The original incarnation of Google Glass represented a good product startegy let down by a poor underlying product.
There are similarities with the Microsoft Band. This product failed despite being similarly backed by a large tech company. Unlike Google Glass, it solved a clear problem, was acknowledged as being functionally terrific and it was backed by clear, consistent marketing.
Though Glass failed as a product almost since its inception, both products failed for two key reasons.
Firstly, it was poorly designed. In my personal experience, a poorly designed product is always difficult to succeed with. Steve Jobs apparently delayed the launch of the original iphone by six months while he worked on getting the cellophane packaging around the box just right. In contrast, people wearing Google Glass were literally assaulted in the street (and the device not stolen).
“As the technology disappears into the background, hybrid watches and other fashion accessories with fitness tracking are starting to gain traction,” explained said Jitesh Ubrani senior research analyst at IDC. Secondly, both products built the technology chunkily and then put it at the forefront of the consumer experience. Something which the consumers both didn’t want and didn’t trust.
The road from $80bn to zero
By 2020, according to Forbes writing in 2015, the wearables market would be worth $80bn. This, written barely a month after Google pulled the plug on Google Glass. To fail to make any kind of revenue in this market represents a huge failure.
Glass was designed to fit into Google’s 10x development philosophy. Working much like venture capitalism for product development, it aims to develop products which create step changes in markets, rather than incremental improvement (and incremental profits).
With the wearables market predicted to be a key growth area for technology, it seemed a good fit for this methodology. After all, entire companies, such as Fitbit, were founded on small areas this market alone.
Nothing wrong with the product strategy, why then did the product fail? The only way to determine whether a product failed is to look to its mission statement. Not all products are designed for significant revenues or world domination.
“We think technology should work for you — to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t.”
The subtle, the not so subtle and the atrocious
Unfortunately, even at this high level, Glass failed. For Forbes, this time writing in 2014:
“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 wearer a mile away.”
Glass bred the unsavory term ‘glassholes’ for people who wore them. That was, if they were allowed to wear them in the first place. Establishments from bars to banks started banning them from being worn for security reasons. For a company fighting privacy battles across the world, in an increasingly concerned environment, this would have been a terrible cost to Google’s reputation.
So, failing in their mission statement, security issues and a poor reputation. The first reason alone is, for us, a product failure. Every story, every aspect should relate back to the mission statement and customer centricity and branding. In our experience, a solid sense of purpose coupled to great design can give a product time to overcome any underlying faults. Failing both in purpose and design would make any product suffer irreparably.
When Google Glass launched, almost 60m wearable devices were being sold in the general market globally, going up to 164m by the time it was withdrawn from the market. Snapchat reported selling around 61,500 of their devices, a product similar to Google Glass, in the first quarter of this year. With a better design and a clearer sense of purpose, they’ve been able to draw revenues of $8m. Small, but early results.
Google though, never gave themselves that opportunity. The terms ‘launched’ and ‘withdrawn’ indicate an actual product release. Google are known for incredibly long beta periods in their software. (Maps was in Beta for years, even as the market leader.) That same strategy in a physical product failed.
No one was sure whether they could actually buy one. That would have been assuming anyone wanted to do so. In April 2013, only 10% of potential customers said that, were it at the right price point, they would have bought one. In another survey 53% claimed to be worried by the entire market. They needn’t have been concerned at a cost of $1,500, few could afford it.
For anyone left over, many were further antagonised when Google Glass went on sale in the UK for a single day in Kings Cross.
It’s hard to understand how Google got the product, never mind the product launch so wrong.
Glass was launched despite customer research indicating that the clear majority of its potential customers either couldn’t wear it (such as those with glasses or eye conditions), or wouldn’t. It’s lack of clear purpose was further damaged by poor marketing which would have been better suited to software than physical products.
Most importantly, the public, according to many experts was in any event the wrong market. In short, it seemed to lack a clear problem statement, a fundamental failing for a product. Complemented by poor design, it unsurprisingly failed to sell the public a solution.
With Glass now being relaunched for the enterprise market (potentially?) and in better hands under the man who founded Nest, perhaps we’ll see a resurgence in the future.