Here’s the problem with Amazon’s Smart Glasses.

How mass AR will dominate consumers, #4

Amazon is well known for its customer centricity and its ability to stay laser-focused when it comes to strategy and execution.

2015 vs. 2017

Over the years Amazon earned itself the image of being an innovation machine and introducing products with lots of value meeting (unconscious) customer needs. Whether logistics, customer service, products or retail. You name it and it’s like to drop Amazon’s name in a discussion.

In 2015, when the first Amazon Smart Glasses patent leaked, people started to freak out over this initial concept calling it “a tablet for your face”.

Amazon Patent, 2015: your average AR glasses suspect

However I was pretty surprised to see today’s leak from the Financial Times (paywall!) / Reuters: Amazon is working on Audio-only smart glasses via bone conduction. Of course, this is a rumor, but it seems credible — to some extent. This seems like a pretty big iteration and parting from this initial patent.

Products need to add value — or they will fail

Why is this a problem? Just take a look at Amazon’s history at product and service innovation. Whether it’s 1-click-to-pay, Same-day delivery or products around Voice / Alexa / Echo → what they all have in common is incredible understanding of customer needs to an Apple-like extent.
At first sight the Voice-focused device might make sense in Amazon’s Voice-centric strategy, however in today’s newsletter Above Avalon pointed out:

This sounds like a disaster in the making. […] Does Amazon genuinely believe people are going to wear a pair of glasses with the only additional functionality being found with piping Alexa via vibrations into their inner ear/brain?

In comparison to Amazon’s other products this does indeed seem like a disaster with a very wrong understanding of customers. In one of my latest articles I talked about the general problem with smart/AR glasses which is people don’t want to wear glasses all the time.

If people are (understandably) already having a hard time to wear AR glasses (which will provide actual value) how would you convince consumers to wear glasses with nothing more than audio support? How does that make any sense from a consumer’s perspective and how would you market this to any of them out there? What’s the added value of such a device? I just don’t see it.

Software vs. hardware product development

One point Above Avalon made was Amazon’s & Jeff Bezos’ approach to failure (it was quoted in the context of not being applicable in this case):

To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.

However, true innovation lies at the intersection of new idea, customer understanding and right timing. I think it’s also fitting to quote Steve Jobs and his famous 2007 iPhone presentation:

And what happens if you think of a great idea six months from now? You can’t run around and add a button to these things. They’re already shipped.

To me Amazon’s approach to failure is very much focused on the company’s origins which is Digital — which is the perfect guinea pig for fast paced innovation and constant beta phases.
With hardware development things tend to be a bit different. People have no interest in purchasing iterative hardware devices and be guinea pigs. With digital products testing costs nothing, with hardware products such an approach comes in pricey and in the end might end up hurting your brand’s perception. At last there is a reason why Apple is almost never first, but best. Just think about this.

Have any thoughts on Amazon’s smart glasses? Let me know and discuss!