Lessons from the Google Glass Debacle

Glass: How Google got to eat its billionaire size humble pie

Not that long ago, Google Glass came to the world with the hope of disrupting the Augmented Reality (“AR”) and wearables world as we knew it. It did not happen. The financial magnitude of this flop is rumored to have been in the billions of USD and its reverberations shook the industry with the sobering reminder of not forgetting about the most important element in the market: the consumer.

Hindsight is 20/20, yet attempting to explain the fall out of Glass could well-serve Google and other players in the future to better design/launch similar products. Below a couple of considerations that might have played out:

Aesthetics

For many, Glass was simply not aesthetically pleasing. The product design revolved around the technological leaps it had to accommodate, but it seemed to forget about integrating the consumer into the utilization of the product itself. The original launch campaign tried to create an aura of coolness and hipness to Glass. Nevertheless, the design had an element of goofiness to it. First, it partially obstructed direct eye contact with the user itself. Second, the frame had no symmetry to it since it had to accommodate the hardware that powered it. Third, there was no fashion utility to the item (i.e. think Snapchat Spectacles)

Privacy concerns

Glass came into the world in the context of some of the largest corporate and government data/security breaches in history. Cybersecurity became a top of mind concern for many people. It is should be no surprise that the idea of people walking around with cameras on their glass frames made many feel uncomfortable. Particularly since the product had no “recording red light” that would warn others about a camera being live.

Ecosystem of apps and products

Glass’ potential was such that many in the industry wrongfully thought about it as the panacea for all that was wrong with mobile technology. Thus, there was no clear application for the product itself and the forward looking narrative around it failed to capture tangible solutions for current problems. The promise of tomorrow failed to find a slot in the immediacy of now.

Pricing and target market

Glass was offered at a very steep price point. Original allocations were made through limited sales that were oversubscribed. There was an initial sense of exclusivity around the product and that caught the attention of many early adopters. Nevertheless, it alienated many others that might have perceived Google as a different type of company (i.e. providing many products for free: search, email or Android). Furthermore, the target audience was hip young people for whom the Glass’ pricing did not make much sense given their age and average purchasing power.

Conclusion

Glass will go down as one of Google’s biggest product failures. There were a lot of things that had to go well for Glass to be a blockbuster, some of which Google got right. Nevertheless, timing could ultimately explain a sizable portion of the reason behind its demise. The market was simply not ripe for the type/magnitude of disruption that Glass envisioned. In a way, it was ahead of its time, but also detached from its consumer. This costly lesson will serve Google well. AR is here to stay, let’s just make it more consumer friendly.

 

References

Business of Aesthetics Class 6 Aesthetic Empathy and Aesthetic Failures, 28 March 2017.

Google Glass: Development, Marketing and User Acceptance, National University of Singapore and Richard Ivey School of Business Foundation, 21 December 2015.

Google’s 10-K and Investor Relations

 

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2 thoughts on “Lessons from the Google Glass Debacle

  1. Very interesting post! I wonder if Google Glass would have been more successful if it had thought totally differently about its target market. It seems that there could be tremendous potential utility for Google Glass in the commercial realm, and many of the concerns around privacy, asthetics, and pricing could be less of an issue. Given the magnitude of investment by the company, I’m surprised Google did not make more of an effort to pivot into developing commercial applications while the consumer segment catches up to the technology.

  2. Thanks for sharing! I’m curious to know if you think Google’s selection process for who would be eligible to purchase Glass might have affected the product’s trajectory. If I recall, early sales took the form of an “application” process where prospective users had to write about their interest in the product. I’m not sure how much that data played into allocation decisions, but if it did, I wonder if Google ended up favoring the “wrong” sort of early adopters (i.e., glassholes) and would have been better off just selling on a first-come-first-serve basis.

    More generally, I think your observation about Google’s model of giving away ad-supported products raises a bigger issue: is the firm really any good at selling consumer products? They have some experience doing so, like with Google Wifi and Pixel. But given that advertising revenues remain a huge share of revenues, do you think Google is really capable of selling non-ad-supported consumer products, and must they make any major organizational or cultural changes to do so?

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