Google Glass NOT at CES

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.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

37 thoughts on “Google Glass NOT at CES”

  1. Here is the way I see Glass’s failure. I divide computing up into two categories: attentive computing where the user has to pay attention to the computing going on, and inattentive computing where the user is primarily focused on something else and the computing is happening without the user paying much attention to to. The attentive computing market is saturated and is now incrementally improving. The inattentive computing market is where the growth is (Siri, Google Now, and Cortana are the true interfaces for the inattentive computing market). Google Glass is supposed to be an inattentive computing device. We are supposed to use it while we are primarily doing something else (walking down the street, driving, working out, our jobs). However, because Glass provides a visual output, the user has to focus on it (you cannot easily split your attention between looking at two things very well), so it fails at what it is supposed to so. As an attentive computing device, what is the point of it? It’s compromised, a phone provides a better screen, VR goggles will be immersive.

    1. Google Glass because it was bloody ugly and made those who wear it look foolish. IF Google can combine fashionable form with function then it has a chance of being successful. The technology behind Glass is really cool and has a lot of potential.

      1. “IF Google can combine fashionable form with function then it has a chance of being successful.”

        You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would give Google fashion credits and therein lies the problem with Glass: it was a product that started out as tech first, fashion second. (I believe) Apple’s direction is the polar opposite. They design something meant for human consumption then work the technology into it.

        Proof of Glass’ problematic beginnings can be found in early versions of the product. It looked like silly contraptions from the manic mind of Dr. Emmett Brown circa 1955 rather than a product designed with actual people in mind.

        Glass was also adopted and accepted by the über geek crowd first, not John Q. Public. Conversely the Apple Watch that made an appearance at a fashion show in Paris; people lining up just to get a glimpse of the watch from 20 feet away and behind glass.

        Google attempted to have the fashion world adopt Glass but after 2+ years in the wild you won’t find a single fashionista seeking out Glass to complement their couture ensemble. Never mind that you NEVER see Google employees wearing them. A bold sign that Glass isn’t a mass market device you didn’t see a single Google executive/presenter rocking Glass during presentations at the most recent I/O Conference but most everyone was wearing a prototype Android Wear watch.

        If Google wanted people to wear Glass they should’ve led by example.

        But I think the biggest problem was rather than figure out WHY we need a computer strapped to our face Google took the Field of Dreams approach and failed to attract however succeeded in remarkable fashion in adding another word to the human lexicon: glasshole.

    1. Funny!

      I like that the site’s been given a fresh new look but yeah, it’s a bit loud. It’ll take a little getting used to but I do think it’s better than previous design.

  2. I think Glass is a bit ahead of its time, and weirdly targeted.
    First and foremost, there should be a version w/o a camera, because it is not socially acceptable to be filming at all times, and the current version of Glass enables just that. Plus many use cases (including most of mine) do *not* require a camera: keeping up with alerts, looking up reference material (while working on the PC, on the workbench, for maps…), maybe even reading books or watching videos (if the display quality is up to par, I’m not sure about that). Maybe the camera can be a plug-in option. Maybe there can be 2 versions of Glass.
    Personally, I’m more interested in smart glasses than in smartwatches, mostly because glasses keep my hands free and don’t mostly duplicate my smartphone on another, more limited, screen, but rather add a superimposed, always-there, unobtrusive screen. Not at the cost of $1,500 and general opprobrium though.

    1. I’m curious as to what you think is the missing ingredient. What is it that will prevent Google Glass-like products from becoming mainstream for 5-10 years?

      Hardware-wise, apart from the battery life, the technology seems to be OK. User interface-wise, I’m not sure, but it has hasn’t been a major topic. Similar for the software. It doesn’t seem to be the technology that is holding it back.

      If the problem was in hardware, then we can predict with some certainty that Moore’s law will take us there. If it was a UI-issue, then there aren’t many companies that have ever successfully introduced, breakthrough new UI concepts so it will be less predictable.

      What if the issue is somewhere else? Then the future is even more unpredictable.

      I would like to know your thoughts.

      1. To me, the main issue is social: the camera, and the looks, or rather, not only the looks per se but also the “I’m a drone” statement having a computer on your face makes.
        The camera is easy to get rid of, and vital to get rid off. Not only don’t others people want me to film them at will, *I* don’t want that either.
        The looks and dronishness may evolve and/or get accepted and, like we did for phablets, we might have to endure a couple of years of years of jeers for an eternity of “I told you so”

        1. Got your point.

          One thing. If social acceptance is the bottleneck, and it takes a few more years to get there (which is ample time for the Chinese to catch up), then I wouldn’t expect Google to be the company to finally make it work.

