My son and I got to try Google Glass yesterday. First, I have to tip my hat to Google. They’ve realized that it’s critical for people to be able to touch their electronics purchases. Now that the company has gotten past the early adopter phase, it seems squarely focused on providing the general public with a chance to kick the tires, so to speak.
The Glass Basecamp, as it’s called, is a modern, loft space in the Chelsea Marketing in NYC. There’s an openness that speaks to an aesthetic of simplicity: a natural light-filled room, sparely funished, but not bare. Google certainly knows how to do the up-market, but not intimidating thing.
Once my son’s name was called (he was the one who got on the waitlist earlier in the year), we were greeted by a Glass Guide named Sunil, who fitted us both with Glasses and proceeded to give us a short overview of the controls. He then showed us some of the apps, such Translate and Star Maps.
My son got to try the directions function by asking for directions to the nearest Starbucks. We were also showed our options for frames (Diane Von Furstenberg has designed them), and they’re a step up from the original clunky Google Glasses that were first introduced.
Of course, it occurs to me that the challenge for Google is a matter of timing. And matters of timing–especially when they work against you–tend to be cultural. That is, there are cultural factors that are obstacles to this product’s adoption. To my mind, they fall into the following buckets:
1. It’s a barrier between people.
We’re not used to technology on our faces. Ears (bluetooth headsets); wrists (FitBits); torso (heart monitors). All of these are valid. But on our faces? That’s not something that’s been normalized. We count on being able to read facial expressions to better understand the person we’re conversing with. Glass adds a physical layer, one that’s potentially distracting, to a key part of the body that we use to communicate.
2. It’s a little too conspicuous
Because of its size and it’s novelty, people may feel that Glass attracts unwanted attention. For the time being, they’d be right. To the extent Google can make Glass’s form factor smaller, will be the extent to which this barrier for adoption are lowered. My 14-year-old son’s take: “You’re just asking to get robbed.”
3. Strong, negative connotations
Unfortunately, nothing says self-absored, out-of-touch tech elite better than Google Glass. Also, it raises concerns that the person you’re talking to may be accessing information about you while they’re talking to you; or that they may be photographing or taking video of your interaction.
It’s also true that humans dislike robots that “look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings,” which causes some people to feel revulsion. This is called dipping into the uncanny valley. There may be a bit of this at play, where you have a person with technology on their face. It’s potentially off-putting which, when combined with privacy concerns, may be a level of discomfort that has, in a few instances, provoked attacks on those wearing the device in public (here and here).
4. Current pricing
$1,500, huh? Yes, people regularly fork over $300+ for Beats By Dre headphones. But those are markers of cool. And, there’s a factor of five difference between $300 and $1,500. Of course, higher pricing is to be expected with new technology items. Glass has only been out a year. As production costs drop and manufacturing efficiency increases, so will costs to consumers. For now, however, pricing will be a barrier against widespread adoption.
5. It’s not a Great Leap Forward
I mean, yeah, Glass is the first of its kind. However, most of its functions are available in smartphones (Star Maps, directions, language translation). As well, some of the items that are readily available on smartphones have more limited functionality, based on the device specs. For example, I was told you don’t have access to your Facebook newsfeed, but that’s to be expected. Then, there’s that promo video that shows people hang gliding and on the trapeze. Guess what? I can name a significantly lower priced competitor: GoPro. For $199, you get on-the-go video, plus the camera is wi-fi enabled. Something to consider
6. It’s aimed at the wrong market
Given the privacy concerns, the price point, and functional redunancy with smartphones, this feels like Glass would be better suited to the commercial market. It’d probably be a big help in warehouses and with logistics. The point is, it’s not really a consumer product. Not yet. For the time being, Google will have to put its dreams of being a cool physical consumer products company on hold for a bit longer.
The above notwithstanding, wearables are a hot and growing area. I expect that discomfort will lessen over time, as people become more accustomed to seeing others wear the device. Once Glass becomes cool and desirable, they’ll fly off the shelves.
What will it take to speed widespread adoption of Google Glass? A combination of factors, I believe:
- A significant price drop.
- Some celebrity (new or established) that makes using them cool, if not sexy.
- A new behavior that they engender that everyone wants to take part in.
- Walmart or Target adopting them for use by their store associates.
What do you think? Am I missing something? Drop a comment below and let me know if you think I’m onto something, or if I’m way off base.