First, I love headlines that stretch the truth a bit. No one outside of Google got their Glass before March of last year. I got mine on the second day they were available, which was April 15th. So Mathew Honan we really have had Glass, for, what, eight months now? Not quite a year, but that’s just me being picky.
But Google Glass is doomed. Why do I say that? Because the tech press tells me so.
A new era of tech events has begun
We’re back in New York this November for the 4th edition of our growth-focused technology event.
Now that we got that out of the way, what have I learned in my eight months of wearing Glass?
1. Nearly everyone wants to try it. Google is brilliant. They got us to pay $1,500 (plus tax) to be its PR agent. It’s gotten to the point where even I don’t want to wear them around. At one conference a few people in a bathroom wanted to try them on. I figure I’ve shared my Glass with 500-1,000 people.
2. Mat says people called him an asshole for wearing his. I never have had that happen. Instead, what happens is usually closer to this encounter I had in the street with three high school girls.
3. All of our angst is because of a prototype. One that still doesn’t have a good API and doesn’t really have much utility (I expect that Google will have a LOT to say when it introduces the final product in 2014). Things like battery life, and even design, or lack thereof, are going to change.
4. Price is gonna matter a LOT. But I’m hearing they won’t be able to get under $500 in 2014, so that means it’s doomed. In 2014. When they get under $300 and have another revision or two? That’s when the market really will show up. 2016, I say.
5. The camera isn’t that scary. Once you have them. Lots of people are afraid I’m recording them. Then I show them how it works. Then they smile and forget I have them on.
6. The really scary thing? The eye sensor. There’s a reason why +Larry Page didn’t answer my question at last year’s Google IO: that thing can probably tell whether you are drunk or sober (think about THAT tonight). It also can probably tell you when you are checking out someone you shouldn’t be (wait until the wife gets an alert about THAT). Of course Google will use it to tell what brands you are checking out at the grocery store (coupon alert) or when you are shopping in a shopping mall.
7. Do I still love mine? Yeah, I do, but I am frustrated with the speed at which Google has iterated on these. I am hopeful that Google is just holding back a ton of goodness for launch but it should have had an app store, a real API that allows full sensor and phone integration, and a plan for helping developers build real businesses on these by now.
I’m also worried at a new trend: I rarely see Google employees wearing theirs anymore. Most say “I just don’t like advertising that I work for Google.” I understand that. Quite a few people assume I work for Google when they see me with mine. I just hope it doesn’t mean that Google’s average employee won’t support it. That is really what killed the tablet PC efforts inside Microsoft until Apple forced them to react due to popularity of iPad.
But, really, let’s get back to the headline. I think Google Glass is doomed. In 2014. Why?
1. Expectations are too high. These are on our faces and are the most controversial product of my lifetime (and that’s saying something). Everyone will compare sales of Google Glass to Apple’s iWatch. That is going to bring a raft of “Google Glass isn’t popular” kinds of articles. Translation: Glass is doomed.
2. These are too hard to buy and acquire. They need to be custom fitted and, because they have a new user interface, users need a bit of training on how to use them. This is what will keep the price high, not the cost of making the things. If you need to spend an hour or two with a Google employee in a Best Buy just to get them working, that raises the cost and will keep these from being a high-sales item. At least in 2014.
3. Not enough apps. Enough said. That will start getting fixed after a few months of release, but early users are gonna continually ask “where’s the Uber app?” Or “where’s the Foursquare app?” Or “why does the Facebook app suck?” Truth is, while there are many developers excited by Glass, there are many others who look at this and see no market and a very small one that will show up in 2014. So most “pro” developers are taking a wait-and-see approach. Google hasn’t helped that by not showing off a store and by making weird rules against advertising without explaining what will be allowed.
4. The current UI can’t handle lots of apps. If apps do show up by some miracle how many can you really fit into the small format of Glass? Not many. This thing is gonna break if I tried to put the 300 apps on my MotoX or iPhone onto it. Why? You simply won’t scroll through hundreds of apps. Your arm will get tired. And if you add too many it’ll decrease voice recognition quality. “OK Glass, take a picture,” now, did you just mean to use the Path app? The Facebook app? The instagram app? The SnapChat app? The SmugMug app?
