It’s official. The nerdy glasses with augmented reality and all kinds of image capturing technologies have been pulled from the market. Already, the pundits are dissecting what went wrong. It is indeed a juicy story, with hints of mad scientists hard at work in a secret building that most Googlers didn’t even know about, an affair between one of the staff on the project and Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin, and stunning intersections between the world of tech and high fashion.
So what went wrong? Well, for one thing the product didn’t work very well. Poor battery life, clunky design and difficulties with ordinary people using the devices were only a start. People objected to the potential for glass-wearers to capture their images without their permission or in private places, like urinals. And they were expensive. It would seem to be a real blow to Google’s ability to create an Apple-like product people genuinely desired and a pretty bad loss.
But this won’t be the end of the story. Google Glass may well enter that pantheon of failed product launches that preceded some of the most remarkable success stories the companies that launched them have ever enjoyed. Remember the Apple Lisa? It was the machine Steve Jobs determined would be his opportunity to famously put a dent in the universe after visiting Xerox PARC and seeing what the future of computing could be. Released in 1983, it was the first consumer focused personal computer that used a mouse, graphical user interfaces and removable storage, it was indeed a marvel at the time. Commercially, though, a disaster. Slow processor speed and a $9,995 price tag proved its undoing, and the machine was pulled from the market. What the team at Apple learned from their experience with Lisa, however, led to the creation of the fabulously success Macintosh line of computers, a product that basically saved the company when sales of the Apple II fell away.
Nick Woodman, the founder of the now very successful GoPro line of action-friendly video cameras started two other businesses, both of which failed, before finally hitting his stride with Go Pro. Bill Gates’ success with Microsoft came only after he launched a failed venture, a business called Traf-O-Data that was an effort to sell information from traffic flows to optimize road congestion. James Dyson, of vacuum cleaner fame is very public about how many failed products (in the thousands!) he invented before hitting on the bagless machines that have since made him a billionaire. The founder of office-rental firm Regus flopped in an earlier food delivery business.
So what’s likely to be next for Glass? Well, for one thing the project has now been handed to Tony Fadell, himself a veteran of dozens of failures in tech and the creator of the Nest line of thermostats. Fadell is well known as a product guy and a perfectionist, with long experience of learning from in-market failures to create iconic products. The iPod is one such example. My bet is that although it was a rather embarrassing public misstep for Google, the learning from Glass’ original introduction will provide invaluable to the company’s development down the road. And isn’t that what learning from failure is all about?