6 (fixable) reasons Google Glass will flop with consumers

Posted by Bethany Simpson on February 10th, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Bottom line: I enjoy Glass. However, should the current version of Glass be passed off to everyday consumers, this talked-about tech that shows so much promise is in trouble. (Think Samsung Galaxy Gear trouble--the bulky and tethered "wrist phone” being returned by early-adopters at a staggering rate.) Google has a track record of being willing to rush ideas to market (think Google TV), and shrug off defeat as it looks to the future. But will consumers overlook the quirks of this pioneer of wearable computing and make Glass a hit? Not a chance. At least not until the following issues are addressed.

Through Glass, darkly

As a proud user of Google Glass, I've had the opportunity at this week's iMedia Brand Summit (and at other events) to help numerous senior marketers experience Glass for the first time.

The author helping PepsiCo SVP Becky Frankiewicz try Glass for the first time

Opinions are, well, mixed. As are recent headlines: "Google Glass App for Firefighters Could Help Save Lives" vs. "One of Google's Biggest Fans Calls Glass 'An Expensive Nightmare.'" Marketers are (very) excited to be hands-on with Glass, but they're also underwhelmed by its lack of addictiveness.

Whether or not you've had the chance to try Glass yet (if not, connect with me!) … you need to know what to expect. Glass might not be the "next big thing" with consumers (I don't think it will be), but wearables are quickly changing the world around us. And Glass is going to have a major impact.

The opinion of a user

Wearables are hitting consumerland in a big way. A report from Deloitte predicts that consumers will spend more than $3B on 10 million wearable devices this year. (That's not huge compared with the more mature $750B global spend for gadgets including smartphones, tablets, and gaming consoles. But still significant.) And Juniper Research says we'll see $19B in annual sales by 2018. But that's for all wearables (both sensor-based devices like the Fitbit, and interactive devices like Glass). As I said in a recent Sky TV interview, 2014 isn't the year of Glass.

Glass is very, very young. It's a proof-of-concept technology, which is great! Yet, as it tries for such an intimate experience, it has a long way to go before it will be seamless and useful enough to be accepted by mainstream consumers. Google seems to have a specific development philosophy: think of cool new ideas that have massive business implications, and create prototypes. But they don't seem to step into the user's shoes and think, "What will complement (and enhance) current consumer habits?" (Google's engineers might think they created Glass to meet consumer habits, but did they? After trying it with 50-60 very smart people, and trying it myself for 3 months, I can say firmly it's neither intuitive nor a go-to device for daily use.

I can't decide if Glass is more like Zack Morris' entry-level cell phone (an early-gen technology that leads to more and more advanced versions) or Jordie LaForge's immersive "banana clip" Glass precursor.

That said, I like Glass. A lot. It has a geek factor of 10, and opens up numerous possibilities for interacting with the world around us. But it's FAR from ready for a successful* consumer launch.

(*Google might measure success differently than I do. For example, Google+ isn't a ground-swellingly popular social platform, but it's pulling in huge amounts of personal data for Google. Success? You bet. Does Glass need to make money? Not necessarily. First to market, and first to own a new valuable space = worth a major investment. Example 2: Google also knows that Connect Houses will be a huge revenue channel in upcoming decades (our homes will be literally running Android OS), so the company is making innovation investments (e.g. Nest) that won't show profit for quite a while.)

Here's who will like Google Glass in its current state:

  • Insiders who want to have interesting conversations at CES
  • Depending on the usability of the small display, it might be a fit for firefighters who need to know exit routes and police officers who need it for media capture or facial recognition (though I'm not sure facial recognition apps are available yet, and btw might be regulated with standard users)
  • It would be ideal for travelers and tourists who want to interact with and learn about the sights around them
  • Photographers, especially those who shoot experiential (e.g. outdoors) pics, will love it
  • Presenters might be able to use it as a teleprompter
  • And if you're in a career where you benefit from real-time updates (financial trading? medicine?), it might be worth wearing "weird tech" to have slightly-faster access to alerts

But most consumers won't see a purchase value unless Google addresses the following problems.

6 (fixable) reasons Google Glass will flop with consumers

1. The display.

Before trying Google Glass, I thought the display would be bright, immersive, and much easier to interact with. Instead it's somewhat faint, small, and as Google says "not intended for long-form use" (e.g. movies, significant web searching, etc.). Just quick checks (like seeing what time it is).

If you haven't worn Google Glass yet, here's what it looks like. A small rectangular menu that sits just above your eyeline on the right side.

The display is the small rectangle in the upper right corner

(I couldn't find a pic with an image showing. Images are brighter than the text menu.)

