For the last 25 years, I have looked very closely at product adoption cycles, and I learned that very seldom does a product, especially a hardware product, find favor quickly with the broad consumer market.
Video-recording devices were refined and used in professional markets for over a decade before VCRs appared in the living rooms of consumers, and PCs spent a decade in offices before they became cheap enough for the home. I could detail dozens of other examples, but the bottom line is that most technology gets targeted in what we call vertical markets well before they get perfected and priced low enough for consumers.
When Google Glass was introduced, this was the first thing that came to mind. I wondered if Google even had a clue how tech adoption cycles develop. While it is true that glasses had been used in vertical markets since 1998, we saw no movement toward consumers. Google’s decision to aim Glass at consumers, yet price it for vertical markets stumped me. Even the folks who had spent decades making glasses for use in manufacturing, government applications, and transportation were dumfounded.
Apparently, Google found out how tech products get adopted the hard way. It lost hundreds of millions of dollars on this project and even worse, it soured the consumer market for a product like this.
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Even those with disposable income, who could afford to be a Glass Explorer, have to feel taken by Google, which used them as beta testers at their personal expense. I have seen a recent report that actually details the damage in consumers’ minds about Google Glass. Even if a competitor came to market with a cheaper product that was better than Google Glass now, it would have a hard time getting anything but vertical users interested.
That is not to say that Google Glass 2.0, which is rumored to be in the works, or even future products like this could not gain consumer traction someday, but it will come at a deep marketing cost. In the meantime, products like Sony’s Project Morpheus, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, and even Microsoft’s HoloLens will take aim at a higher-end gaming audience and be priced like vertical market products that will be well out of reach for the general consumer for a long time.
But even if Google Glass 2.0 comes out or others create similar, cheaper glasses, I see them as being dead in the water for consumers. That might be why Google Glass’s new architect, Tony Fadell, is working on a new version of Google Glasses strictly aimed at vertical markets.
I was a Google Glass Explorer, and the experience was horrible from the start. It now sits in my office museum of failed products. The UI was terrible, the connection unreliable, and the info it delivered had little use to me. It was the worst $1,500 I have ever spent in my life.
On the other hand, as a researcher, it was a great tool to help me understand what not to do when creating a product for the consumer. Now, think about Google’s objective to deliver info from my smartphone through a tiny lens on glasses versus Apple’s approach to delivering that same info on a screen on my wrist. My 42mm Apple Watch face looks like a giant screen by comparison. What I think the market will soon realize is that Google’s goal of extending smartphone data to glasses was never a viable product, at least for a broad consumer market. On the other hand, it appears that the best wearable to do this is a smartwatch.
During the Google Glass hype, I saw many people suggesting Apple jump in and do glasses of its own. I am sure that execs at Apple just rolled their eyes at this suggestion. We now know the Apple Watch had been in the works well before Google Glass came out.
I have had a couple of companies ask me about investing in a consumer glass project, and I tell them to bury the idea and focus on vertical markets if they have any hope of making money. Apple made the need for consumer glasses as an extension of a smartphone almost non-existefnt.
In the end, I think that Google’s objective of delivering hands-free info from a smartphone is a viable concept. I just don’t think its glasses will ever be the ideal way to do it. On the other hand, no pun intended, the smartwatch accomplishes the same goal in a fashionable and non-intrusive way, and I suspect it will become the de facto standard for extending the smartphone to a wearable.