5. Battery life. Right now I want to use Glass for journalism. It works pretty well for that, if you watch my Sarah Francis video I filmed on Glass. But when doing video the battery only lasts 45 minutes AND it gets very hot. I expect that will get fixed, right now video is being compressed in software. I bet that when they release the public version it will be done in hardware. But, what is real-world battery use like? Already Google has had to ratchet back a bunch of features it wanted to include, like automatic uploads of photos. It now only does that when plugged in and on wifi.
6. Photo workflow sucks. Let’s say I shot a bunch of photos on my Glass. Can I see them on my iPhone? No. Not immediately. I have to plug it in and be on wi-fi for that to happen. Can I share from Glass? Yeah, but how do I leave a description? Use my voice, right? But the problem is that isn’t very accurate and doesn’t work at all in noisy places like rock concerts, which is probably where you mostly want to use Glass. Google needs to make it much easier to push images over to my phone in real time and then let me upload photos and videos from there. Why? I can edit on my phone much nicer than trying to pick out good images on Glass (and try to do something like crop or change image to black and white before uploading — you’ll soon discover there are thousands of limitations to Glass’ camera that your iPhone doesn’t have).
7. Facebook is our main addiction and I can’t do it in Glass. Sorry Google, but Google+ still isn’t used by my family, friends, or those I speak with. At one recent conference I asked who isn’t on Facebook and only one hand went up. Google+ isn’t nearly as ubiquitous or as nice, truth be told, particularly for mobile users. This lack of Facebook support is the #1 thing that pisses me off about Glass. Do you really think Zuckerberg is gonna put his best developers on Glass? Hell no.
8. No contextual filtering. When I’m standing on stage, why does Glass give me Tweets? Why can’t it recognize that I’m at a conference at least and show me only tweets about that conference? Hashtag style. But it can’t because Google’s contextual OS isn’t done and probably won’t be done until 2015. Google Glass desperately needs those contextual signals to know when to show you appropriate stuff. Skiing? Only show me stuff about the mountain I’m on. In a meeting? Do something like Mind Meld does (show me stuff about what we’re talking about). Shopping? Show me coupons and todo lists. But today Google Glass is pretty stupid, context wise, and makes the experience of using it suck in a lot of ways.
9. Developers are being held back because there isn’t any distribution system for apps or Glass experiences. That will get fixed, I’m sure, but right now if a developer wants me to test out a cool app they almost always need physical access to my Glass. That isn’t a good way to get lots of people trying/debugging/hyping up apps.
10. The Gruber problem. He just doesn’t like the idea of Glass, even if Apple were to bring out one. I think I figured this one out after talking to hundreds of people. Most are disappointed in themselves and their lack of ability to put their phones down. They fear that if they were to go with Glass they would just totally lose themselves to their mobile addictions. They are right to be scared of that. If Glass actually worked the way I’m dreaming of I would be even more addicted to our online world than I am today. People are scared of losing their humanness. What makes them human. I get questions all the time about whether the Internet will decide everything in life for us and what that means. Personally after having them on for eight months I’m actually less scared of that than I was when first putting them on. Why? With Glass at least I’m looking at the real world more than when I’m using my phone. But it is a real fear and something Google will have to take on.
That all said, I’m still wearing mine. See you next week in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show. I’ll have mine on.
So, what would I do if I were Google? Reset expectations. Say “this is really a product for 2020 that we’re gonna build with you.” First release is in 2014, but let’s be honest, if it’s $600 and dorky looking, it’ll be doomed — as long as expectations are so high.
By 2020 I’m quite convinced this will be a big deal and there will be lots of competitors by then. So, if you make it about 2020, then it isn’t doomed. If it’s about beating the Apple iWatch in 2014? Yes, totally doomed.