A Kellogg MBA Perspective on What Happened with Google Glass and What Should Be Next

Over the Winter Quarter, our Technology and Innovation Strategy class at Kellogg culminated in a final research paper. The paper looked at the shuttering of Google Glass and what Google’s next steps should be. As part of this, I got to look deeply into the current state of Virtual Reality, which I have been following and waiting for (hello Oculus!) since I was a child, and Augmented Reality. I will be posting portions of the paper (it’s quite long) in digestible chunks here over the next week. Our team was comprised of Melissa Caldwell, Raghu Chirravuri, Olga Gordon, Jeff Hoffman, and me, Michael Nguyen. 

To see all of the sections, see my tag virtual reality.

Google Glass: A Brief History

Google Glass photo.JPG

The idea of Google Glass was born out of a brainstorming session about the future of computing by Google’s founders and several key executives in 2009. Google decided to pursue a portable computing technology that could be attached to the body or worn on glasses. A team of developers, scientists and researchers was recruited and the project was placed inside its own experimental lab called Google X. By 2011, there were conflicts within Google X over issues such as privacy and appropriate public use cases. Sergey Brin argued for the release of the Glass prototype despite agreement among the project engineers that the design was not ready. Brin argued that the uses and societal issues caused by the introduction of Glass should be discussed transparently in a public forum with the users and pushed for the immediate release of the prototype.[1]

Glass was publically announced in April 2012. An estimated 2,000 units were pre-ordered.[2] In the spring of 2013, Glass was launched exclusively at “Basecamp” stores located in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London at a $1,500 introductory price point. Although there was significant interest and hype surrounding the product release, Glass was introduced with bugs and suffered poor reviews stemming from short battery life and poor screen and camera quality. At first, sales were by invitation only and mostly extended to journalists, developers, and tech media.

Google did not accurately predict the societal backlash against Glass, including privacy concerns. Months before Glass was released, states started passing laws to prohibit use of wearables while driving. People began to associate the device with invasion of privacy. Google responded to concerns by releasing an etiquette guide in February 2014, approximately a year after Glass was released.[3]

Many developers abandoned their Glass projects citing lack of consumer demand and support from Google as the main reasons for halting their operations. The developers who continued to create products for Glass have pivoted their strategies for enterprise application rather than consumer use.[4] In January 2015, Glass stores were shuttered and the project’s key employees were reassigned to different areas of Google. Google’s release of Glass mirrored their software releases in that they provided access to the device and garnered feedback from users. However, this strategy backfired as the device was a very expensive prototype, prompting many early adopters to publish negative reviews publicly.

Aside from the failed marketing launch, Google did not address all of the impediments required to adopt this new technology on a large scale. The team never found a “killer” mass-market app or use case that would encourage mass penetration, leading to consumer and developer confusion over how to actually use this new technology. Although Google has announced that Glass is dead, there appear to be signs that Glass is being repurposed for enterprise uses or concept redesign as the project has been moved to the leadership of Tony Fadell and the Nest team, known for its Internet-of-Things connected home devices such as smart thermostats.[5]

Glass for Med

We recommend re-launching Glass with a medical focus in order to establish a foothold where it can gain new users, learn about how consumers will use its devices, and the ways to work with developers to improve device functionality. This strategy coincides well with Google’s focus on using technology to improve quality of life for people and can help lean away from the negative connotations of Glass, rebranding it as a product that enables the good in society, working with doctors to revolutionize the healthcare industry.

Before its shift in focus, Google Glass was in the early stages of the adoption curve with hospitals and doctors – the most tech savvy among them were using the technology. There are a myriad of applications for medical professionals; examples include helping guide surgeries, documenting and transmitting audio and video of procedures, and allowing increased access to patient information. Many hospitals have been willing to adopt iPads to replace clipboards and folders and we see Glass adoption as an extension of this technological shift. Glass will prove superior to the iPad as it is more sanitary and can be operated hands-free. Some hospitals like Massachusetts General and Beth Israel Deaconess[1] have already shown interest in figuring out the best ways to use the technology.

