Google Glass needs to prove its value beyond 'grinning, skinny white guys'

When is a graduation a failure? When it is a tech euphemism for "we're going to let this one wither and die". But is this really the case with Google Glass? asks David Carr, strategy director at DigitasLBi.

Google Glass trial has ended in the UK and US
Google Glass trial has ended in the UK and US

As soon as Google made the announcement on Google+ (no sniggering at the back) the general consensus was that this marks not only the end of Google Glass "in its present form" but for good. A mix of schadenfreude and concern for the long-term support of existing Explorers and Glassware promptly exploded.

Google Glass faced challenges caused by the gap between hype and reality and between openness and privacy

To many this graduation announcement fits perfectly with a predictable narrative.

It became the focus of laughter

Google Glass faced challenges caused by the gap between hype and reality and between openness and privacy. It also broke the most fundamental rule of innovative technology: "The Sinclair C5 rule" or "this technology is amazing but does it make me look like a prat while using it". Once the mocking Tumblr – in this case whitemenwearinggoogleglass.tumblr.com – has gone viral, the end is usually nigh. Technology, like religion, abhors being the focus of laughter, however well meaning or constructive its ultimate goal.

But this narrative, while convenient, is not the only story.

Competitors have caught up quickly

Technology moves quickly and products are now built to evolve, not built to last. Google Glass was a beta and a very public trailblazer. But for all its great PR and marketing it has been naturally surpassed. At CES Sergey Brin was spotted trying on Epson's Moverio headset on their stand and looking thoughtful. Glass was no good for AR or VR, both of which were bigger news there. Meanwhile Intel has invested almost $25 million in Vuzix, giving it a stake in a company that has been developing smart glasses for almost 2 decades and is exploring novel optical waveguide technology.

Like wearables in general, Glass really needs to show its real value

Moving out of the Google X lab to become a separate division, ultimately under the Internet of Things and home automation company Nest’s chief executive, is an opportunity for Glass to enhance the technology but also focus on its real value.

And like wearables in general, Glass really needs to show its real value.

Wearables in 2015 find themselves in two places at once. They are both a trending hype with market estimates of $50bn in 5 years and facing new realism about the rate of adoption and the benefits users are experiencing (or not, leading to an average 6 month abandonment rate).

Perhaps Google Glass is not a mass-consumer good

Glass, despite its public beta status, faced the same challenge as so many wearables that have been created not only around technology possibilities but also through the lens of developers themselves and their Silicon Valley/Roundabout circles.

It is not about helping rich early adopters to get even fitter or document their aspirational Instagram-ready lifestyles. Perhaps it is not even as a mass-consumer good.

Glass, like wearable technology, does and should have a future. But it is not about helping rich early adopters to get even fitter or document their aspirational Instagram-ready lifestyles. Perhaps it is not even as a mass-consumer good.

Instead Glass can have a future in helping the chronically ill or enhancing and safeguarding the workplace. Indeed the Glass at Work programme and use cases in medicine showed that real utility and regulatory compliance could balance the privacy fears caused by the camera.

At the very least, like Teflon and the space race, there will be spin-off technologies and discoveries from Glass. And perhaps it will be back in an evolved form, maybe without the camera and grinning, skinny white guys? But then the latter’s a different challenge for the technology industry.



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