On the face of it I’m maybe not the best person to deliver an opinion piece centred upon eyewear, for I’m one of the fortunate ones who, some 37 years on in the world, still hasn’t needed to visit an optician.
I wasn’t the young child who “failed” their eye test and subsequently got wound up by their siblings. I’ve never had reason to memorise the Snellen chart. I wasn’t the 1970s/1980s school kid whose “good glasses” were kept safely at home, replaced in day-to-day life with the brown thick-rimmed NHS badges of dubious honour. I’ve never had to look through my pockets or bags for a chunky glasses case in my “right, have I got everything?” checks.
I don’t know what it’s like to sleep with my contact lenses in, nor have I ever got them wet, and I’m yet to experience the anxiousness of my monthly lenses delivery arriving late, or turning up with the wrong prescription inside. I don’t read articles about corrective surgery, and I’ve never had to pay for that life-changing privilege.
But like everyone in the 20:20 vision club, it’s fair to say that I’ve listened to enough complaints and angst from the bespectacled masses to understand that as far as this game goes, I’ve been dealt a very nice hand.
Which makes me wonder if Google Glass have done their market research properly, in assessing that a market exists of people who wish to wear eyeglasses for recreational purposes.
For I can’t think of one person I’ve met who wants to wear their prescription glasses.
Google can of course point to the sunglasses market, neatly entwined as it is with the world of fashion and accessories, as evidence that people will choose to wear glasses regardless of need… if marketed correctly. Indeed, the formation of relationships with Luxottica (Oakley and Ray-Ban) tells us that this is central in their positioning.
But with the overwhelming majority of unit sales in the sunglasses market taking place towards the budget end of the scale, it would suggest that when shades are being sold, it’s mostly in an effort to keep the sun out.
While it’s fair to suggest the price point associated with Glass means that the majority is never going to be the target audience, what will be more interesting is to see how many people are left once the minority is further subdivided and leaves intact a group of people who are content to wear glasses, who will pay the associated premium, and rather importantly, who are likely to gain (or at least claim) a tangible benefit from consuming content through these means.
As the potential for any tangible benefit is directly related to the willingness of creative thinkers and software specialists to deliver tailored, specialised apps, a chicken and egg scenario is likely: without the software there are fewer benefits and fewer reasons to buy, but without the audiences there is a risky forecast for returns from software development.
In many ways the Glass concept reminds me of the Virtual Reality (VR) arcade games of the early 1990s. There’s a nice article here in which the people behind that technology explain the challenges and issues they faced, and ultimately why it failed to take off.
Sony and Facebook don’t seem to be listening, and are about to try this all over again, with their respective Project Morpheus and Oculus Rift headsets hitting the market soon.
I would surmise they will find out soon enough that while people have a burning desire to see and engage VR worlds, they don’t actually want to live in one – and passing full control of your vision to VR is as close as we can come to living in another world. It’s a step too far for most people.
Google Glass obviously isn’t as full on as VR. But spectacles were the invention of need, not desire; namely the need to see clearly. Are Google really going to be able to reverse the poles on a human need?