers at $1500. Maybe, just maybe, the consumer edition of Glass would have been a tad cheaper, but we’ll never find that out now.
- Chances of greater adoption – Provided that a user owns an iPhone (if (s)he doesn’t, there is no point in buying Watch), the smartwatch can easily substitute his/her regular wristwatch. Of course, if something is constantly on the wrist, chances of wearers having glances at it and interacting with it become higher. Google Glass was not substituting any other thing of everyday use. Clearly, users did not have the reason to wear it (and keep it on) frequently enough.
- Better marketing strategy – Apple is a past-master at building up curiosity levels about its new products. The way in which it has released information about Watch in stages is a classic example of that. Google, on its part, made the tech-features of Glass the most highlighted point in the latter’s marketing campaigns. Glass was acknowledged as one the top inventions of 2012 – tech geeks and select software/app developers liked it – but general users never quite warmed up to it. If a new version of Glass ever comes out (it’s a big ‘if’), the promotions would surely be more customer-oriented.
While Apple Watch should do way better than Google Glass in terms of acceptance and sales, WatchKit developers and market analysts feel that the BMO forecast of 19 million unit sales (in 2015) is a bit far-fetched. Of course, if Watch does not become the roaring success Tim Cook is praying it to be, Apple would not be seriously inconvenienced (it will always have the superstrong revenue stream from iPhones). The world is waiting for Apple Watch…and we will soon know if the ‘time is right’ for it!
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