Will Google Glass be successful? Lessons from Segway and iPhone

Google Glass (from Wikipedia)

A story aired on NPR this morning about the backlash Google Glass is already facing, even before it is generally available:

Right now, Google Glass might be the world’s worst spy camera; if you go out in public with a pair on, you are guaranteed to attract attention. Still, the idea of techies mounting a tiny screen and a little camera to their faces makes millions of people uncomfortable.

According to Sarah Rotman Epps, a tech analyst at Forrester Research, that is why Google is rolling out Glass to the world slowly in stages.

“Google has been incredibly transparent … with their Glass rollout,” Epps says. “They realize that Google Glass will require shifting social norms to be accepted.”

The excitement about Google Glass reminds me of the buzz back in Fall, 2001 about Segway:

[Inventor Kamen] believes the Segway “will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.” He imagines them everywhere: in parks and at Disneyland, on battlefields and factory floors, but especially on downtown sidewalks from Seattle to Shanghai. “Cars are great for going long distances,” Kamen says, “but it makes no sense at all for people in cities to use a 4,000-lb. piece of metal to haul their 150-lb. asses around town.” In the future he envisions, cars will be banished from urban centers to make room for millions of “empowered pedestrians”–empowered, naturally, by Kamen’s brainchild.

Segway does not release sales figures, but best estimates are that no more than 100,000 units have shipped in a decade of sales.

Six years after the release of the Segway, another eagerly anticipated product hit the marketplace (from Jan., 2007):

After more than two years in the making, Apple CEO Steve Jobs Tuesday announced the company’s intention to enter the mobile handset market, unveiling the new Apple iPhone. The iPhone brings together several features of the iPod, digital camera, smart phones and even portable computing to one device, with a widescreen display and an innovative input method.

“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” Jobs said.

Through six generations of releases Apple has now sold 300-350 million iPhones.

Image credit: Dylan Love in Business Insider

Google Glass: Segway or iPhone?

What is a better model for predicting the trajectory of Google Glass?

Will Google Glass suffer the same disappointing fate as Segway? Will it wilt under the weight of high expectations and resistance to change? Or, is it a revolutionary product that defines a new mode of communication and computing?

In its favor, Google Glass is less expensive, is a natural evolution of existing products and has a supportive ecosystem of developers. Yet, as Ms. Epps said, “Google Glass will require shifting social norms to be accepted.” Demonstrating the risks, cafes, casinos, and other locations with privacy concerns have already moved to ban the use of Google Glass.

Google is pioneering an entirely new model of computing usage. Early users reviews are positive, but without a consumer price tag it is difficult to predict consumer viability. There’s a big difference in the level of consumer demand for a $200 product than a $500 one. Also, Google still has time to address privacy concerns. (For example, it could add a visible indicator showing when a device is recording.)

Also, if the long rumored segment of smart-watches emerges, Google Glass will face competition. There is no doubt a huge market for even more portable Internet-enabled smart devices, but it is too early to tell what form factor will gain social acceptance.

What do you think? Will Google Glass be the next iPhone or the next Segway?


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