How Google Screwed Up Google Glass

Apr 21 2014, 10:10am CDT | by

It really is a great idea.

A pair of glasses that can project information or perform actions on a virtual screen in front of you about pretty much anything and all you have to do is ask. Driving directions. LinkedIn connections. Order history. A photo. A video. A phone call. An email. The options seem limitless. And they are. Google Glass really is a great idea. The technology can and probably will change the world. So how did Google screw it up?

Yes, screw it up. Since first announcing the product in 2012, Google Glass has been subject to ridicule and even violence. It’s become a symbol of the anti-tech, anti-Silicon Valley crowd. Surveys like this one demonstrate the American public’s general dislike and distrust of Google Glass. The product has not yet spawned an industry. It has not generated revenues for Google. It’s become a frequent joke on late night TV and a target for bloggers and comedians around the country. The world “glasshole” has now risen to the same prominence as “selfie” and “twerk.” Yes, it’s getting attention. But only as a creepy gimmick which, I’m sure, is not the kind of attention that Google intended when they initially introduced it. As cool as it is, let’s admit that Google Glass will go down in the annals of bad product launches. And it will do so because of these reasons.

No one is sure if it was even launched. The product was first announced in 2012 and “prototypes” became available in early 2013. So is it out or not? Is it a product or not?  Can we buy it or not? People have been spotted wearing them, particularly in the Bay area or New York City. Who are these people? Customers? Media? Developers? Insiders? Just this past week, Google Glass went “on sale” for just “one day only.” Who does this when launching a product? Was this PR stunt designed to actually create a positive buzz about the product? Not working. Launch. Or don’t launch. Please don’t play games with the buying public.

It’s designed poorly. I bet if Steve Jobs were around now he’d chuckle every time someone wearing Google Glass walks by. Don’t worry Steve – the rest of us have got your back. Google Glass looks ridiculous. And too obvious. The whole point of wearing Google Glass is that you can secretly search for the information you need without making a (excuse the pun) spectacle of yourself. Unfortunately anyone who’s ever worn, or known someone who wears ordinary glasses can pick out a Google Glass wearer a mile away. Product design is so important in our fashion-conscious world, especially when you’re introducing something new. It really, really has to look cool. And nerdy is just not cool. Google recently partnered with a few well known frame designers to fix this problem. But they let it go on too long.

The timing could not have been worse. Great idea Google: introduce a product that gives us the ability to surreptitiously find out all sorts of personal details about the guy we’re having lunch with at a time when hackers are stealing our credit cards, our government is listening to our phone calls and satellites are tracking our every movement. Google has already been accused of capturing way too much of our online and buying habits already – now they’re adding to that reputation by introducing a product that can further accumulate and then use that information through an ordinary pair of glasses? Sometimes even great products have to be delayed when the market conditions aren’t right. Given how scared the public is today about our private information, the market conditions aren’t right.

The price is way too high. Google’s “one day” PR stunt – I’m sorry, sale – during the past week priced Google Glass at $1,500 per pair. I get it – it’s like having a mini-computer on your face. And maybe the cost to build these things is such that even Google can’t absorb, even given their billion dollar cash hoard. But this is being marketed as a consumer product and today’s consumer wouldn’t buy a pair of glasses for more than $300 unless it literally had X-Ray vision or had previously been worn by Beyonce. Google screwed this up. Getting the price right from the get-go is particularly important to set an expectation in the customer’s mind. Now that Google has placed this item in the “luxury” class it’ll never appeal to the mass market.

The wrong market was chosen. Google Glass could be a very important tool for professional use, and not just some kind of consumer tech toy on the face of a Stanford educated hipster from Mission Bay. Anyone operating a truck, a train, a taxi, a boat or an airplane could be demanding better data to help them navigate quicker and safer. Machine operators could be fed up to the minute information about a manufacturing process. Police and security personnel could receive data about threats around them to better protect the public. The list goes on. Google should have taken this device to a specific market and worked with the developers in that industry to create business-use applications that would be used to help companies provide better services. In turn, the public would be intrigued about this important and serious tool. It would not be ridiculed if it were shown to have a useful business application. And it would’ve gone a long way to justifying the $1,500 per unit price too.

Finally, no one really “gets” it. If you’re going to introduce a product, feel free to leave some of its uses to the imagination. But not all. Make sure your intended market can connect it to a real need. When asked what Google Glass does (or can do) most people I know still don’t really know. They can’t identify an actual use for the product. And the typical explanations (“driving directions!” “on command photos!”) don’t impress. The iPod played music. The cell phone made phone calls. The PC did spreadsheets and letters. What does Google Glass actually do right now that justifies the price and attention?

Sure you can argue that Google Glass is a product ahead of its time. It’s encouraging people to imagine and to create. It’s exciting. It’s spawning an industry of “wearable” technology that will soon change the world. I think it is all that. But I bet if you asked the executives at Google if the jokes, the ridicule, the violence and the consumer backlash caused by the product were part of the plan I’m sure they would agree it was not. The plan somewhere got screwed up.

Besides Forbes, Gene Marks writes daily for The New York Times and weekly for Inc.com.

 
 

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