Glass – A Solution in Search of a Problem

by Jonathan Deutsch

When Google’s Project Glass was first unveiled ten months ago, they wrapped up the announcement post asking the community, “What would you like to see from Project Glass?” Today revealed more about the unreleased product and continue the thread by begging for community involvement: “Using Google+ or Twitter, tell us what you would do if you had Glass, starting with the hashtag #ifihadglass.” Does Google not know what to do with the Glass?

Can you imagine if Apple announced the iPhone and said, “We’ve got a great always-on internet connected pocket sized device with a touch screen. What would you use it for?”

As Robert X. Cringely remarked in Triumph of the Nerds, for any new technology to gain acceptance, it needs a killer application. Most of the Glass’s features can be accomplished with a smartphone, and the convenience in the form factor is akin to a Pebble watch. By my read, Google has publicly admitted it doesn’t know what the killer app is for the Glass. Truly, the Glass is a solution in search of a problem.

This isn’t necessarily a death sentence. The PC itself didn’t have a killer application for many years until the first spreadsheet came along. With enough people excited (count me as one of them), perhaps an idea will emerge that puts Glass on the map before it is socially shunned out of existence.

Update: There’s been an argument this is a specific (and implied brilliant) marketing strategy. Google Glass won’t be given away for free. It is a consumer product, which will be sold. Sales happen when customers believe it will better their lives for more than the cost… so what is the value proposition which would make someone spend $1,500 for one? That’s essentially what Google is asking, but it is what they should be telling. That I won’t drop it on a roller coaster or when practicing Kendo isn’t reason enough. For a product in the shape of glasses, there’s a surprising lack of vision.

This is disappointing, because there will be a clock running on its life. If Google can’t find its value proposition/killer application soon enough, then customers will not buy it and developers will not spend time creating applications when there is no market. Given the lack of applications shown in the video, I’m a little surprised the glass site is so heavily consumer-targeted without any SDK information.

I’d love to try to answer the question what I’d do if I had a Glass. As noted the potential is staggering and few products have intrigued me as much as this. But my brainstorming is hits a wall when I think of practical constraints which need to be considered. What is the battery life? What is the resolution on the screen and camera? How accurate is the positioning information? What are the general latency characteristics of its sensors? And so forth. Creativity lives on the ground, not in the sky.

Apple doesn’t dictate experiences, but it does communicate uses for the product. Remember the original iPhone ads? Given how new the device and technology was, this seemed wise to me (say, compared to the iPod silhouette ads — everyone knows what a music player does). The Glass is in the same category — something entirely new.