The Google Glass flop and what can be learned from it
Google Glass failed spectacularly. Journalist Quinn Myers wrote a book about it and lists lessons learned.
Ten years after Google unveiled Glass, the dream of augmented reality is still alive. At least in the minds of Silicon Valley greats like Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook.
Google, Meta, Apple, these and other corporations continue to work on smart headsets designed to change society and the world. The rise and fall of Google Glass provides important lessons in this regard: a blueprint for how not to do it. The question is whether tech giants take these lessons to heart.
Journalist Quinn Myers studied the history of Google’s data glasses in depth and wrote a book about the legendary product. Production of the model halted while still in beta, returning later in an Enterprise Edition. XR newsletter Virtual Vector editor Mathew Olson spoke with him.
Google Glass: big promise, elitist aura
Myers says that there are plenty of similarities between the Google Glass era (2012-2015) and today.
“There’s a number of parallels, almost down to the phrases Mark Zuckerberg will use when he’s talking about Meta, that are so similar to what Google said about Glass. They’re kind of pursuing the same thing in a very similar way, where people go ‘I don’t know if I want to use this’ and they insist no, this is the future.”
One lesson that corporations like Google and Amazon learned, he said, concerns marketing. It’s now “a little more subtle.” Remember, Google wanted Glass to replace the smartphone and advertised it with a notorious video that illustrated a possible future rather than a product that actually existed. As a result, the data glasses were bound to disappoint later on.
Smart speakers, like Google Glass, received negative press in terms of privacy, but were still adopted by consumers, with marketing playing an important role. Google and Amazon did not advertise with celebrities and runway models, giving Google Glass an elitist aura and image that later contributed to wearers being called “Glassholes” and thrown out of venues.
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Does augmented reality need the headset?
Another important lesson, he said, is to focus on a tangible benefit rather than talking about a general-purpose device or smartphone replacement. Google is currently testing data glasses again in public and emphasized their functionality when presenting the project: they translate spoken or written language in real time.
Myers finds that in terms of privacy, a change has occurred compared to the Google Glass era. In the TikTok era, public places are filmed more frequently than ten years ago. In the presence of Glass wearers, Myers recalls, people felt “tense.” However, he says, even today that feeling has not been completely overcome.
“It just seems like that’s going to be the case unless there’s the sense that everyone is recording everything, all of the time–that it’s just a new normal,” Myers says in the Virtual Vector newsletter.
Does augmented reality really require a headset, and is the benefit of superimposed information really that great? Myers doubts it.
“That’s what I really think about a lot with this: do glasses need to be the vehicle for AR? Or could it be more like having directions on your car’s windshield, or other forms that you don’t have to wear but that are still built into our everyday life?”
You can purchase Myer’s book, titled “Google Glass,” in physical or digital form at Instar Books.