July 21st, 2015
Google has appointed a marketing guru as the new head of Google Glass.
As she takes the reins of the company’s digital eyewear project, Ivy Ross isn’t trained as an engineer and has little experience in tech. Google plucked her straight out of the fashion industry, where she worked for companies like Coach and Calvin Klein. No doubt, this is a last-ditch effort to deliver Google Glass from utter lameness. But it’ll take more than good marketing to save this Google “moonshot.”
Yes, Google Glass makes you look like a jerk. Yes, some huge percentage of the population outside the tech industry wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those goofy face computers, let alone pay $1,500 for it. Yes, that could put a cap on the potential for Google’s Next Big Thing to have a big impact on the world. And yes, it’s possible that someone like Ross — with high-fashion marketing experience — might be able to reposition the public perception of Glass (or at least lead a redesign to make it look less ugly).
But none of that gets at the bigger issue with Glass: it’s not really that useful. Today, Glass doesn’t deliver on most of its big promises to users. As WIRED’s Mat Honan put it: “Aside from directions, it’s more novelty than utility. The really cool stuff remains on the horizon, which means I got tired of it before I’d had it for even a year.”
The Glass team seems to be spending a lot of time and money trying to solve the public perception issue. Last year, The New York Times reported on Google’s cadre of female employees who are “charged by the company with turning Glass into the next It accessory.” Glass has been featured in New York City Fashion Week and in the pages of Vogue. But none of this brand posturing has changed the fact that even the majority of the tech community is not impressed with what Google Glass can actually do.
When the audience at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt Conference in New York City was asked to raise their hands if they would wear Google Glass out in public, almost no one did, despite the fact that many of those audience members had tried the technology before. I repeat: this was at TechCrunch Disrupt, where a little geekiness is virtually required for entry. This was not a perception issue. The thing just doesn’t work that well. “I think they’re directionally correct,” venture capitalist Fred Wilson said on stage at the time, “but I don’t think the implementation is right.”
The fact is, the Glass team has to strike the very difficult balance of convincing users there’s a good reason to pay $1,500 to buy the darn thing, while also creating technology that’s simple and discreet enough that it doesn’t overwhelm and distract users with an abundance of features. As Honan wrote of his experience with Glass: “Twitter was just too much; it was too noisy for something that was, literally, in my face. The New York Times breaking news alerts were okay. But mostly the third party apps were just noise.”
Striking that balance between simplicity and utility is hard to do, particularly with a first of its kind technology like Glass. Google isn’t there yet. And though it could be someday, that’s going to take a whole lot more than better branding.
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