I was recently invited by Google to attend a live hands-on Google Glass demo at their San Francisco offices. Although I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Apple product aficionado, as a product designer with a geek streak a mile long, I just can’t resist an invitation to play with new technology, especially controversial new technology.
For those of you may not live and breathe Silicon Valley tech news and geeky bleeding-edge technologies (aka those of you who probably have balanced lives and can exist without a 4G device in your hand constantly), here’s the Google Glass primer:
Google Glass has been one of the most-hyped entries into the newly-minted wearable device category (think: smart watches, FitBits, and the like).
It’s a pair of glasses (hence the name) 🙂 with a tiny computer mounted on one side that enables one to do many of the same activities that a smartphone enables — taking pictures and videos, sending emails and texts, getting driving directions, even posting to Twitter and Facebook. All the apps one can run on a smartphone could [in theory] be transplanted to this device. Imagine making phone calls, ordering dinner, making plane reservations…all with your tiny “eyeglass-mounted” computer.
To operate Glass, one uses their head movements, voice, and [occasionally] hands to interact with the tiny mounted device.
And the really interesting kicker: No one ever has to know that you’re using Glass. There is no external indicator, such as a light or sound, that lets others around you know that you’re taking a photograph or a video, or recording the scene around you. And since you’re not holding up a device to your face as you would with a phone or camera, there’s no obvious gesture-based indicator.
Oh, and it’s not available to the mass market yet. Google Glass is currently in a pre-release program, which Google has named the Explorer Program. In prehistoric tech terms (aka pre-Google), a beta program enables companies to test pre-release products by inviting early-adopter customers to use them. These beta testers provide valuable real-life field testing, feedback and enhancement ideas to the company in exchange for getting early access to a new product. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.
Typically, consumer product beta programs are free of charge. After all, the participants are providing valuable research and testing services to the company producing the product. And more importantly, beta programs are carefully designed to cultivate early customers into strong product evangelists. Most savvy and successful product companies understand that beta customers ARE one of a company’s most critical and valuable customer investments and their strong endorsement of one’s product is nearly impossible to undervalue.
Google, as it appears, does the beta program thing a little differently.
For starters, they charge $1500 to be in their Explorer program.
Yes, you read correctly: 15. Hundred. Dollars.
$1500. To test their new product for them and to give them valuable feedback. $1500. When was the last time you paid $1500 for the privilege to test a product that was not on the market yet? I’ll give you a moment to consider that. Yes, exactly what I thought. Never.
I’ll let you chew on that for a while longer as we return to our regularly-scheduled Google Glass primer program…where was I? Oh yes, explaining the evolution of Glassholes…
The arrival of Google Glass on the scene in late 2012 was not without both fanfare and controversy. Fans have hailed the technology as a true game-changer, a revolutionizing blueprint of the future of personal computing, where hands free becomes a full physical interactive experience.
Critics and the more privacy-sensitive among us have been less sanguine, pointing out that Glass also creates a whole new category of potential privacy invasion, in a world where the lines of personal and intimate communications could be blurred to the point of non-existence.
The thought of someone being able to secretly record your entire interaction with them with the nod of head is quite uncomfortable at the lighter end of the conservative spectrum.
And at the gloom-and-doom end? It’s the end of private interactions in society, a lubed-up slippery slope into a Big-Brother-run dystopian society where everyone is online and on display always. In other words, say goodbye to any private intimate moments, humans. Everything you do and say can be recorded without your knowledge or consent.
And as the tension between the tech workers and the regular masses increases in such cities as San Francisco over such fundamentals as affordable housing and transportation, Google Glass has become an unintentional symbol of just how removed from the regular world the tech world can get. The term Glasshole, which hails from Google itself, has been bandied about more and more frequently to describe those who are sporting these potentially privacy-invading devices but who lack the situational awareness around both how they are being perceived and how invasive such devices could be for others.
But to be very honest, very little of that was swirling through my mind when I filled out the online application to join the Explorer program in mid-2013…..OR when I received my invitation to participate…OR when I was invited to a special hands on demo session at the San Francisco offices.
It was also not on my mind last Saturday when I trekked over to the Google SF offices on the Embarcadero. To be really, really, really honest, I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about and to get hands-on with this new fangled device. I am a product designer, after all, so understanding and playing with new tech products is part of my everyday work.
I just wanted to see it…and given all the hullaballoo about Glass and Glassholes, I was also curious to see what Google would do to address this negative PR, if anything. And what they would do with me, a flesh and blood potential customer who was interested enough to come into their offices on a weekend.
And the answer is…(drumroll please)….absolutely nothing.
