Hari Shankar
Jan 28, 2015

Why Google Glass failed (Or did it?)

Gadget guru and PayPal exec Hari Shanker performs a 'post-mortem' on Google Glass, which probably isn't as dead as it may seem.

Hari Shankar, in regular glasses
Hari Shankar, in regular glasses

Certainly a year has not dashed past since I put down a few thoughts on Google Glass? Alas, it was actually May 2013 when I found myself daydreaming of the transcendental possibilities that this fifth-screen brought into being—including my musings on peering deeply into outer space in search of extraterrestrial life.

As they say, daydreams are just daydreams, and so it goes that recently, while flipping through the Flipboard, I stumbled across a headline screaming out the demise of the much-touted Glass, which launched with sky-high ambitions. (Literally, given that Sergey Brin held a ‘glassference’ with two glass-clad skydivers who managed to land on the roof of the San Francisco building where Brin was holding the launch.)  
Let us take a quick look at why the Glass is going down into the annals of Google's ‘breakthrough but failed’ products, and then pause for a moment to think whether this spectacular invention in the sphere of wearable tech deserves to be written off so quickly.

Here are the common objections to Glass:

a. Privacy: It is certainly a valid observation and concern that ‘Glassholes’ could sneak up unassumingly and capture anything in the world they wanted to. However, I personally doubt the tech-savvy, geeky adopters were really such a perverted and demonic group. Also, let me draw your attention to the fact that the screen illuminates whenever a recording takes place.

b. Piracy: Theatres in the US banned the Glass totally, citing piracy issues. To me, this again could have been a possibility in the far-away future when the device packs enough memory to record an entire movie and, more importantly, when a new breed of “stiff-necked” beings comes along with ability to hold their heads nicely aligned and absolutely still through the duration of a two-hour movie.

c. Disruption: I would probably give this one a few marks because it isn’t easy to have a piece of technology wrapped around your face with a spooky-looking cube of glass suspended almost facing your already slumber-starved eyes. It not only causes a disruption in the normal viewing experience but also can trigger your conversation mates to turn nasty when they see you roll your eyes up toward the right (called ‘glassing out’) in an effort to focus on the spectacled display.

d. Fashion: Clunky, clumsy, dorky, buggy—the adjectives the Glass managed to attract would make any designer jittery, and as if to add insult to injury, some even voiced concerns about the safety aspect of having a glass cube hanging right in front of the pupils. Fashion, IMHO, lies only in the eye of the beholder. And to that point I would draw your attention to a thumbs-up the Glass received during London's fashion week last September and Vogue magazine’s positive review titled “Google Glass and futuristic vision of fashion.”

Let’s not miss out the people who complained about headaches, disorientation, terrible battery life and so on and so forth. In short, there is no shortage of negative sentiment on many aspects of the Glass, many of which I am not going to elaborate upon here. Let’s just say that this $1,500 piece of futuristic device raked up more brickbats than bouquets while it lasted.

Does Glass really deserve so much scorn?

To begin with, it is a colossally tall order to invent a piece of new technology. It's an even taller order to make it marketable in a fashion that becomes palatable to consumers.

From the Model T Ford to contact lenses to parachutes to mobile phones, the list is nearly endless when sizing up the wide chasm that existed between the clunkiness of the initial technology versus the sophistication demanded by the society. Not to forget the well-entrenched mindsets and behaviours one has to break while rolling out a revolutionary new product (do you know the social stigma that the Walkman attracted in its day?).
To me, Google's die-hard attitude is a thing of awe and also a harbinger of things to come—an early signal of the breakthrough innovation that will ultimately change lives. So what if there have been many futuristic trials that bit the dust too soon? Does it not deserve a modicum of respect for the bold resilience and openness to fail early?

Google Glass may have been rolled back for now and made into a standalone project led by the former Nest founder and a former senior design head from CK. But methinks the second-coming will be so fast and furious that the detractors and naysayers will be a distant memory.
A voice command rings in my ears as I wind up this piece.
OK Glass! Arise and awake!

Hari Shankar is head of paid media for APAC with PayPal


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