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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Google Glass has entered the annals of spectacular product failures. Many bright ideas have foundered on the shoals of consumer rejection. The Product Failure Hall of Fame is too small to contain them all. But a few fall from such enormous heights of hype and hope that they deserve special recognition as awesome.

As such, Google Glass (2013) joins the Edsel (1957), Crystal Pepsi (1992) and Clairol’s Touch of Yogurt shampoo (1979) as one of the greats.

Oh, there was such promise back in the mists of time — that is, three years ago. While introducing Google Glass, Google co-founder Sergey Brin held a live chat with two skydivers, also wearing their glasses, as they plunged to Earth. They landed on the roof of San Francisco’s Moscone Center, where Brin was speaking. The worldwide audience was wowed but remained unclear on what the glasses were for. Would someone please explain “augmented reality”?

Anyhow, they went on sale for $1,500 each. Time magazine named Google Glass one of the best innovations of 2012. And fashion models wore them on runways. Some day soon, we’d all have a pair, right?

That I still have to explain Google Glass to most of you — and to myself — shows how far short these optimistic predictions fell. No one has to describe an iPhone.

Google Glass is a pair of goggle-like glasses that can connect with the Internet. There’s a touchpad on the right side of the glasses — it comes in sky, tangerine, cotton, shale or charcoal — that lets you cruise the Internet with finger commands. You can do wild things like sit in your Google glasses at a desk in Columbus, Ohio, and watch your friend skiing in Bend, Oregon, through hers. (She can also watch you at your desk.)

Blink and you can take a picture. Send email with your voice. Say “OK, Glass, record a video” and the glasses start taking a movie. All the above may be downloaded on one’s computer at home.

A smartphone can do those things, but you have to take it out for that purpose. This gives those nearby a fighting chance to avoid you. Google Glass’ cool factor — that it lets you take pictures, etc., with a small facial gesture — is also its creep factor.

The privacy problem is obvious, and bars and casinos soon banned Google glasses. Museum guards (“no photography allowed”) also grew wise to them.

Google Glass was to be the big thing in “wearable tech.” Some watches have joined that game, but they look like watches. Google Glass looks like goofy protective eyewear. Its strange appearance and ability to record activities of strangers in near secrecy have inspired numerous parodies and saddled its wearers with unflattering names — such as “glassholes,” if your editor lets that get through.

Because Google Glass performs functions that are more easily done with existing gadgets in a less obnoxious way, it fails as tech. Because it looks so weird, its value as fashion is extremely limited.

But let’s give its creators a modicum of respect for making a huge gamble.

“It is not the critic who counts,” Theodore Roosevelt famously said, but the man who, “if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Up in the afterlife, someone is sporting a Google Glass while riding a Segway (2002), wearing platform sneakers (1992), holding a Microsoft Zune (2006) in one hand and eating a McDonald’s Arch Deluxe adult hamburger (1996) with the other.

I hope Joan Rivers is giving you a good laugh.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at [email protected] To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Ted Eytan via Flickr