Google did absolutely nothing with me or for me as a customer when I showed up looking to try, and to possibly buy, their product.
Now, that’s not to say that they didn’t have a room filled with cheery, friendly employees who were happy to explain how Google Glass worked.
They had plenty of demo devices I could try on and play with.
They were happy to tell me that if I [paid my money] and joined the Explorer program, I would be in a position to give Google feedback about my experience with Glass and possibly shape the future of the product.
And they were happy to give me a new coupon code so I could enter the program….for the entry level price of $1750.
Wait, $1750, you say?
Oh yes, the price to join the Explorer club went up. It seems that Google has now started offering new options for glass frame styles available for Google Glass. But, after paying the initial $1500 for the Glass device, one must pay an additional $250 for the frames. (And it doesn’t work without the $250 frames – I asked.)
And when asked if that $1750 would get one the hardware upgrades when the product is launched to the public in a mere few months, the answer was a stuttering somewhat dismissively…”We’ve discussed that. But…we don’t know. Oh well.”
And an even bigger surprise — they had no Google Glass stock onsite. I could of course order Google Glass and pay my $1750 for it that day, earning me the opportunity to come back to the San Francisco offices to pick it up so they could show me how to use it. Or they could ship it to me…for a fee.
And that was my Google Glass customer experience.
To be clear: The cheery, Glass-knowledgeable Google employees did absolutely nothing to make me want to be a Google Glass Explorer and instead, provided an opportunity for me to very easily decline:
- They advertised one price and raised it once I was in their offices (in some circles, this is, ahem, called a bait-and-switch).
- They had no stock available for me to buy that day.
- I would have to order and then return to pick up my order at their offices again (or pay to have it sent to me).
- They offered no incentive for my taking time out of my weekend day to come see their product (which would generally qualify me as a “hot prospect” or “interested buyer”).
In short: My experience showed me that Google clearly did not value my time or my interest in their technology. The message I got was that Google did not value me as a potential customer, and they definitely made no effort to convert me into an evangelist.
I’ll stop slightly short of calling this out as arrogance and will instead describe it as an insular oversight by a company that has been at the leading edge of technology for so long that they can’t imagine why we wouldn’t be busting down the doors to access their latest cool product. Sadly, the belief that a new technology is so amazingly cool and fantastic that it will just sell itself is not a new one for this industry and thus can’t be blamed on Google specifically.
Not that the fact that Google didn’t invent this attitude makes it any less damaging to them.
I suppose I just thought (hoped?) that a company such as Google, a tech behemoth with the credo of “Don’t be evil,” would know better. Especially with the news as of late, with the negative PR about the tech industry and Google Glass wearers. Especially with some local businesses in San Francisco banning Google Glass from their premises.
I didn’t expect Google to be such….well….Glassholes.
My takeaway from my Google Glass Demo experience: Google squandered an opportunity to create more Google Glass wearers and thus increase the number of potential emissaries, educators, and evangelists out in the world, which in turn can make Glass a much more understood and desired product in general. And the bigger unintended side effect: the experienced reinforced in my head why such devices as Google Glass are being touted as symbols of the growing divide between the tech “haves” and the non-tech “have nots.”
But how does a company with so many resources, so much success, and so many talented people working for it reach the “Glasshole state?”
And it’s actually quite simple: It all starts with how a company treats its potential customers.
There are 2 possible paths:
~ Path 1: Be a company that believes that its product is so amazing that you don’t have to work to cultivate your customer relationships, that your customers will want your product so badly that will pay any amount of money to have it? That by having your product, your customers are part of an exclusive club because the price is so high?
~ Path 2: Be a company that wants to have its product in the hands of as many people as possible so that they can have an excellent shared experience that enriches their lives and also brings more people into the fold as customers? Such a product can still be highly desirable. (For example: I know I’m biased but take any one of Apple’s products with both mass-market appeal and a “must have it now” customer base that will camp out overnight to get it. That didn’t happen to Apple by accident, by the way. But I digress again).
The two paths, are in fact, mutually exclusive.
And as derogatory as a label such as ‘Glasshole’ can be (and I don’t typically support such judgmental labels), Google did nothing with this opportunity to help me remove it from my vocabulary. Instead, I got the distinct impression that by joining the Explorer program, I’d be supporting a scenario that would do nothing to dispel the attitudes that produced such a term in the first place.
And it is for this very reason that I won’t be in the Explorer program. The world can certainly do with one less Glasshole.
PS: Google, if you’re listening: It may just be time for you to turn that “Don’t be evil” credo into “Let’s do some good.” You have the talent, the innovation, and the resources.
As a matter of fact, it’s time for us all to do some good.