In the annals of tech history, this might go down as one of the strangest products ever released. It wasn't made by a startup in Cincinnati with a clever name or as an experimental gadget at Bell Labs. Instead, it was made by a California tech monolith who never really figured out how to market the device.
I'm talking about Google Glass, of course. The product now joins a long list of shuttered products like the original Nexus Q streaming orb and Google Wave. Google will officially stop selling the HUD goggles, which have a camera you can use to record people around you and pop-up navigation and messaging, on January 19.
I say, "Good riddance."
I wore the product for a while back when it first came out in the summer of 2013. I never did pay the exorbitant $1,500 asking price but I borrowed one a few times.
The flickering display never quite looked right and made me feel like a low-rent cyborg. Since we can really only focus on one thing at a time, you either could read messages and navigation in Google Glass or you could ride a bike. Not both. In a way, it was doomed from the start. There was always a hint of ridiculousness in it.
Still, the main problem with the Google Glass marketing campaign is that it never really existed. The product launch was too secretive. You had to sign up to be a Glass Explorer, so the idea was to build exclusivity into the product. However, that's a dangerous marketing strategy when you want to actually start selling something and generate revenue. It's usually not a great way to reach market share.
Google never did run a formal review program and it insisted that journalists purchase the device. (I know of at least two colleagues who did just that.) With anything new and innovative, it's critical that you explain not just the features and use cases, but why the category even needs to exist. You have to frame it (excuse the pun).
Looking back, it's interesting to imagine how Google Glass might have become more useful if the company had explained how it could benefit the education system or science research instead of just making it seem like it was a GoPro replacement.
Whenever your product starts creating an entire class of people called Glassholes, you know you have a problem. You have created tension in society at large. I remember people wearing Google Glass in San Francisco a few times and how customers in a coffee shop would get up and leave or say they did not want to be recorded.
What could Google have done differently? For starters, they should have avoided being so secretive. You won't reach a mass audience by forcing people to apply to test your product, and then making them pay $1,500. If it's just an experiment, why make it so exclusive? When it did become widely available, the cost stayed the same, even though we now know the parts probably cost Google around $150.
More serious though is the fact that most people were just confused about what you can really do with Google Glass. There's a danger in making a lush, well-produced intro video that shows off your product in such a favorable light and then never really delivering on that promise. Notice how the first videos made the screen look like it was in HD. In reality, it's more like an optical illusion. It's what I call the Killzone problem. Quite a few years ago, the developers of the Killzone sequel made a video that supposedly showed off real game play, but was really just a rendered movie. Even die-hard gamers felt let down when the game didn't live up to expectations.
Google Glass ultimately became a product many of us knew existed but never felt compelled to purchase. It was a perfect example of making a techie product, calling it an experiment, charging too much, and never explaining why the product even exists or providing guidance about how it might change how you work. It is the worst example of how technology is sometimes a showcase of what can be done just because, without serving any real purpose. It's proof that there has to be a reason to use something. It has to change how we work or how we stay productive.
Google Glass did neither. It just proved that a bad product with bad marketing will lead to poor sales. That's something most of us have already learned by now.