From the highs of being named among the best innovations, to its production being stopped – Google Glass has gone through everything between November 2012 and January 2015. We here deliberate on some likely causes for the failure of Glass.
Less than two and a half years back, Google Glass was hailed as one of the best tech innovations of 2012 by the TIME Magazine. The fortunes of the ambitious wearable gadget plummeted quickly enough though – and the circle of failure was complete this January, with Glass getting the dubious distinction of being named among the ‘Failure Hall of Fame’ products (by Creators.com). What exactly went wrong with Google Glass? Let’s look at a few probable reasons:
- The price barrier – There was no scope of doubting the technological excellence of Glass, but was it worth its $1500 price tag (that too, for testing an unfinished version)? A resounding ‘no’, if the response of the general public was anything to go buy. Google made the age-old folly of subscribing to the belief that “If we build it, they will come”. This belief never quite materialized, people perceived Google Glass was a way too expensive gadget, and no one was interested to actually shell out big bucks on it. The official sale figures were not released (Google never does it, anyway), but the project never took off.
- Failure as a fashion accessory – Profession mobile gadget and wearable technology experts as well as app developers agree that the soon-to-release Apple Watch would do a fine job as a fashion accessory for users. Google Glass, sadly, lacked this ‘cool quotient’. The gimmick of making famous models and celebrities (Miley Cyrus to Roger Federer to Sarah Jessica Parker) wear Glass and get themselves clicked did not work. If anything, it came across as a desperate strategy on the part of Google to position Glass as a fashionable gadget. It was not.
- Privacy concerns – For all of its high-end technology features, Google Glass did not address a basic user-concern – the concern about privacy. The gadget kept recording videos (often without the wearers realizing it) – and this did not wow anyone. Within a small time, Glass started to be viewed as a tool that invaded the private space of the early ‘Explorers’. Not surprisingly, people decided to stay away from it.
- Glass was a path-breaker – This factor is important, and it justifies Google X’s stand to persist with the Glass project. Professionals from any software or app development company would confirm that first-time innovations often do not find the appreciation they might deserve. The super-successful iPad was preceded by several flop tablets (the Palm Pilot, the Message Pad, the Microsoft Tablet PC, etc.), and there had been plenty of (ho-hum) smartwatches before Apple Watch was announced. Google Glass did not have this type of a cushion to fall back upon. It was a revolutionary product, a vast majority of its targeted users did not know what it was all about, and the product remained out of favor. Hopefully, the next version of Glass – if and when it comes out, would have more anticipation and awareness about it.
- Who wants to be typecast as a geek, anyway? – Unfortunately, that’s what Google Glass made people look like. Early adopters began to be jokingly referred to as ‘Glassholes’, there were references about how Glass was only about functions that could be otherwise performed (say, checking the weather) much more easily. Tapping on the touchpad of Glass at a public place was the very definition of a geeky gesture. Naturally, no one wanted to be labeled as a ‘tech nerd’ (even if (s)he was one!).
- Google Glass took away a bit of user-freedom – A smart gadget should give its users the freedom to perform stuff that they want to, more easily. According to mobile app development experts, the sustained success of iPhones and iPads has got a lot to do with the ever-increasing availability of custom iOS applications. Ditto with Android phones and the apps at the Play Store. Jailbreaking iOS devices and rooting Android handsets offered even more personalization options (albeit at the expense of device warranties). The much-hyped ‘augmented reality’ of Google Glass did just the opposite. It made people stay stuck with what they had been doing (say, a difficult meeting, a boring class, etc.) for just that bit longer. It was too naive to think that people would spend big money only to become a bit less…liberated.
- Lack of focus on user-needs – Not even a mobile application succeeds if it does not satisfy a particular need of targeted users – and here, we are talking about a device as expensive as Google Glass. Its maker, Astro Teller, recently admitted that not much attention had been paid on thinking ‘why users would need Google Glass’. The thinking, instead, was more inbound – about how the gadget would capture user-data and create databases. This stood as a major stumbling block in the path of Google Glass becoming a mass product. Buying a pricey gadget just for the heck of it was never going to be mainstream.
- A risk that did not pay off – In the clamour of touting Glass as a flop, we must not lose sight of the fact that the company was, perhaps, ready for such a response. Google has earned considerable reputation over the years as a company that values and encourages innovation – to the extent that 20% of the work-hours of employees are dedicated to thinking up something innovative. Also, Google is no stranger to high-profile failures (its Nexus Q media player was dismissed as an ‘Apple TV clone’). When the plug was pulled on Google Wave, Eric Schmidt famously said that every failure is celebrated at Google – for they represent innovation, and open up scopes for making improvements. Yes, Glass has flopped…but it has also earned considerable PR for the company. Techies, those who create apps for smart devices, and even general users are still talking about it. Maybe, Google had bargained for a short-term failure, for a long-term success.
- Non-availability of compatible apps – Pebble smartwatches have their very own app store, with plenty of applications. The native app support of Apple Watch is solid, and third-party WatchKit developers have already started submitting apps for Watch. Google Glass came up short on that count too. There was a relative dearth in the availability of compatible apps for Google Glass. The Google Glass Application List (http://glass-apps.org/google-glass-application-list) was, at best, limited.
- Pushing technology as the USP – If Google did want Glass to become a mainstream wearable gadget, its marketing strategy was all wrong. Something propositioned as a high-on-technology product was always likely to garner a limited amount of interest – with general people preferring to stay away. Software reviewers and mobile app marketers have compared this with the ongoing promotions for Apple Watch. The latter boasts of equal (if not more) advanced technological functionality, but is primarily being pushed as an alternative fashion accessory. Proper emphasis has been placed on the design of the smartwatch – something that Google Glass, with all its protruding sides and edges, did not do.
- Glass did not offer value for businesses – While interest about Glass among individual users remained lukewarm, it did not offer any specific value for enterprises either. Representatives from leading IT firms, mobile app companies, software development agencies have confirmed that they are, to date, unsure about how Glass was going to help their businesses. Add to that the perceived ‘privacy breach’ of Glass and the sheer weirdness of employees walking about wearing the ultra-conspicuous eyewear (not to mention the costs involved) – and it was only natural that Glass did not catch the imagination of business-owners.
- The social factor – ‘Those who are wearing Google Glass are rude and aloof’ – at least that’s what the general perception among non-wearers were. Surveys revealed that people did not feel like interacting with anyone who was wearing Glass – simply because the latter seemed immersed in his/her own world of augmented reality. In addition, conversations (even casual ones) were recorded by the gadget. It was almost akin to talking in front of a video camera. People were not comfortable with it.
All of this is not to suggest that there is no light at the end of the tunnel for Google’s much-vaunted eyewear. The Glass website proclaims that ‘the journey does not end here’, ex-Apple man Nick Fadell (the guy behind iPod and Nest) has been roped in for redesigning/reconceptualizing Google Glass, and the second generation of the device has every chance of becoming more popular. The domain of wearable technology needs more personalized gadgets like Google Glass – and it will be a shame if the project gets finally shelved.
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