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Will you wear Glass?
Over the past several months, this question (or some variation thereof) has become the subject of much debate (check here for our early take on it). Whether you’ve tried it out or not, you likely have an opinion on the matter, and it’s likely rather strong. Glass is polarizing. And, as the parodies, blog posts, and op-eds continue to add fuel to the fire, it will only become ever more so.
And so, with the window of opportunity to offer a reasoned but unavoidably speculative opinion shrinking with each day, how can an eager group of strategists resist themselves? Here’s our take.
What does success look like for Google Glass? If we’re to measure performance against Sergey Brin’s vision, success means nothing less than replacing the smartphone. While this is certainly not out of the question, we’ve got to imagine that Google would be pleased even if the results were somewhat less transformative…perhaps carving out a new, currently unrealized, niche (much in the same way that Apple did with the introduction of the iPad). And, yet, even that, with the growing level of skepticism over the product, seems like it might be a bit starry-eyed. At this point, at least in the immediate wake of its wide release, success will mean simply, “not a flop.” And Glass, we’re mostly confident, will not flop.
Glass is just too awe-inspiring to meet with failure – but, on the flip side, it’s a bit too peculiar an offering to meet with instant, run-away success.
Touted as an always-on, always-with-you computing device, the potential for Glass is enormous. Just one view of the video Google released to promote the device, and its clear to see the benefits on offer; namely, a seamless integration of smartphone features into daily life. No longer will you have to break from whatever you’re doing to capture a photo or pull up an image search, the task will be a simple extension of the activity itself – A technological “look ma, no hands.”
As mentioned previously, despite Glass’s high-tech firepower, there seems to be a growing community of naysayers – people who contend, almost to a sadistic degree, that the product will flop in a blaze of ignominy. These people cite various reasons, but there are two that consistently bubble to the top: you look like a dork when you wear them, and they’re too distracting (e.g. during conversation, while hanging out, etc.) for everyday wear. The first is fashion-based, the second more broadly societal.
While admittedly not experts on fashion, our observation is that it seems to be driven by top-down determinations – Once certain styles are embraced by a small, well-regarded group, the style is likely to spread to wider groups and be embraced by the mainstream. New fashions are fickle. Thick-rimmed glasses were once thought to be the calling card of nerds worldwide, and have since become rather fashionable. Men used to wear hats everyday to the office. Nowadays such a decision falls into the domain of the sartorial. And wristwatches. Wristwatches were once thought to be feminine, and are now among the most masculine of accessories.
The wristwatch poses an interesting case study as it relates to this discussion (and also serves as a point of illustration here). As another piece of wearable technology, it was, at first, regarded as unfashionable, but not for the geeky reasons that are evoked in response to Glass. In the wristwatch’s earliest days, the prevailing attitude was that they were reserved for women, so much so that many men were quoted saying they “would sooner wear a skirt as wear a wristwatch.” And despite what seemed to be a fervent distaste for the wristwatch (at least among men), it soon, and rather quickly, gained widespread adoption. The perception around it changed entirely – With the start of WWI, the wristwatch’s utility became obvious, and it emerged in the post-war years as a masculine necessity. A small, influential group embraced the wristwatch, and changed perceptions around it forever.
Back to Glass – Whether or not today’s media considers Glass geeky is irrelevant. What matters is whether or not, upon wide release, tastemakers adopt it, and we think it’s fair to predict, given the combination of Google’s own status as a trendsetter and Glass’s impressive functionality, that Glass will be name-checked in your next favorite Kanye song.
Now to the second gripe: that Glass is too distracting, both looks-wise and functionality-wise, to your everyday social interactions. Sure, Glass looks a bit unexpected, perhaps akin to a pair of New Years party glasses, and it’s not hard to see how this could be a distraction from conversation. But, if our points about fashion hold any water, with time and familiarity, Glass will become less unexpected, less “costume-like,” and less the thing you’re wearing that people can’t stop staring at. On top of this, Google is rumored to be partnering with Warby Parker. If this is true, and the partnership results in any level of success (i.e. minimizing Glass’s obtrusiveness), Google’s got nothing to worry about.
But what about Glass’s impact on interpersonal interactions? While we’ll likely get used to how Glass looks, how are you supposed to hold a meaningful conversation with someone when, for all you know, the other person could be three quarters of the way through their college buddy’s latest Facebook album? This would be distracting. And yet, in the same way you wouldn’t expect someone to pull out their smartphone or wear a hat or sunglasses at dinner, this sort of behavior is, and would continue to be, widely regarded as impolite. Not to say people won’t do it…but basing a criticism on behavior that is itself blameworthy doesn’t seem quite right.
Before closing things up – a few words on the issue of privacy. Yes, this is also an issue that has been cited, and one that is certainly worth considering. That said, it doesn’t seem to be an issue that falls into the same category as the two we’ve discussed – It’ll be an issue that Google will have to navigate from a regulatory perspective, but for consumers, it just doesn’t seem to present a significant enough barrier to people’s desire to purchase and use the device. Will you decide not to purchase Glass on the basis that it’ll allow you to take photos and videos without people noticing? On the basis that hacks may become available that will help you remember people you’ve seen/met throughout the day through facial recognition? While these questions present cause for concern, and will likely make people feel a bit uneasy, privacy is unfortunately something that most consumers have come to place a low premium on.
There is no doubt that it will take some time for Glass to emerge as a success, and Google seems to be aware of this given their decision to release the device almost as if it’s a piece of software (i.e. with a rendition on a “private beta”). With time, and feedback from users, it will surely become a stronger offering, and, with the reported cosmetic partnership with Warby Parker in the offing, perhaps one more aesthetically appealing.
And so, after exploring the arguments on the table, we arrive back at the question that began this post…Will you wear Glass?
 Brozek, John E., “The History and Evolution of the Wristwatch,” International Watch Magazine, January 2004, accessed June 11, 2013, http://www.qualitytyme.net/pages/rolex_articles/history_of_wristwatch.html. Read More
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