I was expecting something a little more like this:

I couldn't help but hope for an immersive AR experience

The display literally appears on the small crystal element that sits above your eye-line. It's not actually projecting anything, it's a physical image. You can angle the display element to fit better with your sight line, but even so it can be hard to see all four edges of the screen in focus, and it's nowhere close to the sharp experience we're used to on phones and TVs.

The display appears on the small clear plastic element

Granted, Google says it didn't want Glass to get in the way of the real world. Google wanted to complement our interactions and bring our eyes up out of our phones. But as a consumer, I really did hope for something more immersive. As I get to know Glass, I am updating my expectations.

Fix: Craft an experience that matches the medium. Don't promise immersive and augmented-reality based experiences. Keep the core apps focused on user-focused data like steps and calories, headlines, media capture and sharing, etc. (Power users can use apps for more personalized experiences.)

2. Glass is socially awkward (but not for the reason you think).

Wearing Glass in and of itself isn't awkward in most situations. It's 2014, we're used to unusual tech. But the engineers have made the experience of USING Glass, well, funny.

First, in order to turn on Glass, you'll do a "wassup" head nod. (They call it a 30-degree up-and-down motion.) Luckily they also added a touchpad tap option for turning on Glass. (Thank you!)

And… as I'm sure you've heard, you can now take a picture by winking.

In other words, Google has fitted out an army of geeks to go around head pumping and winking at the world around them. (My apologies if anyone gets punched over mis-read social cues.) Again, I love engineers. You can imagine them saying, "Hey, what if we…?" But they really need some anthropology majors vetting their ideas and saying, "Well. It's cool, but really dorky."

What would YOU think if you saw someone do the "wassup" head nod then wink?

You don't have to wink, you can say "Glass, take a picture." Or just press the picture button on the front right of the frame (my fav way).

Fix: Hire people who think like consumers (don't just depend on feedback from the beta test group) to make sure the innovations and software match current user needs and intuition.

3. Battery Life.

This will be my constant complaint for all devices. (Hooray for rumors of solar power in the iPhone 6, and all of the new wireless charging advancements!)

My Glass has juice for maybe four hours of actual use. Eight if you're just checking the time and taking pics.

And because the device is often tethered to a smartphone, you actually have to charge two devices. It isn't a deal-breaker for some people, but it's not fun. (Typical techies are now charging a phone, a tablet, an e-reader, a laptop, and at least one more device (some many more).)

Fix: I'm not sure. But Google engineers would do well to focus on this area if they're really gunning for a consumer launch. Definitely integrate wireless charging capabilities.

4. The touchpad is difficult to use unless you have very short hair.

The interactive part of Glass is a touchpad built into the right arm of Glass. (The touchpad, battery, and other internal elements are all in the same bulky right Glass arm, leaving the left arm to look slim and cool.) From an engineering standpoint, great. But from a user standpoint, it's very hard for about 15% of wearers to use. (I'm assuming sales will skew 60% male, and of the female purchasers 75% will have medium-to-longer hair styles, and at least 50% of those part on the left side or center.) Because the "guts" of Glass are all in the right arm, you also can't tuck your hair behind your ear. So your hair hangs over the touchpad itself.

You can't tuck your hair behind your ear due to the thick Glass arm, so your hair falls across the touchpad instead.

Fix: Offer Glass with optional left or right arm sides, or easier, (please!) add more curve into the bar area around the ear to make it easier to tuck your hair behind your ear.

Another reason for allowing the user to select which side the Glass display sits on: I've helped numerous people try Glass, and at least four of them (two were older males) couldn't see well on that side. So without a left-side option, Glass is unusable for them.

5. Glass is kludgy. That's the best word I can think of.

As I mentioned, I've walked 50-60 people through using Glass. Sometimes it works almost flawlessly, sometimes it doesn't. It's usually pretty easy to get a new user into browsing the basic menu to see recent pics, recent apps, etc. But it's harder to get them into the deeper functionality of Glass. And occasionally the apps or menus just don't work, at least not as quickly or seamlessly as you expect them to. (Especially if someone tries to use Glass over their real glasses.) Sometimes I can't even get Glass to turn on for someone. (Oddly, it seems to work better on women.)

It also takes work, even for regular users, to get into the deeper functionality of Glass. And that's the opposite of what Google says it's designed for (according to Google sessions I've attended): quick checks and quick interactions. So step one: make the home screen more usable for quick checks! For example, show:

  • Battery life (!)
  • Steps taken, calories burned (follow the example of the more popular wearables)
  • Some kind of information about the user's children (little arrows with distance designations?)
  • Current temp?
  • Other options consumers currently like, like alerts for new text messages, missed phone calls, timers, alarms, etc.

