Can Google Glass overcome its social stigma?

J. P. Gownder/Forrester Research
23 Jan 2014

This week, Google released a new promotional video for Google Glass that featured a non-consumer scenario – public safety.

In this case, firefighters can use Glass to help them in a hands-free way in the field. For example, they can pull up an architectural schematic of a burning building before they run inside. They can pull up design specs for specific models of cars before using the jaws of life to save a crash victim. Or they can locate the nearest fire hydrant. Take a look: YouTube video

Public safety is well-established as a scenario for wearable technology – as Motorola Solutions and other vendors have shown in their product portfolios. In this case, it also pulls at the heart-strings: Who’s more beloved by the general public than firefighters and other first responders?

That emotional connection is important, because Google Glass faces some significant PR problems – even before the product has really launched. You can see this in the derisive monikers popping up for Google Glass users as well as through news reports of Glass-banning and even an arrest. All of this fits under the rubric of social stigma, the perception that using Google Glass isn’t a socially acceptable behavior. What are the sources of this social stigma? They include:

  • Privacy concerns for bystanders. Google might have underestimated the negative reaction people would have to a device that can take photos of them discretely – with a wink of their eye – at any time. In turn, these privacy concerns are creating potential legal concerns.
  • Privacy concerns for wearers. At the same time, wearers (aka potential buyers) of Google Glass will be ceding a great deal of their privacy to take maximum advantage of the device. Will buyers be willing to make the tradeoff – privacy for functionality?
  • Conspicuous consumption. Glass suffers from an elitist perception – a $1,500 toy for the 1% of tech. How can Google broaden the market to a mainstream?
  • Lack of élan. Like most wearables, Glass suffers from a certain fashion awkwardness. Other companies are working on partnerships with the fashion community – Intel with Barney’s and Fitbit with Tory Burch – to solve this problem, but it will take a while to get there.

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