Google Glass was launched in March 2013, for a select few, know as “Google Explorers”, until it was publicly released later in 2014 — however, in January 2015, the product had already been discontinued. The main questions I will look at are: what makes Google Glass such an interesting ‘infrastructure’ to study, what was it trying to achieve, why it failed, and whether similar technologies have a place in the future.
Firstly we need to understand what the aim of the project was, in order to then be able to explain how it links to infrastructure. The glasses’ aim were twofold: firstly to serve as a camera, and secondly to have the internet and any information feed directly in one’s foresight. By doing so, Google were trying to create a product which would (hopefully) be central to our lives, as it effectively would be the first ‘port of call’ for any interactive function (such as answer a call, take a photo, or search for something). On paper, the concept seemed quite good, as it was an innovative product, and something which had not been tried by any company before.
Before we cover why it failed, it is important to understand how it links to the concept of infrastructure. An ‘infrastructure’ can be generalised as any material phenomena that underly contemporary forms of living, i.e. some form of backbone, or cornerstone to society and the way we go about our lives. Google Glass is a good example of this, as it merges arguably the biggest infrastructure of the 21st Century – the internet, with a very traditional item that has been around for hundreds of years – glasses. By combining a modern phenomena with a wearable item, Google were arguably one of the first pioneers to try to literally ‘embed’ technology on us, opening up the realm of ‘wearable technology’ or as Susanne Küchler puts it: “moving from a mechanical materialism to a kind of material vitalism” (Küchler 2008: 116), allowing such objects to start governing our lives and take on a more active role.
Google had very ambitious plans for how the device could in theory be used, ranging form extensive applications in the healthcare industry, journalism, mass media and even military use – such as helping to reduce poaching in Nepal, used by the Gurkhas.¹
Having said all of this, why then did Google Glass fail? Privacy, safety and bad marketing are only some of the main themes constantly featuring in newspaper headlines. Arguably the main issue is that there was no clear function for the device, and at the cost of $1500, few people were prepared to invest in it. Even among google engineers there was considerable debate over whether the glasses should be used occasionally or all day.
Not all wearables are destined to failure though. Snapchat’s ‘Spectacles’ have so far proven to be very successful.² I would say this is mainly attributed to its clear marketing, and simple design, unlike google glass – which mainly considered to be highly unaesthetic.
Küchler, S (2008) Technological Materiality: Beyond the Dualist Paradigm Theory, Culture and Society 25(1):101:120
Featured Image: GoogleGlass.jpg