In this weekly series, Andrew Eborn shines a light on the products and services, brand extensions and campaigns that failed to take off and have as a result earned entry into the Octopus TV Failure Awards and a place in The Museum of Failure. Last week we looked at Trump – The Game. This time, it's the turn of Google Glass, a product that demonstrates failure isn’t always a bad thing.
Wearable technology is the first step to our cyborg transformation.
Gardner anticipates sales of 310.4m wearable devices worldwide this year, generating an impressive $30.5bn in revenue
Through the looking glass
Google’s deep pockets put it in the perfect position to assist our transformation to cyborgs. Google can afford to fail.
It was inevitable that Google would look at products to help feed the machine while turning us into one and all the while continuing to gather more and more information about us. If content is king and data is its queen then Google is the ultimate puppet master.
The Google X lab was set up to devise and bring to fruition futuristic ideas including indoor GPS, the Google Brain and wearable technologies. At 1489 Charleston Avenue, the lab’s first project was born: the computer you wear on your face with built in camera, display and microphone which would later become known as Google Glass. The head-mounted display and voice activation capability enables users to navigate the internet in the same way as a hands-free smart phone. It started according to Google as "little more than a scuba mask attached to a laptop".
Rather than perfecting the device and ensuring it worked before general release, Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, wanted to release Google Glass as soon as possible, arguing that consumer feedback would improve the design. It's a strategy that, if coupled with the right PR and marketing spin, can work well by making consumers feel they are part of the development family. Accordingly, they are happy to fork out their well-earned cash on the never ending release after release after release.
The release of the beta Google Glass was not a quiet affair. As The New York Times pointed out: "Google Glass didn’t just trickle out into the world. Instead, it exploded with the kind of fuss and pageantry usually reserved for an Apple iSomething."
In July 2012 Brin unveiled Google Glass with a group of skydivers jumping from a zeppelin above San Francisco. Brin was applauded as a real-life Tony Stark from Iron Man.
To reinforce the fact that Google Glass was a work in progress, the first version was not made available in retail stores but rather limited to 8,000 “Glass Explorers” who paid $1,500 for the privilege of being an early adopter.
Early in 2013 those interested in being a Google Explorer were invited to tweet with the hastag #IfIHadGlass It would be great to track down those who used the other Octopus TV Failure Awards nominee Twitter Peek to do so. Let me know…
The media burst a blood vessel with excitement.
Fashion went four-eyed when Diane von Furstenberg featured Google Glass in her 2012 New York Fashion Show.
Vogue magazine gave Google Glass its own 12-page spread.
Everyone rushed to provide their own reviews if only to boast of having being able to get their hands on a pair.
Further exposure was guaranteed by having numerous celebrities and other public figures don Google Glasses including Lady Gaga, Samuel L.Jackson and Donald Trump’s favourite, Meryl Streep. Even presidents, princes and princesses were pictured with a pair – from president Obama to princes Charles and William.
Specs and the City
Glass’ potential use in journalism was also explored. Voice of America Television correspondent Carolyn Presutti and VOA electronics engineer Jose Vega launched "VOA & Google Glass," and the University of Southern California even offered a course on "Glass journalism".
Blinded by the hype and hysteria, it was easy to forget that Google Glass was still in open beta. The attention generated was massive and expectations were high. It was therefore inevitable that, as the product was not yet fully finished, there would be a backlash.
From being the most sought after gadget in the whole of geekdom Google Glass became the target of ridicule.
Google Glass provided perfect comedic fodder and was featured in several shows from Saturday Night Live to “Oogle Goggles” in “The Simpsons”
Reviewers were not backwards in their condemnation. Google Glass was described as “the worst product of all time”, “plagued by bugs”, “of questionable use” and “overpriced” and with an abysmal battery life.
People also complained of being disoriented and having headaches.
Google Glass went from being the must have product to being “socially awkward”.
The brand also suffered as users started to be referred to as “Glassholes”.
Privacy concerns were raised, with people afraid of being recorded during private moments. A number of establishments banned users wearing Google Glass.
There were also concerns over potential eye pain caused by users new to Google Glass, including some comments reported from Google's optometry advisor Dr. Eli Peli of Harvard; although predictably there were also reports of backtracking on those early comments.
I am working with Ananth “Vis” Viswanathan, Consultant surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital on The Octopus TV Health series. Vis points out warned of the possibility of Google Glass distracting the user which could be “potentially dangerous, for example whilst driving”.
On the perfectly palindromic 15 1 15 Google announced that it was closing the Glass Explorer programme.
Several believed that this was the end of Google Glass. In its obituary for Google Glass, one reviewer wrote “Google Glass promised many things, but in its brief and over-hyped lifespan achieved only one thing of note: the creation of the word 'Glasshole'."
In its announcement of the closure of Glass Explorer, Google hinted that it was going to “focus on what’s coming next”.
….and so more than two years after the end of the consumer version, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced in July 2017 that it was reintroducing Google Glass with more practical industrial applications and now simply calling it “Glass”.
As its website proudly proclaims:
"Glass is a hands-free device, for hands-on workers and can be used by everyone from
doctors to automobile assemblers.
“Glass intuitively fits into your workflow and helps you remain engaged and focused on high value work by removing distractions. A quick ‘OK Glass’ can .. [enable users to ]..access training videos, images annotated with instructions, or quality assurance checklists that help you get the job done, safely, quickly and to a higher standard.. Glass can connect you with co workers in an instant, bringing expertise to right where you are. Invite others to ‘see what you see’ through a live video stream so you can collaborate and troubleshoot in real-time.”
As John Naughton points out: “The rebirth of Google Glass shows the merit of failure."
Google Glass also paved the way for others wanting to make passes at the business of AR glasses. The last year has seen the launch of the much cooler Snap Spectacles, Snap’s first hardware product, which retails at only US$129 – less than a tenth of the cost of Google Glass. It would not be surprising if Google were to snap up Snap. Both brands would benefit…
Facebook is mooted to expand its inventory with augmented reality glasses. Amazon is also working on its first wearable device, Alexa-powered smart glasses.
The Octopus TV Failure Awards/TOFA
According to International Data Corporation, worldwide revenues for the augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) market will grow from $5.2bn in 2016 to more than $162bn in 2020. I predict that Google’s share of that market is likely to be eye watering…
The early introduction of Google Glass in its open beta form was, however, a failure and is therefore this week’s nomination for The Octopus TV Failure Awards.
See you next Tuesday for more fantastically fabulous failures...
From failed products and services to campaigns and ads we would rather forget, we want to encourage organisations and brands to be better at learning from failures not just ignoring them and pretending they never happened.
Send your nominations with full description and images to TOFA@OctopusTV.com.