6 Potential Barriers to the Success of Google Glass

By Cameron Scott 

Any new physical package for technology creates a wide range of new possible uses for it, as the smartphone demonstrates. That possibility accounts for the enthusiasm the Google Glass users at I/O reported about the device.

But to succeed, Glass will have to appeal to average users. And to do that, it will have to clear several substantial hurdles.

Will women wear it?
Google is already endeavoring to address concerns that the product is the fashion equivalent of a pocket protector, which could limit use to the tech set. The company put Glass’s industrial designer, a fashionable woman named Isabelle Olsson (at right in photo), on its panel discussion of the product. And Google managed to persuade Elle magazine to be among the first class of apps to launch on Glass. But with only about 5 percent of conference attendees were female (based on an informal escalator survey undertaken by this reporter), Google has more work to do before it sells female consumers on its latest device.

Is it comfortable?
Google’s promotional videos for Glass make it appear that when text appears in the interface, it simply overlays the rest of what the user is seeing. But a test drive reveals that the interface is, at present, a smallish prism-based projection just above the user’s right eye. Looking up at the display is fairly uncomfortable, and this reporter found himself squinting to take in the information on the projection. While Glass owners at the conference said that they liked wearing the device, less intrepid technology users will calculate the inconvenience/reward tradeoff differently. In short, if it’s not really easy and comfortable to use, average users won’t.

Will privacy woes kill it?
While Google was showing off the new interface at I/O, the Congressional Privacy Caucus sent CEO Larry Page a letter posing a series of questions about how Glass will affect the privacy of its users and those around them.

If the history of Google’s legal battles related to privacy is any guide, Google will ultimately face only minor limitations on its practices. But ongoing questions about privacy issues won’t help Glass sell. And businesses (health clubs and airplanes, for example) and government buildings may opt to post “No Glass” signs, according to analyst Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group. That move would whittle away both at the ease of using Glass and at the perceived value of the product.

Can the battery make it through the day?
As designer Olsson acknowledged at I/O, battery life has not been improving at the same rate as processors have shrunk. Currently, the Glass battery lasts about 5 hours, the company has said — not the 10 or 12 hours that would mean users could leave their smartphones at home. That may not matter much to tech geeks who travel with a bagful of devices, but it will matter for average users.

Are there health concerns?
The health effects of cellphone use remains an open question, but Glass will open it still further by dramatically increasing the amount of time the user is exposed to electromagnetic radiation sourced next to the head. Glass also raises a new question: How will the prism-based interface affect users’ eyes? No one appears to have studied this issues, as yet.

Google says it is paying attention to the potential health impacts.

“We’ve studied design comfort and safety very closely, and we haven’t found cause for concern. It’s something we’ll continue to watch carefully. We have also been working with ophthalmologists throughout our development process,” a Google spokesman said.

Who will make a killer app?
Even if Glass is safe and convenient and sexy, it will still have to offer an experience that the user can’t get on a smartphone to compel consumers to buy it. Glass comes loaded with just a very limited set of functions that include Google Now, Google Search, directions, calling and texting. A number of companies launched apps for Glass last week, but they are merely pared down versions of smartphone apps.

The Glass designers at I/O told SocialTimes that they had had a steady stream of app ideas floated, so chances are, someone will come out with an app with broad appeal, but it’s not a given.