          1. To me Glass will be OEMed, same as Android, Android Wear, Car, Chrome, TV… every thing Google does that isn’t Cloud, really.
            I don’t understand how ppl can think this is it for Glass, after one Google-branded trial balloon at $1,500.

          2. What about Nest, Fadell’s other product line? Or Chromecast? These hasn’t yet been OEMed.

            I agree that understanding Google is hard, and I’m sure they’re going to continue working on it, possibly in vertical markets. They surely have deep enough pockets. That’s essentially what they did with Chromebooks, going after K-12.

            What I do see is that Google isn’t very good at introducing new category devices, and since it looks like a company culture issue, I doubt that they will succeed even if they try the consumer market again, unless of course they copy or acquire another company that has managed to crack the nut.

          3. “That’s essentially what they did with Chromebooks, going after K-12.”

            I wonder how well that has really worked though. Didn’t we just learn that IDC’s data was completely wrong on the whole “Chromebooks overtake iPads in education” media spin?

          4. Basically what they did was they threw Chrome OS against the wall and saw what stuck. Is stuck in K-12 so that’s what their doing. I think they’re lucky to be where they are. However, I think Google has been prohibited from collecting student data for the purpose of future advertising, etc. so, as a business, I don’t think it makes much sense for them.

            I think the same is going to happen to Google Glass.

      2. I hate to say it, but a product like Google Glass as conceived (i.e. an all-day device) will succeed if users can completely conceal the fact that they are using it. That basically means contact lenses, which a lot of people will not want to wear. And even if consumers accept that, the government will in all likelihood frown on what is in effect a concealed surveillance device, so that’s the end of that.

        Google Glass will succeed as a narrowly purposed occupational device. That’s still a boon for humanity, but nothing close, thank god, to what Google hoped it would be.

        Dropping the camera downgrades it into nothing more than a fancy highly-mobile display. I don’t see that as having much impact or utility.
        In fact as an occupational device, two cameras and stereoscopic vision would be a great enhancement.

  3. I think the broader question is, what does the current failure of Google Glass tell us about the company’s ability to develop new category products?

    We all know that Google has build its business by improving or acquiring products already proven in the market. This has been the case for Search, Gmail, YouTube, and Android. They have seldom succeeded in introducing a new category service or device (with maybe Adwords being a rare exception).

    The failure of Google Glass seems to tell us why they are much better at improving the technology behind a proven product concept, rather than introducing that concept to the market in the first place.

    It’s probably a part of their tech-centric corporate culture.

    Just like how Apple failed with their social attempts with iTunes Ping and corporate attempts with Xserve, there are some things that corporate cultures are simply incompatible with.

    This is why I don’t expect Google to succeed with any of the stuff from Google X labs in the foreseeable future.

    1. I think that can be said of any big company. MS made it big by cloning CP/M, NewApple by making IT gadgets easy and sexy, Google by indexing The Internet for us, Facebook by letting us dress up for and chat with our classmates…
      I think the initial success is mostly dumb luck, good execution, and business ruthlessness.
      What happens after the initial lode is tapped out is interesting, and involves leveraging core competencies, existing relationships, and opportunities. All the big players have mostly bought or copied others’ ideas: iTunes/Siri/Maps/…, Windows and MS’s server line (SQL, Exchange, SharePoint…)… I’d say of those 4, Google is the one most earnestly looking for really innovative stuff.

      I think Google’s job is a bit harder than Apple’s (siphon ever more money off affluent brand-conscious customers) or MS’s (continue to be the 2K’s IBM), because Google’s relationships are more tenuous. Google are tech-centric because they’ve got no choice. “Making data useful” (accessible, marketable, relevant….) is what they are, they don’t “own” customers the way the other 2 do. On the other hand, just like Facebook, they’re not asking for money so even though relationships are tenuous, they’re not under constant review. Apple’s focusing on lock-in, Google on expanding their usefulness.

      1. But Google does a lot to keep the end user at arms length. For all the credit they get for being a cloud and services company, they do so at the expense of committing to the end product. Everything is perpetually in beta, whether identified as such or not. Take Google Drive, for instance. they can’t just commit to the new interface, they offer it… sort of. New users get it without knowing there is an older version still out there in common use. Older users who chose not to “try the new Drive” all of a sudden are confused when trying to help out new users.

        So in a lot of ways Google makes their job even harder, it seems, by default. They depend on a mass effect to drive an initiative into popular use, but never seem to do what it takes to _help_ drive it that way. The only thing they throw their whole weight behind is search and advertising.


