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4 lessons for wearable makers from Google Glass

There’s been a lot of debate lately about the way forward for wearables now that Google have shelved their Google Glass prototype. The arguments have lined up on the one side as ‘wearables are dead’ – not for the first time either. On the other side it’s ‘Glass wasn’t a failure at all and Google will come back stronger next time, so really it was a great success’ – Google themselves say it’s just the prototype that’s been shelved and ‘the journey doesn’t end here’.

The truth is probably somewhere in between of course, but when I look at the whole wearables movements we can probably see some key factors that are likely to predict success or failure, and I’m pretty sure these are repeatable lessons. So for those of you who are still interested to see wearables succeed, here’s my suggestions on the 4 key things to get right:


1.Your wearable needs to do something useful 

Maybe it’s stating the obvious but if there is no clear need or utility then all you have invented is a novelty. Google Glass didn’t have any obvious utility when it first came out but a worldwide development community was supposed to try to work it out. They tried and were unable to come up with much, although a few nice niches like remote support in the operating theatre did come up.

Maybe Google were being too optimistic that they could crowdsource their application development. When I look at wearables that have actually succeeded it’s the fitness trackers like Fitbit®, who’ve sold millions – why is this? Possibly because they have an obvious purpose – to track your activity without you even thinking about it. It certainly proves that you don’t need to be very useful, just doing one thing reasonably well is fine.


2.Your wearable must not be embarrassing to wear

I think that’s a bare minimum, and really the nicer the device is to wear the better its chances. Google Glass was blighted from the outset as it made you look like a geek, and no attempt to add designer frames was going to change that. To add to the fashion disaster it actually added a massive peer disapproval factor, as friends and strangers alike would worry if you were recording them surreptitiously, leading to some public bans.

Contrast that again with the wrist-worn devices which tend to be rather nice on the whole. Here’s an example of a new epilepsy sensor going through crowd-funding at the moment called Embrace – no likelihood of social stigma with a sleek design like this: 

Embrace epilepsy wristband sensor wearable

source: Embrace

3.Your wearable must be priced sensibly 

This seems to be the one that a lot of wearable makers are getting wrong. If you’re going to offer me a product that does a lot less than my smartphone, is embarrassing to wear and has very few real world applications, why price it at 3x the level of a good smartphone? In many ways this was the real failure of Google Glass – compare it with the approach of companies like Embrace mentioned above who are going with introductory pricing models to ensure a) they get their development funding b) they get the initial take-up that is so important.

Given the financial muscle of Google it’s hard to work out why they priced Glass so highly – the only reason can be that they were trying to conduct a commercial sensitivity test which brings me to my last principle…


4.Don’t try to test too many variables at the same time

It seems to me that Google were just too ambitious with a product that was far from finished – they set out to get developers to puzzle out a use for it, for wearers to convince the world it was actually cool, and to test what the maximum price point could be, all at the same time. Those of you who are into ‘testing’ in any way will know how difficult multivariate testing is, and if Google can’t handle it I wouldn’t overestimate your own abilities.

I’d suggest instead to try to test no more than two of the key variables, preferably one if you can help it. So if you’ve got a great product, useful and elegant, then by all means go and see what price you can charge. But if you’re still building the thing, best keep the entry price down. You can always come back and charge higher price points for the turbo-charged mark 2 versions in future cycles – a tactic Fitbit® have successfully deployed.


Thank you Google

So maybe Google Glass has been a success after all – but only by highlighting how not to do things. It shouldn’t be too hard for the rest of us to learn from this and do better. Wearables aren’t dead yet.

I’d love to hear your views on these lessons or any other pointers for wearable makers. Feel free to contact me.

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