How Google Glass set wearable computing back 10 years

The introduction of Google Glass at the Google I/O developers conference in June 2012 was one of the coolest technology debuts ever. Glass-wearing skydivers jumped out of an airplane high above San Francisco’s Moscone Center, floated down to the roof, jumped onto mountain bikes, and pedaled into the conference hall where Sergei Brin was waiting – while the audience soaked up the experience through the first-person perspective of the stunt team.

The full house went wild — witnesses to what we thought was an amazing revolution in wearable computing.

Now, just two years later, Google Glass is an actual product that anybody with a spare $1,500 can stick on their face. That is, if they want to be called a Glasshole, banned from many establishments, physically mugged in others, and even more viciously mocked on national television by The Daily Show’s Jason Jones.

Clearly, something went horribly wrong.

The technology is partly to blame. It turns out that Google Glass doesn’t actually do all that much. It takes mediocre photos and videos. It offers slow, balky, and low-res access to some websites and online services. And that’s kind of about it.

But the technology is not the real problem. The real problem is that Google did just about everything wrong in trying to market the devices:

  1. It allowed only software developers—not usually the most socially advanced group—to buy the devices at first. The goal was to get the developers to create cool new apps for the device, but it ensured that the things would show up on the faces of the stereotypical nerds before anyone else. Glass quickly became a very expensive pocket protector.
  2. Google gave Glass users a dorky, pretentious name—Glass Explorers—that only deepened the creepy social awkwardness.
  3. Google didn’t start dealing with the social and fashion implications of putting a computing device on your face until far too late.
  4. Google still hasn’t come up with a clear reason to wear the device in public. Is wearing Glass supposed to be fun? Is it supposed to make you smarter? Help you get ahead in business? Or what?

But here’s the biggest issue. It seems Google spent a lot of time thinking about what Glass buyers might do with their fancy visors, but barely a glimmer about Glass’s impact on the people around the Glasshole.

Google now recognizes that it has lost control of the public’s perception of Glass, but still doesn’t seem to know why. Google’s objections to what it calls Google Glass Myths are pathetic and tortured:

Myth 3 - Glass Explorers are technology-worshipping geeks Our Explorers come from all walks of life. They include parents, firefighters, zookeepers, brewmasters, film students, reporters, and doctors.

Are you kidding me? Parents can’t be technology-worshipping geeks? And just how many firefighters and doctors are we talking about?

It didn’t have to be this way. If Google had been able to see past the tiny screen in front of its eyes, it would have realized that something you put on your face automatically gets a lot of attention. It could have tried to pay more attention to the people around the people wearing Glass, allaying their not-unjustified wariness by making it clearer what the Glasshole was doing (and, especially, recording). It could have tried much earlier to make the devices fashionable, high-status accessories for the ultra-cool or ultra-rich instead of the ultra-geeky.

The results of Google’s ongoing miscalculations are obvious. Nobody wants to be seen wearing the things. At the recent SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, I saw only a handful of people wearing Glass, and they seemed sheepish about it. Even Robert Scoble, the device’s biggest fanboy, who reveled in Glassholiness, now admits that "Google has launched this product poorly."

That’s a shame. While Glass is forever tainted, a better product, marketed the right way, could have been awesome. Imagine what Steve Jobs could have done with this concept, for example. But given Google’s epic marketing fail, it’s going to take a long, long time before even a much better product can overcome the stigma that now surrounds Google Glass.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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