Sales of the first iteration of the wearable tech device were suspended in January amid reports that consumer interest had been low. At the same time, perhaps conscious that the hype that preceded the consumer launch had damaged its reputation; Google announced that it was moving the research and development arm in-house.
The months of teasers that hinted at the capabilities of Google Glass meant that when the specs were finally unveiled it was something of a damp squib
Certainly the months of teasers that hinted at the capabilities of Google Glass meant that when the specs were finally unveiled it was something of a damp squib. And maybe it also meant that it was inevitable that those early (and disappointingly few in number) adopters would also quickly be christened ‘Glassholes’ by wags.
Promised privacy debate
This was slightly disappointing as Google Glass had promised to throw open an interesting debate about the legal and privacy implications of wearable technology that the Information Commissioner’s Office had largely left for society to be the judge of. It had deemed Google Glass to be the same as digital cameras and smartphones and that it was to be treated as a device that collects information only for "domestic purposes".
Businesses too were beginning to prepare themselves for users – Costa Coffee and Starbucks said they would ask the owner not to use it inappropriately and Vue cinema banned them altogether.
But those naysayers who predicted that Google Glass would cause a massive infringement on privacy had nothing much to worry about – their penetration was so low that even on the loonier fringes of Shoreditch they were as rare as hen’s teeth. The debate on what ‘excessive’ use or abuse of recording without consent remains unanswered.
The debate on what ‘excessive’ use or abuse of recording without consent remains unanswered
So Google Glass Mark 1 can be described as an over-hyped and over-engineered flop. With Luxottica also saying that the Mark 2 model will bear greater resemblance to traditional glasses (thereby making the user less conspicuous in their use), Google is making a second stab at the market. For its part, Google is also taciturn on the changes but the fundamental lesson is that while technology is a wonderful thing, excessive hubris over its capabilities will rarely out-trump the benefits of technology having aesthetic value too.
Design inherent to Apple
It’s a lesson you’d maybe think that Apple Watch might also face – but at least design has always been inherent in its products rather than an afterthought, secondary to the technological capability of whatever it brought out next. It has also been careful to manage the release of new products, building a sense of excitement rather than ennui that led to sneering disdain as maybe Google has found. While I’ve yet to see many people with Apple Watches strapped to their wrists, it’s unlikely they’ll share the same embarrassment as those few pioneer Google Glass wearers did – standing out in a crowd like pervy snoopers-in-chiefs.
As the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year showed us, consumers like wearable tech but they also like jewellery and companies such as Swarovski have been quick to lend their fashion skills to a sector that needed a sprinkling of design magic – particularly if wearable tech is to really crack the mainstream.
Google’s technology may have changed the world beyond recognition but it should remember that it has become a technology utility brand and is not a fashion designer ahead of any other new product launches. In the meantime, we’ll wait and see if the second iteration attracts the same level of derision – and as witty an insulting nickname for its users – as the first. And maybe that debate about privacy and how far society is willing to tolerate infringements will finally be concluded.