Why Google Glasses is 10 years away from Consumer Success

Like many in the tech world I have watched, with great interest, the Google Glass project develop and evolve. I even became a Glass Explorer and have used it for about nine months. Like many who bought Google Glass, it now sits on a desk at home. It has proven to be less then easy to use and even worse, pretty bad at what it is even supposed to do correctly. For some, its novelty lives on but as most who bought Google Glass have discovered, this version’s UI is very bad and the dearth of any true consumer applications pretty much doomed it from the start. If I sound bitter, I am. Asking me or any other Google Explorer to pay $1500 for the privilege of beta testing a product for Google is absurd. Of course I made the decision to buy it knowing it was a wounded product and, at least in my case, I had a research motive behind it. But if I were a mainstream consumer, or early adopter, and bought this I would be pissed Google released a product to the open market instead of the actual market any Glass project should have been focused on in the first place — vertical markets.

In 1984 I was asked to look at a product for IBM and make a suggestion as to what they should do with it since it was not selling well. The product was the IBM PC Jr. Three years earlier IBM introduced their highly successful PC and it took off in business like wildfire. They made the assumption if the PC was doing well with business users, it should do well with consumers too. So they released what turned out to be a wounded product for consumers. It had a lot of limitations since it was much cheaper than IBM’s business PC; they did not want a cheaper product eating in to demand for their business product. But when I went to Boca Raton to do my presentation about this to IBM’s brass, I did not point out the PC Jr was a crippled machine and that’s why they should kill it. What I did present was a very strong and rational study on the fact that historically all new technologies first get targeted at vertical or business markets and showed them in almost all cases it took at least ten years from a new technology targeted at business users to eventually become cheap and easy enough to use for it to be brought to a consumer market successfully.

IBM was a tech company and at the time had not done anything for consumers. More importantly, they were not even a marketing company back then. Few at IBM understood the concept of the “marketing pyramid”. In the tech world, it must go through the early adopters who then suggest to people interested in what they are doing with the technology that they look at it. Over a 2-3 year period, it moves from early adopters to the next layer of adopters for any particular technology. However, in my experience I have found for any new technology to get broad adoption from consumers it takes on average 10 years to get the kind of apps and prices needed for consumer adoption. Then and only then does a new technology hit the mainstream. I told IBM they we were 10 years too early with the PC Jr and to kill it since it was going nowhere for the time being. It was not until 1994 the demand for consumers PCs kicked in — exactly ten years after the PC Jr was originally released.

I could go on an on about this tech marketing pyramid and show how things like VCRs, HDTVs, and dozens of tech products had to go through the pyramid of early adopters and ride at least a ten year slope down to delivering and acceptance of this core technology to consumer markets. This is especially true with hardware products that need to then pick up software apps and an ecosystem before it can go mainstream. Google putting Glass into the consumer market either showed their complete lack of understanding tech marketing pyramids or, even worse, targeted consumers knowing full well this market would not be ready for Glass for at least another decade and instead milk it for their own profitability.

For those of us who have put Google Glass through its paces and seen its glaring problems with consumers, it is not a surprise Google Glass will not gain mainstream acceptance for at least another ten years. While one could argue we are well into the early developer stage with Google Glass, which always goes through vertical markets first, the fact remains only now are vertical markets actually opening up their purse strings and starting to test Glass-like devices in earnest. This is interesting as Glass-like devices were introduced in 1997 and have been struggled to get serious vertical market adoption until only recently.

Google Glass also has some other problems, including social acceptance, privacy issues and how geeky one looks when wearing the current model. I have no doubt over the next decade Google and others will find ways to make the glasses less geeky and perhaps fold into eyeglass design so people don’t even know you are wearing a digital display. By then, Google and others may have worked through the issues of privacy, social acceptance and more importantly, found the killer app needed to drive this into high consumer demand. I see this tech marketing pyramid only now kicking in and am convinced Google Glass are at least 8-10 years away from being something the consumer market will adopt. During this time there will be money made with Glass in business and vertical markets but if history is our guide we won’t see Google Glass going mainstream until at least 2020.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Why Google Glasses is 10 years away from Consumer Success”

  1. Google Glass is exactly the kind of product you expect to see from a company where the intellect – involving pure logic – is elevated to the stature of a minor deity.

  2. Very well put. Charging people to participate in an experiment? An interesting experiment, but an experiment nonetheless. Unacceptable!

    Having said that, a long journey begins with the first steps…

  3. I agree 100% with you: “Asking me or any other Google Explorer to pay $1500 for the privilege of beta testing a product for Google is absurd.” This is one of my biggest problems with Google Glass. Google prints money. There is NO REASON they need the $$$ from BETA TESTERS for a product that can get you assaulted or arrested for use in public. Google has plenty of money to fund this product from their own war chest. They are NOT some mom and pop company that needs the $$$ to pay for beta units of this product. For Google to ask people to pay money for a BETA product like this is crazy!

  4. To understand what Google intends to do with Glass, I think that it is best to consider it to be simply PR. In fact, Google X as a whole seems more like PR than serious research. And as far as PR goes, Google Glass has been pretty successful. $1500 is probably intended to restrict testers to Google fans and to limit bad publicity.

    Hence I doubt that they will release it at a sensible price to the general public any time soon. Google Glass is successful as it is. No reason to blow the positive PR buy giving the general public access to the device.

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