4 biggest challenges facing Google Glass

Google Glass faces four big issues it must overcome to transform itself into a mainstream product.

Ben Parr
Ben Parr is co-founder of #DominateFund, an early-stage venture capital fund; a CNET commentator; and the former co-editor of Mashable.
Ben Parr
4 min read

Will Google Glass replace our smartphones? Or is it destined to become the biggest failure in Google's history?

Google Glass is getting a lot of attention, but will it ever become mainstream? James Martin/CNET

Only one thing is for sure: Google Glass is in for a bumpy ride.

Unlike some journalists, I believe that Glass has great potential, especially when developers build more apps for it. Google faces an uphill battle of Everest proportions spurring mass adoption for the device, though. Just because it's "the future" doesn't mean it will be embraced by the public (see: Segway).

I believe Google Glass faces big obstacles in four key areas: privacy, style, usability, and fear. Here's why these will be problems when Google goes after consumers next year.

I recently heard a radio ad for a local TV station in San Francisco. "Google has developed a new technology that could infringe your privacy," the radio voice exclaimed. "Learn more about Google's new tech, why Congress is investigating it, and where this new technology is already banned at 11."

I wanted to punch someone for the sensationalism of the ad, but it does bring up an important point: Google Glass has a growing privacy issue. It didn't exactly come out of blue -- we are talking about a device with a camera mounted to your head, after all -- but now it's becoming a congressional issue. And with more members of the press writing about their concerns, more and more people are going to have a negative opinion of Glass long before they ever try on the device.

Google has to find a way to assure the public that Glass isn't going to invade and destroy everyone's privacy. It also has to find a way to convince the public that the benefits of Glass vastly outweigh its downsides. Unfortunately, there isn't a silver bullet for this.

Google Glass version one isn't exactly going to win any fashion awards. It's clunky, geeky, and sticks out like a sore thumb. Of course, Glass is still just a prototype. But by the time it hits the consumer market in 2014, it needs to be something people won't be embarrassed to wear. Ideally, Glass should be a status symbol, but Google must prevent it from becoming the next Segway.

Luckily, Google is reportedly working with Warby Parker and testing out new frames and designs. This will go a long way toward making Glass look and feel more mainstream.

When I received my Glass, Google spent nearly an hour training me on how to use the device. So when dozens of friends and strangers asked to try on the eyewear I shouldn't have been surprised that they were shaking their heads like Fred Armisen on "Saturday Night Live."

Glass is quite an amazing device to use, but its interface is so radically different from a smartphone or a PC that it requires an investment of time. I suspect this is why Google likes to train all new Glass users in person. However, Glass isn't intuitive. It can be a turn-off that Glass doesn't immediately respond to your voice commands. (You need the Glass home screen to be open to use voice commands.)

Glass needs to find a simple way to teach non-early-adopters how to use Glass. Apple gets around this problem with its physical stores. Google may finally need something similar if it's going to teach the world how to use Glass.

I recently walked into a barber shop on the north side of San Francisco while wearing my Google Glass. I was greeted by an older Asian man, who, after my haircut, asked me about the strange device. I explained to him that Glass lets me send and receive all of my texts, e-mails, news updates, and photos without me having to look at my phone. I showed him its picture and video-capturing abilities.

"That's scary," he finally responded after some thought. The man didn't want random people just taking pictures and videos of him in his shop. He didn't own a smartphone, and I doubt he knows how to surf Reddit, either.

Glass is going to scare people. It's already scaring people. Friends ask me, with concern, whether or not I am recording them. I can't blame them -- new tech is scary, especially when it comes with a camera that could be recording you at any given moment.

Fear of Glass and fear of change are going to be Google's greatest challenges when it comes to making Glass a mainstream product. One shouldn't underestimate what fear leads people (including members of Congress) to do.

Watch this: Hands-on with Google Glass