The Problem With Google Glass

Google Glass is really, really cool. The most ground breaking device since the iPhone that helped make Apple the world’s biggest company. A wearable device like something from the future.

But that may be it’s Achilles’ heel.

Most of the things people wear are anachronistic. Jeans are 19th century workwear, suits are 18th century hunting gear, and even the modern day business atire of button down oxford shirts and chinos comes from pre-war Yale students. And for glasses, Ray-Ban’s shapes from the 50s are considered classic.

For sports we wear modern clothing, because of the functional requirements. On the basketball court people wear innovative footwear, but Converse still make most of their money from designs that are half a century old. Wax Barbour jackets are worn as fashion, while people who actually brave the elements prefer 21st century breathable fabrics.

Looking futuristic is cool if you are a spaceman but not for hanging out in Williamsburg.

The reason the future isn’t popular as a fashion statement is there is no statement to make other than ‘this is the future’. Stories are made about the past, they represent something. We romanticise the past and it gains status. Most of the design of non-professional items is actually based on the past, even the designs that are considered futuristic.

Apple’s futuristic gadgets are based on a decades old post war German industrial design aesthetic, epitomised by Dieter Rams. 60 year old, Mid Century Modern design from Scandinavia is the antecedant of the language of the mass modernism of IKEA and high-tech architecture popularised by Apple HQ designer, Norman Foster, in the 1980's which forms the basis of Apple’s store design is based on the cross bracing and tensioned structures of early aircraft as far back as the 20s.

Google Glass really is futuristic, and it is designed to be worn even when not in use, rather like Bluetooth headsets are. Unless you have a specific reason for wearing a Bluetooth headset, such as being a cab driver, where hands free systems that can be heard by passengers are not practical, they have largely fallen out of fashion. They are seen to be ‘dorky’.

So what exactly is dorky, why do we associate a lack of fashion sense with tech culture?

Tech culture lives in the present and is largely a meritocracy based on what you can do rather than how you look. Tech influencers are very important for Internet services or a device such as the iPhone, but for things we wear, the things which tend to be based on the past, futurists with no particular requirement for fashion sensibility are not necessarily the best predictors of whether everyone will wear a futuristic headset.

The tech community who have raved about Google Glass may not be the ones to pay attention to when estimating its success.

If it does suffer the same fashion problems as the Bluetooth headset, that may not be so much of a problem. This is a much more impressive device than a glorified earpiece, but it may need to become even more invisible, blending into our retro spectacles.

With an invisible, but omnipresent device, fashion issues go away, but privacy issues become more of a problem. To get the design right Glass must inhabit the narrow gap between these conflicting constraints of fashion and privacy otherwise it becomes a non-consumer product, something worn by, say, a plumber keeping his hands free while doing his job.

It’s clear that there are many interesting use cases for Glass as a ubiquitous consumer product, it’s not clear that the gap of opportunity exists for it.

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