        1. Well, that’s supposed to be one of the main advantages of Cloud: providers can fluidly update their software since users don’t have to install updates. As long as Google know what they’re doing, this is good. If they mess things up, we won’t have an old version to fall back on. Nor will we have our data anyway, so… Cloud is the nuclear plant of software: we’re hoping things won’t go wrong, knowing they already have and will again. Definition of madness.
          As for catering to users, indeed Google is in the weird position of indirectly needing users. Whereas Apple know they’ve got to convince their users to regularly and repeatedly part with large amounts of money, Google “merely” have to get users to eat their free food instead of someone else’s, while maximizing revenue opportunities. That must lead to some fun design gymnastics.

      2. Regarding the amount of innovation happening inside a company.

        The amount of research or the quality of it even has no direct relationship to whether a company can successfully a new category product and create a new market. There are other significant bottlenecks to this, which if they remain unsolved, will doom to failure even the most technically advanced product.

        I’m sure that Google X is doing great research. It does not follow that any one of these will sell well. The current failure of Google Glass is simply another example of this.

        1. Agree completely Bell Labs had great research too, in fact Nobel-winning research. Little good that did for them in the end. (A lot of good for the advancement of science, though.) IBM also had Nobel-winning research.

      3. I agree with 99.9% of your post, but don’t forget, as I understand it, it’s next to impossible for anyone to use the web without Google getting paid. This is a form of lock-in as well, just an unrestricted one.

    2. I’m also wondering about PARC. Nothing ever really came out of it for Xerox, yet it revolutionized IT. Can Google succeed at innovating *and* not avoiding tunnel vision ?

      1. I’m probably being subjective, but I don’t think the Google X projects (at least the ones that have been disclosed) are nearly as far-fetching and unique as the innovations at PARC during the 1970s.

        The Self-driving car, for example, is only one of many attempts by various companies. We all know now that Mercedes has a similar project.

        Google Glass also has a close precursor, as mentioned in Tim’s article.

        In my view, Google X is much more product-oriented than PARC. That’t neither good nor bad in itself, but I would expect more attention to making the products a success in the marketplace.

    3. While I certainly understand your economic point of view, let’s not forget that, in our lifetimes, companies did do fundamental research only peripherally aligned with their primary business. Bell Labs (Penzias and Wilson) permitting, and funding, research that led to the accidental “proof” of Big Bang cosmology come to mind. John Bardeen (along with Leon Cooper, and JR Screiffer) was also at Bell Labs and they won the Nobel for the BCS Theory of superconductivity. William Schockley (such as he was) was allowed to pursue his semiconductor, which ultimately spawned scores of companies.

      Now, I don’t think Glass is in this league, but I commend skunk works projects such as these, and they should be encouraged.

      1. I don’t dispute the value of such ressarch for the greater mankind. I do dispute the value for the company sponsoring it, which I think is the topic here.

        And I don’t think Google X can be classified as skunkworks.

        1. “I do dispute the value for the company sponsoring it”

          You can reasonably do so, but if you want to attract Nobel caliber talent (as all the one’s I mentioned are Laureates), you may think differently.

          I also agreed that Glass was not in that league, but “off the wall” projects are valuable.

    4. The missing element in Google’s new product efforts is Social (or Emotional) IQ. There’s enough research out there that shows that engineers fall on the very mild/highly functional end of the autism spectrum. Google needs to hire a few humanities majors in their product dev efforts who can head things off when products under development start veering into socially dissonant territory.

      The deficit in Social IQ didn’t hinder Google’s successful products i.e (Search, Gmail, YouTube and Android) because interaction in those are strictly between the user and the product. Once a product is designed for use in a social, or worse, public, setting then some thought must be devoted to how the product will affect people around it, not just the user. (Although, this social aspect is starting to emerge as an issue with Google’s internet services, i.e. loss of privacy and the attendant “creepiness” factor.)

      1. “Google needs to hire a few humanities majors in their product dev efforts”

        And then actually listen to them.


  4. Like Microsoft, there is no one in a position of power in Google who has a feel for what appeals to consumers (both individually and collectively) and what doesn’t. Lots of people spotted from a mile away that Google Glass, promoted as a all-day consumer device, was going to be a reviled product. It was a camcorder permanently positioned at ready-to-shoot mode and only a person who scored very low on the empathy scale would have thought that would not cause problems: The folks who raved about it, including Google itself, talked about how great it was going to be for the user and gave no thought at all to its effect on all the people who would be around that user.

    Even the people who said it would fail because it made you look like a dork missed the point. That line of thought still centered on the user. Google Glass’s problems do not revolve around user satisfaction, it’s about the product’s acceptance by people who find themselves next to the user.

  5. Surprised to see an article about the failure of Google glass and the future of smart glasses that doesn’t mention googles recent investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in Magic Leap – which by all accounts is a vast improvement over any other glass product.

  6. The general theory is that Google is NOT a product company nor an apps company. They develop products and apps for patents for licensing. Which they license to REAL product and app companies.

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