The Real Reason Google Glass Failed

Step into any electronics store and you’ll come face-to-face with the new gadget revolution that is wearable technology. From simple fitness bands that track activity to full-scale devices worn as a watch, the tech stuff of "Get Smart" has become reality.

No mention of new tech would be complete without considering its impact on the advertising world. The possibility of serving a contextual ad based on the wearer’s location, the content they view or even their emails or phone calls is intriguing and compelling to marketers. Imagine being able to send a coupon to a wearer, as he or she is about to walk by your store: “Stop in now and get 25% off!”

Wearable tech is all the rage — and yet Google killed off their Glass Explorers program last week. Why the sudden change in direction?

Digital Trends offers a plausible theory: We humans will wear almost anything as jewelry, but we’re much more conservative when it comes to our faces. We don’t want to put anything on our face that makes us look different or weird.

Being different has never stopped Google before, though. Why the shift? Could ad support have something to do with it? Google makes their fortune from ad revenue: Google Adwords and Google AdSense are its bread and butter. Products that can’t be ad-supported tend not to live long in the Google world.

We’re already accustomed to seeing ads on our smartphones. Smartwatches basically feel like a mini-smartphone, so most people wouldn’t balk at seeing ads on their smartwatch. But would they want an ad right in front of their eyes as they walk down the street? Where do we draw the line between helpful and obtrusive? To gain adoption, technology must be humanly relevant first and technologically cool second.

Smartwatches and fitness bands are humanly relevant. We’re accustomed to seeing people wear any manner of jewelry, including big, small or geeky-looking watches. Rubber bracelets, like the Livestrong bracelets, have been around for years, so it’s not much of a leap to a FitBit or Jawbone.

It’s not even much of a leap to imagine ad-supported versions of humanly relevant wearable tech. We already have ad-supported fitness apps like MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun, and our Facebook mobile feeds are sprinkled with sponsored posts.

But Google Glass is too much of a departure from the norm for us. It looks strange. It’s intrusive. Everyone notices someone wearing Glass. Some people even call those wearing Glass nasty names. Several businesses have even gone as far as to ban Glass-wearing in their establishments.

Displaying ads before your eyes is off-putting. You can’t easily swipe them away or ignore them like you can on a watch or phone. People are used to seeing ads, but not like they do on Glass. They are used to wearing watches and bracelets, but not weird glasses that project images into their field of view.

Google Glass isn’t humanly relevant. It’s intrusive both to the user and to observers. And this is, ultimately, why it failed. As Robert Scoble presciently said a year ago: “People are scared of losing their humanness.” Wearables and the ads that support them must be humanly relevant. If they aren’t, there’s a good chance they won’t survive.


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