Gadfly, erotic aid, affront to fashion, creepy companion: Google Glass was many things to many people. Individuals who had never used or known Glass in an intimate way were often eager to weigh in on the device, offering condemnations more frequently than praise. Its acolytes and champions believed themselves to be maligned and persecuted for their Glass lifestyle choices. Yet in spite of these myriad obstacles, the product managed to stay alive.
As of Monday, the Glass we knew and loved will be no more, victim of the tide of popular opinion and company leadership that ignored the time-honored maxim of “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” The BBC reported last week that Google is halting consumer sales of Glass, as well as killing the developer program, effective on January 19 (however, the company will still sell the current version of Glass to businesses).
However, the company denies that the Glass project is dead forever, and says it will continue to pursue and develop a different version of the product. Google is even moving Glass out of the Google X division and into its own development unit. Future iterations of the device will be less expensive (remember, the first version cost a cool $1,500), have a better battery life and crisper display and audio, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Crucially, the next phase of Glass will not be released early to an elite group of technophiles and influencers, which was certainly one of the factors that hurt Glass 1.0 from the outset.
But will Google really be able to surmount the burdensome social stigma associated with Glass? This will hinge greatly on the company’s ability to make Glass a relevant item that people can use to make certain tasks easier. Relying primarily on novelty to maintain interest is one of the major roadblocks that all wearables developers face. And novelty is fine for drumming up interest (especially amongst early adopters), but once the bloom wears off, if users can’t find actual practical utility for your product, then the product will eventually flame out of public consciousness.
The conspicuous consumption that drives other luxury product categories can’t save Glass, either, because in this case, the consumption is too conspicuous, owing largely to Google’s sloppy rollout of Glass, and also to the fact that Glass sits on the user’s face, hovering above but not obstructing the “windows of the soul.” Although Glass’ screen does not actually prevent the wearer from making eye contact with others, a lot of people are wary of the perceived invasiveness of the Glass eyegear, as if the device could read minds and see through clothes.
In order to succeed, Glass needs to move away from being perceived as a useless, annoying toy, and into the same territory as something like a washing machine or a car, that is, really useful and accessible. At that point, people will stop worrying about this nostalgic, media-manufactured problem of privacy (nobody’s life or information is really that private anymore) and start acting like good consumers. And they will buy Glass, forgetting the days when the device was an object of public derision.