Why Google Glass Failed (But Might Still Succeed)

The announcement that Google is to halt sales of its Google Glass augmented-reality spectacles has been interpreted by some people as the end of a pilot project and the start of a new phase of product development, or by others as indicative of failure.

Picture: Getty Images/Andrew Burton

Google tell us that the 18-month run of Google Glass is a successful pilot, one that ends now that the device has moved out of Google X -- the firm's out-there research facility -- and into a new development facility headed by the founder of Nest, Tony Fadell, which Google bought last year.

So, success or failure? A pilot that crashed, or a first-step experiment? Without a doubt, if the product had taken off commercially, words such as "pilot" would have been quickly forgotten. Google Glass has not been the success that was hoped for. Feedback has thrown up a host of problems -- from fashion, to privacy and governance, to industrial design.

Google Glass has cracked. The post-mortems have already started coming, suggesting several reasons: cost, battery life, our attachment to mobile phones and the look of the thing -- all are pointed to as culprits.

A market that never was?

But not everyone was critical: in October 2014, India was reported to have the highest number of owners. Yet around the same time a survey of Americans reported by CNet, found that 90% said they wouldn't wear Google Glass. The reason? Social awkwardness. Essentially, people were freaked out by wearing the kit on their heads.

A second study identified a, perhaps less surprising, reason why 72% reported they wouldn't wear Glass, that of privacy concerns. Many respondents had concerns such as "the potential for hackers to access private data, the ease with which others could record their actions without their knowledge and the potential for private actions to become public".

Even as wearables more generally were launched by just about every firm in tech, Google Glass was singled out as a problem within a bigger set of worries for wearable marketers. A survey for Fortune found that only 12% said they were likely to buy a wearable device in 2015, while 74% said they were not likely to. But only 2% were likely to buy smart glasses such as Google's, while 92% said they wouldn't.

One might say the virtual writing was on the digitally projected wall. But is it still the case? More recent research suggests that, even in the past six months, wearable sales are still rising. But this includes all wearable devices including smart watches -- smart glasses like Google Glass are clearly the least popular of the wearables.

Gone for good, or just gone for now?

So, what's next for Google Glass? Formerly at Apple, Fadell -- deemed the "father of the iPod" -- brings his more commercial, design-driven background to the product's future. This marks a shift away from the what was seen as a more fashion-dominated approach to Google Glass driven by Ivy Ross and her experience of jewellery design, who nevertheless remains on the team.

Fashion will always play a part with wearables. Currently the smart money is on smart watches that look more like old watches. On the other hand, no one would necessarily have imagined the iPhone when they were gripping the handset of an old Nokia, and look how successful they've been. The next version of Glass (if there is one) may well be game-changingly different, or may just settle into the comfortable familiarity of an ordinary pair of spectacles.

In any case, a future version of Google Glass has to solve the concerns over privacy, the feeling of being freaked out by sensory overload -- and that of looking, and feeling, a bit bizarre. Copycat products, some aimed at the personal consumer, others more at corporations, are arriving on the scene with even worse offerings -- as writer Pavel Alpeyev acidly remarks:

Some of the consumer designs seem to draw inspiration from the soulless aesthetic of an office copy machine. Those designs destined for the enterprise world aren't much better -- apparently you can treat people as equipment racks once they're on the payroll.

I wouldn't write off Google Glass, nor discount the company's willingness to regroup and re-imagine its ideas, nor write off what other tech innovators will come up with in this category in 2015 and beyond. That said, we may one day look back on the whole digital spectacles idea as an Alice-in-Wonderland curiosity. But hey, curiosity is where innovation starts, isn't it?The Conversation

Paul Levy is Senior Researcher in Innovation Management at University of Brighton.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Comments

    I think it just doesn't need a camera. I can't imagine ever actually using the camera for normal use. I already have a camera in my phone and a camera and that's more than enough.
    I'd rather have a smaller device that just works with my voice, doesn't cost $1,500 and can connect to my phone via Bluetooth.

      If it didn't have a camera it'd be nothing more than a dorky head-mounted display. It was dead when Google got scared of public backlash and crippled its potential.

      If they'd gone 'in for a penny, in for a pound' and let the device overlay your field of view with graphics, and allowed software developers to explore augmented reality and automated facial-recognition applications it might've got off the ground.

      The camera was always useless for recording video or taking photos - but if google had allowed it to be a device that gifted the wearer with instant photographic memory, instant 'creepy' facebook/google/personal storage retrieval of relevant information based on audio/video input and a 'visual siri' - it might've been useful enough that people ignored their privacy concerns and adopted the technology.

      Just look at how many people still use facebook, or you know, the Internet - knowing full well that their information collected, used, mined and reproduced by spy agencies and large corporates today.

    I still want one for the camera alone. There are tons of moments when I'm out shooting landscapes or playing with the cat, where I need both hands free and want to be able to still record stuff

    People were unnecessarily scared of this thing because it had a camera. I can go into Dick Smith's and buy a pen with a HD camera in it for $100. I can download an app for my phone that looks like a note taking tool but is actually a silent camera / video recorder. I could cup a GoPro in the palm of my hand, covering the recording lights with my finger and record to my heart's content. To suggest that this thing would turn the population into perverts and privacy invaders and have nobody notice, was a stupid idea.

    Wearable computing like this will (and should) continue on, people just need to be better educated on why it's not "OMG HACKERS" and "OMG UPSKIRT PHOTOS"

      Go to any porn site and type in upskirt. Down blouse what ever and look at what comes up. Concerns are justified.
      Even in Australia there has been dozens of cases of people getting caught filming. I'm not saying it's a reason to ban them but there is a lot of proof behind their concerns. That's something Google needs to do themselves to change public perception of their product.
      Cameras on phones for a while had a shutter sound. Some a visible light. As far as Joe public knows glass does all recording anonymous and with out any voice command. Google need to educate people I f they want to be accepted.
      /end drunken rant.

    My experience has been that developers simply have not embraced glass. There are only two or three video streaming apps, that are all very clunky. One charged $900US per month to have private video streams!!
    Without apps that are actually useful the device really has no value.

    Add to that the very clunky implementation of an interface, and you have a product that was destined to fail.

    We really want to embrace this product (healthcare) but have been unable to find a real use for it.

    GG glasses failed because of privacy problems, no one want to get his face in a database !

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