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April 28th, 2016

Why Google Glass Failed, But Magic Leap Will Succeed

Robert Scoble believes that the lessons of Google Glass can help inform the future of mixed reality.

Google Glass failed. But that does not necessarily doom the future of virtual, mixed and augmented reality goggles for the rest of us.

High technology’s first foray into face-mounted computing did not go well. Google Glass—the first headset to really bring a display and a camera straight to people’s faces—caused a whole lot of consternation among between tech savvy early adopters and a general public skeptical of intrusive wearable technology. People who wore Google Glass were dubbed “Glassholes” and there was even some instances of violence in San Francisco between Glass wearers and people that wanted no part of the Glass experiment.

Google eventually shut down the Glass Explorer beta program in early 2015 and rolled its remnants into its gadget division, which at the time was headed by Nest founder Tony Fadell (before Google split all of its projects out under the Alphabet umbrella). Since then, we have not heard much about Google Glass outside of some ideas about Glass for enterprise companies.

See also: Google Glass Failed, But Was Not A Failure

So yes, Google Glass failed. But it taught the entire technology industry some valuable lessons about the future of wearable technology (especially head-mounted technology), social contracts and public perception. CNET editor-in-chief Lindsey Turrentine refers to Google’s Glass project as Google, “falling on its sword for the rest of the industry.”

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The Social Contract: Why Google Glass Failed


In an interview on stage at Collision Conference in New Orleans, Turrentine asked futurist and new virtual reality advocate Robert Scoble why Google Glass failed and how virtual, augmented and mixed reality goggles will succeed in the future.

Scoble was probably the most infamous of all the Glassholes. He wore the gadget for an entire year without taking it off and famously rushed to ask Google CEO Larry Page a question about Glass during the Google I/O keynote in 2013. The picture of Scoble taking a shower with Google Glass may have been the most damning image of Glass’s legacy. If there is one person who really gets why Google Glass failed, it’s Scoble.

Scoble believes it was the violation of the unspoken social contract between people that led to the failure of Google glass:

A lot of people misunderstood Google Glass and blamed for the camera for its failure and that was absolutely wrong.

It messes with out social contract. We evolve as humans to look into each other’s eyes. To pay attention to each other. Are we interested in each other? Are we trustworthy? All kinds of stuff.

When we put a screen in-between our eyes, it messes with that contract and we don’t know how to explain it. ‘Will you take those things off? Are you recording me?’ Those types of things.

Google Glass failed because it didn’t have enough utility to get over that cost. The camera really sucked. The battery life only lasted 45 minutes. The display was really small and low resolution that didn’t do anything like what Meta or Magic Leap are doing, which is overlaying virtual images on top of the real world. It did not even try to do that.

It did not meet the expectations that normal people had. The first night I got it home my wife asked, ‘can I look at someone and see something about them?’ Because that is our expectation. We want to know what’s your name, what’s your latest tweet? What does Wikipedia say about you? We’d like to see that right when we look at you.

Particularly if you are wearing a badge. One of the use cases of Magic Leap is you are going to come to a conference, you are going to use your eyes and look at somebody’s badge. It is going to look up that person’s name, go to the Internet, find out all their stuff and bring it back within a microsecond. And then you are going to start seeing all of this stuff.

Google Glass did not meet any of these expectations. It was a $1,500 device that just wasn’t ready for consumers and was launched badly. It did not properly let us deal with the social contract problem.

Why Mixed Reality Like Meta, Magic Leap And HoloLens Will Succeed

Shortly after Google announced the ultimate death of Glass, Microsoft unveiled prototype augmented reality goggle called HoloLens. Unlike the initial and overall reception of Google Glass, the perception of HoloLens has been almost universally one of excitement. Microsoft’s on-stage demos are wonders … useful, playful, giddy and full of wonder.

HoloLens projects virtual, holographic images on a person’s field of vision through a set of eyewear. Want to watch Netflix on your wall? HoloLens can pull up the display anywhere.

HoloLens will eventually have some competition. Meta and Magic Leap are two companies building immersive virtual and mixed reality experiences that far surpass what Google Glass ever attempted building. Meta has some limited rollout. Magic Leap has raised more than a billion dollars in funding for a product that almost nobody has ever seen.

See also: Microsoft Proves That Mixed Reality Is No Longer Science Fiction

So, why will these companies win where Google Glass not only failed as a product but was near universally castigated?

According to Scoble: depth, immersion, utility and functionality.

Scoble stated at Collision Conference:

It really does make people nervous especially when I have it and you don’t. Because you don’t like that information asynchrony. I have information about you that you don’t have about me. Once everybody is actually wearing them we will get much more relaxed about that. But we do need to get around these social problems.

I feel like that is a real big question for the Magic Leaps and the HoloLens. Are they going to be acceptable to society while going to a conference or whatnot. I believe they will be because I believe the utility is so deep that everybody is going to wear it at some level or be accepting of it.

When you put on Meta, you have 20 screens in front of you. When you look at your phone, you only have one little screen. So I can do more work that you can. I can watch more football games than you can. I can look at more spreadsheets than you can. I can code on more screens than you can.

In fact the coder, the guy who is writing the user interface for Meta … works inside Meta. He does not have physical screens anymore. When you visit his cube, he doesn’t have physical screens. He has virtualized screens that he is seeing inside Meta.

At some point I am going to put them on you and say, ‘look at what I get to see in the world and you are not as efficient as I am because I have more things to do with these glass than you do.’ And you are going to give up. Or your are going to resist.

  • I’m loathe to be concerned about the social contract side of the question (as long as I’m not punched in the face), so the compelling aspect for me is the “20 screens” Mr. Scoble touts at the end of this article. As an SRE, screen space is key. 20 screens would INDEED be interesting and some heuristics on which particular screen would receive prominence would be compelling to my on-call workflow. And, generally, the 20 screens would be compelling for my standard (non-on-call) workflow…and…I am embarrassed to admit…my “on vacation” “life”-flow.

    This is very interesting stuff. And, while I really truly hope another picture is used than Robert in the shower for these kinds of stories, I very much appreciate his “taking it to the limit” so we can see how to adjust and correct going forward.

    • DanRowinski

      As the unabashed leader of the Glassholes, the shower/Google I/O incidents are noteworthy. Context provides clarity, especially as he ramps up his work in the AR/VR/MR space (damn, can we get just one acronym for this?).

  • Darin Seng

    IMO, Google glass was a bit doom because of a simple aesthetic flaw. It’s rather well documented that symmetry is is hard wired in our brains to be attractive. Google glasses missed this point in the design phase.

  • Andrew von Melchior

    I’m personally not convinced that consumers, already worried about privacy breaches, personal security and safety and even their own nation states spying on them, will flock to adopt a class of devices that by their very nature demand you sacrifice your entire domestic privacy by dynamically 3D mapping your rooms, possessions and the faces of your family.

  • Noel Nicolas

    I believe it failed because of the hates to Google as a company being portrayed by the media negatively. I believe that if Apple first implemented the idea, it will be the best innovation of the year. I believe that rebranding Google glass, with “iGlass” without changing anything on the device will be a hit!

    • DanRowinski

      Sure. Keep telling yourself that.

      There is a reason that Apple cedes this portion of the market to … everybody else. Google let other companies get into smartwatches first to see the public reaction. Apple has given very little indication of getting into the mixed reality/virtual reality yet as that market plays out. Apple likes to watch and countermove, either augmenting or transcending current market conditions (which it did with the iPhone and iPad). Branding only goes so far.