We propose Google partner with beacon hospitals to roll out the Glass program hospital-wide and connect doctors with application developers to help design more ways to use the technology. Google can act as a facilitator between the developers and doctors to tailor apps specifically for Glass. By focusing on a few hospitals, Google will be able to work very closely with the doctors and developers, creating a feedback loop to help Google have a firm understanding of how exactly people use the technology in a wide variety of use cases and what could be applied beyond medicine. This will also give more people exposure to Glass, where they can directly benefit from use of it, through faster doctors appointments.

Success will be measured primarily in the information that Google is able to collect from the hospitals, doctors, patients, and developers. Feedback from each of these parties will be integral in understanding how Glass can be used more widely, specifically what type of experiences can best leverage the platform as well as ways to train people on the best ways to use Glass. Utilizing the hospital pilots to increment the product as well as seed a network of evangelists more effectively than the Explorers program will allow Google to continue to perform R&D on this AR technology in an outward facing manner while creating new PR and marketing opportunities, helping to repair Glass’s tarnished brand. Over time, Google will be able to gauge the external market for Glass and enter when it feels like both the product and consumers are ready.

3D Content Hub

In parallel with developing niche applications for Google Glass, we believe Google should leverage AR/VR technologies to create a 3D content platform similar to YouTube. Leveraging Google’s strengths in advertising, experience in platform building and their portfolio of assets like search and Android, we see a 3D content platform as the next paradigm in online content. It will be aimed at both businesses and consumers, allowing both parties to create and view 3D content. With content categories like product demos, training videos, and entertainment, this new platform will grow traffic to Google, increase advertising revenues, and attract users to Google’s other products like Android, shopping, and search.

To successfully build and scale such a 3D platform, Google will first need to identify a VR/AR technology that can be used to record and display AR/VR content. This technology could be based off Magic Leap or some other technology currently in development. The next phase will be to build a YouTube-like content platform that enables upload, search and discovery of AR/VR content. Google could use Search, android and Youtube to drive traffic to this new platform and get users engaged. We believe that it is also important to train customers (both business partners and end consumers) on the new technology to make it easy to record and view content on the platform. In addition, Google could seed the platform with content by hiring or partnering with content developers. Incentivizing content creation will produce high quality content and attract viewers to the platform, who will in turn create and share content. Google has done this successfully in the past with YouTube and we believe that they can achieve similar success with this new content platform.

Success in building this new platform can be measured by comparing the size of the captured AR/VR content market. Another indicator of strong growth is the number of content creators and subscribers. As the platform grows and advertising is incorporated into it, advertising revenues could be a measure of commercial success. Lastly, synergies between this new platform and Google’s existing products could be measured by incremental growth in Android, shopping, and search.

Conclusion

The reason that creating footholds in the Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality spaces is important is in how the battle for these technologies mirror the web browser, smartphone, and tablet wars. In the recent technological age, networks effects are key to success, making it imperative to be an early mover to create a seamless and usable experience for users trying out new technologies. This is why each of these competing firms are focused on capitalizing on the next consumer leap in technology usage: they want to set the standard for consumers. These firms moving quickly in the AR and VR ecosystems, as it is clear this is where consumer and commercial technology is going.

We believe that it is crucial for Google to aggressively pursue both VR and AR solutions to be the platform of the future. By utilizing the foundation that Glass built and expanding use within hospitals, we can better understand usability issues and build solutions specific to doctors, but apply learnings more broadly. Additionally, with our capabilities in building developer platforms, we should continue to pursue our content hub as a place where developers can develop content to be consumed by masses. A combination of these moves will allow Google to continue to be the industry leader in the future, a position that will afford us new ways to capitalize on advertising and build a more complete picture of consumers than our competitors.


[1] http://venturebeat.com/2014/03/12/forceps-scapel-google-glass/

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/style/why-google-glass-broke.html

[2] http://glassalmanac.com/history-google-glass/

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/14/us-google-glass-insight-idUSKCN0IY18E20141114

[5]An insider’s look at the tumultuous launch of Google Glass http://www.businessinsider.com/google-glass-launch-2015-2 Published Feb 28, 2015. Accessed March 1, 2015.

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