Why Google Glass Was Not a Disruptive Innovation

Google Glass
Monday is the last day you can purchase Google Glass. The controversial Google X research project will be taken off the shelf as part of its move into a product division under Tony Fadell, the former founder / CEO of Nest Labs. While the debate over whether Glass was a success or a failure will continue, the over focus on the privacy concerns of Glass has blurred the real reason for its lack of success: its failure to deliver a compelling solution to any particular target market.

Disruptive innovations have certain basic qualities (as detailed in The Innovator’s Dilemma). These include:

  • Provide a fundamental change in at least one key characteristic of a product or service that appeals to a market segment with few or no alternatives.
  • The fundamental change cannot (or is not likely to) be added as a feature to existing products in mainstream markets.
  • The product or service has the potential to rapidly mature and surpass existing technologies delivered by current market leaders.
  • The product or service is positioned to take advantage of a fundamental market shift that results in a change to customer/consumer behavior.
  • The company has a disruptive business strategy that enable it to aggressively exploit its unique technical advantage.

A classic example of a disruptive innovation was the digital camera, which for years delivered an inferior solution to an underserved segment of the photography market before eventually becoming competitive and then surpassing film-based cameras. Google Glass not only never found its underserved market, but also never seemed concerned with its inability to solve any one problem well for any particular group of users. In many ways, Google Glass felt like an awkward attempt to crowdsource a disruptive innovation, which was best exemplified by the Google ban on facial recognition (which in my opinion may have been the one feature that might have led Google to its underserved market).

If Google eventually releases a successful wearable, we might look back at Glass as a worthwhile research project that yielded valuable insight and data. But more likely we will all be wearing our iGlass 5+ years from now, and Google's investment will be a footnote in wearable history.


My personal Google Glass Journey from 2013: