Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Google Glass is back! Let's hear it for understanding and meeting user needs

Google Glass is back! This time it's the Enterprise rather than the Explorer edition.
I feel a special bond with last week's announcement that Google Glass is back. In coverage from The Verge  (see above), Wired, and many other publications, as well as on Google's own blog (BlogX on Medium), "A New Chapter for Glass" the reincarnation of Google's once-controversial wearable has been well covered but I would like to use a couple of paragraphs to explain why this re-launch is special to me.

I was one of the original Glass Explorers back in 2013, qualifying (based on Google's instructions) with my tweet on why I should be one of the first Glass users. In my tweet, I played the Baby Boomer card, and how I could evaluate and write about the new product's capabilities based on first-hand experiences through the eyes (literally, one eye) of a boomer. The Glass Explorer "honor" meant that I qualified to pay Google $1,500 for one of their early units, and that sum didn't include transportation. I was required to travel, on my own dime, to pick it up, with San Francisco being my lowest cost and shortest distance between three cites. In their gorgeous offices overlooking San Francisco Bay, I had my Glass unit "fitted", and was given some basic instructions. On that momentous August 2013 day, I became one of the first people outside Google to try out Glass in what was basically a beta test program for the company. Putting it in another way, yes I was one of the original Glassholes!

Getting ready for the game - an early Fall 2013 visit to a Boise State football game, with Glass!
As a career marketing guy and for the past decade-plus, a graduate-level marketing professor, what did I take away from my days as an Explorer before the program wound down several years after it started? While lauding Google's ability to generate attention, excitement and even emotion (where do you think that crude nickname comes from?) in what we always called PR but now refer to as "earned media", I also decided the product didn't do that much for me in the end. Hands-free photo and video capture had its attractions but the lack of control worked against wanting to opt for Glass rather than my ever-more-powerful iPhone and/or standalone camera. Speaking of control, the voice-activated mode (e.g. "Ok, Glass, take a picture...") worked pretty well, and pre-dated the Google Home as well as Amazon Echo - though Apple's Siri set the stage a few years prior to Glass. Things like searching Wikipedia or using Google Maps were possible as demos, but were much more practical on other devices. The requirement to have an iOS or Android phone to control and add connectivity for Glass was expected, but like with the Apple Watch which followed it, became a "knock" in some camps. So all in all, my sale of my fairly well-used Glass for about $1,000 as the program began shutting down netted out as a relatively small cost for my two years with Glass.

It was lots of fun, and admittedly somewhat prestigious (in the right circles anyway) to be one of the first users, and for me, this did indeed satisfy a big user need - being "the first kid on the block" to have this much-hyped gadget, which many people were aware of because of all the press coverage Google received. (There was no advertising as far as I know.) However, the novelty wore off and I realized there was really little I could do with Glass that I couldn't do with another gadget, and its predicted status as a "dust collector" became true in my case, until eBay came to the rescue.

Now, Glass is back as an industrial tool to help workers do their jobs in manufacturing, healthcare and other industrial settings. Using their Partners Program as their sales channel as well, Google is recharging their Glass efforts with wind in their sails provided by very thorough customer research and employing partner firms to tailor solutions. From the aforementioned BlogX post, Glass Project Lead Jay Kothari's words on preparing its "second act" for market could bring tears of joy to an old Marketing Professor's eyes:

Back in 2014, my team was at GE Aviation in Cincinnati, Ohio, watching how mechanics assemble and repair airplane engines. Airplane maintenance is a complex and specialized task, and any errors can lead to expensive delays or having to conduct the entire maintenance process all over again. The mechanics moved carefully, putting down tools and climbing up and down ladders to consult paper instructions in between steps.
Fast forward to today, and GE’s mechanics now use Glass running software from our partner Upskill, which shows them instructions with videos, animations and images right in their line of sight so they don’t have to stop work to check their binders or computer to know what to do next. Since using Glass with Upskill, they estimate that they have not only reduced errors at key points in the assembly and overhaul of engines, but that they have improved their mechanics’ efficiency by between 8–12%.

Google could only be so successful by emphasizing one of the four "P"s of marketing - promotion. Ultimately Product and Place over-ruled and sent them back to their labs to work on specific, robust solutions for solving real user needs. From the looks of it, they are well on their way to making Glass a success!