One of the more interesting areas at CES was at the Sands Hotel where the startups, IoT, smart watch and fitness tracker areas were located. Last year, most of this was in the basement of the South Hall but this year, they were the heart of the Sands. In fact, it made it one of the more important areas of the show and I think the crowds in the Sands were more difficult to navigate than they were at the LVCC at times.
But there was one product pretty much absent from this year’s show that was all the talk of CES 2014 — Google Glass. While Epson was there showing off their new Moverio models and Sony had a version in their booth with their clip on glass displays, there was little discussion or talk about Google Glass during the show from any colleague or media contacts I talked to.
This is not good news for Google. This is one of those products that over-promised and under-delivered and Google tricked many people into paying a ridiculous price so Google could underwrite its development. While I doubt Google Glass is dead, it surely has a wounded reputation and Google’s approach with Glass is now suspect, especially when they tell us it is a great product for consumers.
One of the more important tenets of technology is, in most cases and especially ones that are hardware focused, the initial markets for them starts at the top end of the business world and more specifically, vertical markets. One reason is price. Most hardware starts out with limited runs and, as a result, first gen products in the past have been expensive. Second, the business community or vertical markets are usually the one’s who see the need first and are early adopters.
This was true of the PC, cell phones, pagers, tablets and even glass products that hit the market in the late 1990’s and for most of their existence were used in vertical applications and the military.
Google’s lack of understanding of this stuns me. I realize they are mostly focused on ads for consumers but when it comes to hardware and especially breaking in a new category, history has been pretty clear that it starts at the top and gets fleshed out there before moving down the chain to consumers. At the moment, I feel Google Glass as we know it is a wounded product and Google’s approach has left consumers with a feeling of distrust of Google when it comes to any Glass product they may bring to market under their own brand.
The good news is the market for glasses used by vertical markets is actually starting to take off. Although this market has existed for 15 years and has had a modicum of success in specialized vertical markets, it is now starting to get broader uptake in many more vertical business settings. Ironically, while Google itself failed miserably with Google Glass, the hoopla it created in the market brought it back to the attention of vertical markets and demand for glasses in these markets is finally heating up. I am seeing greater interest for its use now in manufacturing, aeronautics, first responders, surveyors, gas and mining, etc. And software from companies like APX-Labs are creating industrial strength apps that can be used in dedicated vertical markets as well for cross-industry applications. A good example of this is how Boeing is using their app for replacing paper airplane repair manuals and tying these glasses directly to special servers that include specs and video to help the repair person on site and delivering info over a WIFI connection.
Like most technology of the past, it will be the business and vertical market sectors that will be early adopters and flesh out usage models at first. Although Vuzix and others have been working in this area for over 15 years, the upswing for using these types of smart glass is finally gaining broader business market attention and will give these products an lift. However, I am inclined to think it will be at least five to seven years, if not more, before smart glasses will ever really strike the fancy of mainstream consumers. Besides getting past the issue of privacy, public acceptance, cost, etc, it will take some killer apps to get the consumer market to even consider it. I just don’t see any of that happening any time soon.