What can IT managers learn from the failure of Google Glass?

Photo by Flickr user Ted Eytan, used under CC 2.0
Google Glass was widely hyped as a game-changing wearable device – connected to the Internet and with a built-in camera, Google Glass was going to give its users a totally new perspective on the world, by enabling them to access information instantly, take pictures, record videos and interact digitally with their real-world surroundings.
 
Even though Google Glass offered many unique features and possible applications, and got a lot of interest from tech enthusiasts and early adopters, the wider public was less excited. To many people outside the tech world, Google Glass seemed rather…weird. Most people felt uncomfortable with the idea of wearing a computer on their face. Other people didn’t like the look of the bulky goggle-style eyewear, and other people were concerned that Google Glass was going to lead to privacy violations or an Orwellian surveillance state where everyone’s public activities became subject to instant recording and sharing online.
 
Faced with these obstacles, Google recently announced that they have discontinued the Google Glass project. Although Google Glass is not totally “dead” yet, it doesn’t look like Google Glass will ever emerge as a blockbuster consumer wearable device.
The demise of Google Glass is not a big surprise, because the project had been struggling for quite some time - but there are still some useful lessons here for other IT project managers:
 
 
Just Because You “Can” Doesn’t Mean You Should
 
Google Glass, when you think about it, is actually a pretty impressive feat of engineering. It’s great to know that a wearable device can be built to include so many features, plus full web access. But the technical achievements of Glass were outweighed by the disconnect that it faced with the broader public. Not everyone out in the “mainstream” consumer culture is as thrilled by new technology as the people who work in the tech business. To many people, Google Glass felt like an unnerving example of ominous future technology gone wrong, like the first step to turning human beings into Borg-like cyborg creatures. Whether that’s fair or not, this became a powerful perception that Google Glass could not overcome.
 
Just because your team has the technical ability to create something doesn’t mean that the project will be a success – you need to know the rationale for “why” this project needs to happen, and you need to understand your target market for the product that you’re trying to create. If people feel uneasy about your product, it might be very hard to make it a success – even if the technology is excellent.
 
 
Start with Niche Audiences
 
Google Glass was originally introduced as being a new consumer device – like the smartphone or the PC tablet, Google’s early descriptions of Glass made it sound like anyone could wear Glass and soon we’d all be seeing people walking down the street with Glass devices. But the truth is, Google Glass is a better fit for niche markets like workplaces – for doctors, jewelers, health inspectors and other jobs that require people to keep their hands free while still being able to access Web information (or record videos of their work), Google Glass could still be a big success. Not every new innovation is “for everyone.” If your project team thinks that your new product or app is going to be widely embraced by everyone under the sun, you probably haven’t given enough thought to your marketing strategy. If Google Glass had pitched their product (from Day One) as being a unique new tool for doctors, jewelers and “hands free” workers, they might have had more success.
 
 
Don’t Believe Your Own Hype
 
Google Glass got a lot of positive press from the tech media when it was first introduced, but the wider public never felt comfortable with Glass, and the device soon became seen as something of a fashion accessory for out-of-touch jerks – a.k.a. “Glassholes.” As blogger Bob Lefsetz writes about Google Glass, “Killed by the public, the press gave it a free pass. That’s right, for years we were subjected to fawning stories about this idiotic product in the mainstream press. There were numerous pictures of (Google executives) Sergey and Larry at parties, looking like the dorks that they are, until suddenly barroom backlash surfaced in San Francisco and the media woke up to the fact that Google Glass might be an undesired product.”
 
The technology world is known for its high risks and high rates of failure, so it’s no surprise that Google Glass has joined the ranks of exciting tech products that didn’t work out. But the failure of Google Glass should be a cautionary tale to IT leaders: be humble – don’t assume that just because your product is getting a lot of hype, or because you think the technology is amazing, then the wider market will also welcome your product with open arms. Be strategic. Be focused. Know who you’re making your product for, and know how to explain the rationale for how it will help improve their lives and solve their problems.
 
Google Glass, in many ways, was a “solution in search of a problem.” Most people were not clamoring for a computer to wear on their face. But perhaps Google’s rival, Apple, will get the last laugh – the Apple Watch might become the first mainstream wearable device.
 

 

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