6 ways Google screwed up with Glass

Consumer backlash has garnered plenty of attention for the tech giant's admittedly exciting and innovative eyewear. But here's why it will be remembered as a botched product launch.

By Forbes Digital Apr 22, 2014 10:12AM
Forbes on MSN MoneyGoogle co-founder Sergey Brin wears Google Glass in 2012 (c) Corbis/Splash NewsBy Gene Markes, Forbes Contributor

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 (LNKD) connections. Order history. A photo. A video. A phone call. An email.

The options seem limitless. And they are. Google (GOOG) Glass really is a great idea. The technology can and probably will change the world. So how did Google screw it up?

Yes, I said 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, and it's become a frequent joke on late night TV and a target for bloggers and comedians around the country. 

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 first 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 for these six reasons.

No one is sure if it has even been 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?

Last week, Google Glass went "on sale" -- for just "one day only." Who does this when launching a product? Was this PR stunt designed to 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 user 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 -- last 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 it, despite the company's $59 billion cash hoard. But Glass is being marketed as a consumer product, and today's consumer wouldn't buy a pair of glasses for more than $300 unless they literally had X-Ray vision or had previously been worn by Beyonce.

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 may 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 more quickly and safely. 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 price tag, 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've spoken to 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 Apple (AAPL) iPod played music. The cell phone made phone calls. The PC did spreadsheets and documents. 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 if you asked the executives at Google whether 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.

More on Forbes
Apr 22, 2014 2:02PM

Here's a marketing tip:

Hot girls using your product instead of the mouth breathers like the one pictured above will attract positive attention.

Apr 22, 2014 4:13PM

You can see the one truly fatal error in Glass, in the photo accompanying this article. It's at the left end of the frontpiece, just before the leg that goes back to the guy's right ear. It's the little circular element. It's the part of Glass that's not about the insular world of the data junkie wearing the contraption. It's the part that's about the voyeur's world. That's your world, observed and recorded under color of not being observed and recorded.


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