Engineers: please put battery life on the home screen!

Step two: Google, work with your third-party software providers to create experiences that are more personalizable. I like the idea of getting Mashable headlines to my Glass, but I don't want to spend my battery life checking stories that don't relate to me. Instead, I want to set up specific topic and/or keyword searches, have the option to designate the specific outlets I would like to hear from AND be able to set very specific limits on how many stories I receive. (Winkfeed gets the closest to making this possible. But I want even more control.) Remember, the battery dies pretty quickly.

News option two: show me three text headlines (instead of one story with a full color pic) each time you ping me so I can select which story I want to see.

I won't dig in to the overall menu experience here. It's not terrible, just in need of tweaks. Consumers will struggle a bit learning which menu or sub-menu to scroll through to find core functions vs. apps, and getting in and out of things like directions, taking a video, etc.

Fix: Offer personalization options on the home screen, offer more personalization in notification options, and hire intuitive people to help finesse the overall user experience with navigating Glass.

6. Finally, there's just not much use for Glass at this time.

It pains me to say this. Glass is a cool device, I'm a genuine fan. In fact, Glass does the following things well:

  • It's a great conversation starter
  • Taking pics (just click!)
  • Checking the time
  • Seeing quick highlights of the world around you (using the app FieldTrip)
  • Directions

Moreover, Glass WILL do the following things well at some point:

  1. Allow you to do quick google searches throughout your day. (Currently you can do verbal searches (usually resulting in short Wikipedia entries). But anything beyond a simple search is a cumbersome task since you have to use your head movements to navigate the web pages (You can steady the curser by holding two fingers to the touchpad. So technically it works, but are you really going to go through multiple steps with awkward head motions when you have a TETHERED PHONE in your pocket that's much faster to navigate?).
  2. Real-time translation of signs, etc. in other languages. (It does currently have this functionality, in fact it's one of my favorite things about Glass. But you have to navigate into a sub-menu to access the app. I want Glass to do it automatically (or give me a "translate?" option) as soon as I look at a sign for a full second. This app also isn't seamless yet; it can be hard to get it to work for new users.
  3. Let you visually search the world around you for facts, highlights, destinations, etc. All of these experiences will be app-dependent. So they're coming. Glass does offer FieldTrip as a core app, but I want visual search.
  4. Augmented reality experiences. Overlays that tell you what or where things are. This is what I dreamed of when I first heard of Google Glass. (Again, much of this will be app-dependent.)

However… that's it. Great, I took pics at CES, shared them with my social network, and made a lot of new friends who wanted to know about Google Glass. And I know more apps are coming. But I don't reach for Glass as my go-to device.

If Google had billed Glass as a socially-integrated camera (with other cool bonus apps)… it would almost be consumer-ready. It's still pretty expensive (I'm assuming it will be $500ish when launched for consumers), but the quality of photos is great. Enthusiasts in the photo space could get into it. But it's supposed to be an immersive computer. Something that changes how you interact with the world around you. It's not that, yet. (It has the potential.)

Fix: This is dependent on 1: Google's and third-party app developers, and I know they're hard at work on thousands of new ways we can use Glass, and 2: the Glass OS engineers who determine the basic usability. This execution is very first gen. Very engineer-driven. If they could wrap Glass more around the user, anticipate the user's needs, and give a seamless and personalized experience… then we'd be in business.

Final word:

I like Glass. But that's it. I don't love it. I love my phone. I love my laptop. I loved my iPods (especially the clip-on wearable Nano) until our smartphones replaced the standalone music player. I love mature technologies that have been thoughtfully evolved to meet my needs and habits.

Google, you have a great beta product. And possibly its niche uses (medical, emergency, tourism) will be enough to deliver significant revenue. But between recent frame updates and very consumer-focused marketing, it's clear that you have real consumers very much in mind  (we'll likely hear more at Google IO this May, and CNN says we might see a consumer launch late 2014), and you're not ready. Give me a call, I have more ideas!

Tweet me comments at @bethanysimpson.

One Response to “6 (fixable) reasons Google Glass will flop with consumers”

  1. Quinn says:

    Some good points but you didn't address enterprise networks. I always connect Glass to my iPhone with tethered data but not being able to connect to any library, Starbucks, hotel, campus, etc wifi enterprise networks that require a user login or even just to accept the terms and conditions - is a major 'fixable' reason Glass would 'flop with Consumers'.

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