Google Glass was released earlier this month, and like a slow-lifting rocket trying to get to outer space it's still difficult to predict whether it will succeed. Perhaps a better analogy would be to compare it to a celebrity baby, born amidst much fanfare and hype but without any real identity or foothold in the world just yet.
I wrote an article back in February which examined the features, possibilities, and privacy concerns associated with Google Glass. It's very much a niche product, but it doesn't have to be if Google can alter public perception of this $1500 wearable computer interface. This is critical for Google because if Glass is regarded as just some expensive toy for bored millionaires (which might also get you into trouble in this NSA-preoccupied society), chances are this baby won't get up on its own two feet and walk.
The privacy situation is one that Google has little control over at the moment other than uttering assurances already stated before. Congress has even gotten involved in the topic. The Congressional Privacy Caucus has asked "some pointed questions about how Google planned to ensure that the privacy of users, and more importantly, non-users, was being protected. [They also asked] about the use of facial recognition, how the subjects of data collection would be able to ask to see what was collected about them and how a person could opt out of having their data collected. The members of Congress also wanted to know how Google planned to limit information requests for private data and data from users, and whether the Glass device was able to store any data itself."
That's a topic that's going to have to sort itself out and the facts will have to be separated from the hubbub and hype. In the meantime, here are five things Google has to focus on if it expects business to jump on the Glass train.
1. Push the apps
It's the apps that will make or break this device. Google needs to get these out there making headlines and work on guiding users to the new software (which they call "Glassware.") Stained Glass Labs has a Google Glass App directory which they claim is the "1st Google Glassware directory for Google Glasses Apps" (though to be clear, this is basically a beta). They're separate from Google, so why did Google miss that opportunity when they should have led that charge?
Just having applications isn't enough, though. Google has to emphasize the concrete details of what these can do to help businesses and employees do their jobs more efficiently (such as apps for counting inventory, enhancing education, assisting with aviation or providing data during hands-on labor). Some of the Google Glass apps are photo and recording add-ons or versions of existing programs such as Evernote or Twitter. That's nice to help bridge the gap between smartphones and Google Glass, but it isn't enough. Business users need to get excited about stuff they can only do on Glass, such as a real estate app from Trulia for looking up details about houses on the market.
Right now Google is being conservative with how Glassware can be developed. Only those who have bought Glass can create apps for it. Furthermore, according to the New York Times, "developers cannot sell ads in apps, collect user data for ads, share data with ad companies or distribute apps elsewhere. They cannot charge people to buy apps or virtual goods or services within them." There's a reason for the caution: Google doesn't want anyone to unleash obnoxious or creepy apps which might mar public image of Glass (which is why they've blocked facial recognition Glassware). This is commendable, but they need to ensure they find the right balance between permissive and restrictive for the apps to flourish.
2. Downplay the consumer aspect
Yes, you heard that right. At the moment Google Glass is seen largely as something that might appeal to the consumer market, like Apple products before they started appearing in businesses via the BYOD movement. Glass shouldn't be just for fun. USA Today recently printed a good article exploring the realistic possibilities of Google Glass, and Readwrite.com had an even better exploration of the concept. Google's own introduction page discussing Glass is vaguely optimistic in an apple-pie-for-dessert kind of way, but without a lot of subjective data.
Google has to keep the boat as even-keeled as possible to balance the business AND consumer sides of Glass or it will remain pigeonholed as something appealing only to twenty-something's with too much cash in their pockets and a penchant for playtime; which brings me to my next point.
3. Make it everyday
If you've seen the Google Glass promotional videos they generally show special people doing special things. Hot air ballooning, swinging on a trapeze, skydiving, flying a plane, and fencing are just a few examples. Yes, some more "typical" stuff like recording video of your kids (or a snake gliding across your arms), biking through a herd of NYC cabs or riding in a car across the Golden Gate Bridge are shown, but overall the message is that Glass is something reserved for the realm of extraordinary individuals. That's what marketing is all about, of course, but right now Glass is seen as too elitist, with its usage showcased in a lot of overly glamorous "hey, look at me!" settings. It needs to have a more common edge to appeal to a broader range of people, such as the way it's discussed in an interesting PC Magazine article; which once again carries us to my next point.
4. Bring down the cost
Even as an IT pro and tech enthusiast my first reaction to Google Glass and its price tag of $1500 was an immediate dismissal as "too rich for my blood." I have a large family to support, so I live on sandwiches and stick to the $5 tables when I play blackjack in Vegas. Like Walter Cronkite (RIP) said, "that's the way it is," and so until Glass comes down below $500 it's not on my radar screen other than as a research and writing topic. Most businesses will feel the same when it comes to procuring Glass for their employees - even more so, I suspect, in these austere times.
How is Google supposed to bring down the cost? Cheaper materials? Improved mass-production capabilities? Better partnerships with manufacturers? Discounts for existing Google users? Bundling into other services or products? Innovation not just on the product side but the production aspect will obviously be required. However, there's a world of difference between $499 and $1500. The first is very much reachable; the second more like Mt. Everest.
I was a kid when VCRs came out, and at the time they were a couple grand (or so I recall). I calculated with excitement that if I stashed all my birthday and Christmas money for a few years perhaps I'd be able to buy one (my parents hated television). Although the price of VCRs came down to earthly levels within a couple of years, Google doesn't have a couple of years for potential customers to save up their holiday dough. They need to work on the price angle now.
5. Address the 'nerd' factor
A long time ago, while riding in a car with my niece I grumbled about a "stupid red light" that kept us waiting. Four or five years old at the time, she politely told me: "My teacher says we should use the word 'silly' instead of 'stupid.'" With that in mind, the concerns about people looking, um, silly while wearing Google Glass are downright silly themselves. Who cares how you look if you're using the functions you need for the moment?
But, pep talk aside, Google is working on a way to interface Glass with existing eyewear (for those of us who wear glasses to read or perform computer work for instance) so the best bet for those who might feel self-conscious is to pick up a pair of dummy glasses, fit Glass onto these, and carry on. The same goes for sunglasses. Nobody looks twice at regular eyewear, even with extra fittings or tweaks. This may help beat the silly cosmetic worries about Google Glass back into Binkley's anxiety closet from the comic strip "Bloom County."
Ordinarily I overlook materialistic toys designed to stroke the owner's ego (I'm thinking of the stuff I see in the Sky Mall catalogue, which offers attractive water bubblers for my cat). I don't feel Google Glass fits this category, however, which is why I'm rooting for it. There's a virtual graveyard of defunct products out behind Google headquarters and I hope not to see Glass entombed there in a few years.
However, the sand is running out right now in the hourglass that represents every product's potential to catch on with the public. In technology these days, the foundation of this potential is based on the business approach and whether it is considered a viable investment. Will Google use the time wisely to help Glass achieve escape velocity speed and avoid the entangling pull of pessimistic consumer gravity? As the saying goes, stay tuned.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.