Why the Metaverse may never be universal

Why the Metaverse may never be universal

“Who remembers Google Glass? What were all that about?”

 

It’s almost a decade since Google announced that the Explorer Edition of Google Glass was going on sale at $1,500 a pop, offered initially to Google I/O developers in the US.

 

For digital natives too young to remember that far back, Google Glass was a wearable device that had an optical head-mounted display that enabled wearers to check messages, view photos and search the internet, amongst a host of other features – with everything controlled by the wearer’s voice and motion.

 

Dystopian? Possibly. Ingenious? Certainly.

 

At the time, I was working for Europe’s biggest mobile phone and gadget insurer, managing their biggest £ multi-million corporate relationship with one of the UK’s biggest banking groups.

 

There was a bit of a hoo-ha about Google Glass within the company at the time. Up until this point, we’d insured mobile phones and tablets and everything in-between (anyone remember the term “phablet”?) and we had a rigorous supply chain in place to ensure we could repair or replace such items within a couple of working days. But how would that supply chain be able to repair or replace eyewear devices? Especially if they were prescription eyewear devices?

 

Certainly, the Google Glass NPD path was not a smooth one. In February 2015, The New York Times reported that Google Glass was being redesigned by former Apple executive Tony Fadell and that it would not be released until he deemed it to be “perfect”.

 

In July 2017, it was announced that the second iteration, the Google Glass Enterprise Edition, would be released in the US for companies such a Boeing.

 

In May 2019, Google announced the Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2. Google also announced a partnership with Smith Optics to develop Glass-compatible safety frames.

 

So Google Glass wasn’t a fail-fast punt by a tech giant. A lot of money was invested in its development, and Google clearly believed that the product had a long-term future.

 

Indeed, according to an excellent article at www.failory.com/google/glass:

  • Time Magazine named Google Glass as one of the Best Inventions of the Year
  • Google Glass got a 12-page spread in Vogue
  • They appeared in an episode of The Simpsons
  • Such luminaries as Prince Charles, Oprah, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lawrence and Bill Murray were all photographed wearing a pair

 

So how come many people believe Google Glass is currently residing in the “Where Are They Now” file?

 

Again, according to Failory:

  • The product couldn’t do all the things the marketers promised
  • The design was cumbersome to wear (Google claimed a benefit was that Google Glass was ‘much lighter than a smartphone’, but as one Reddit commentator memorably fumed: “Yes but I don’t wear my phone on my face”)
  • There were major privacy concerns – not least that the people Google Glass recorded hadn’t given their permission to be filmed
  • Ultimately folk didn’t think it was worth the hassle – it felt like technology solving for a problem that didn’t really exist in the consumer’s mind

 

Well, a decade after the initial launch, it seems Google are on the road to launching again.

 

According to Tech Radar: Google’s finally ready to give us Google Glass 2, but is the world ready? | TechRadar

 

Which brings us to the Metaverse.

 

Facebook are so invested in making the metaverse work that they’ve renamed their entire business after it.

 

But I do wonder whether by going “all in” on the company rebrand and repositioning, Meta are repeating the mistake Google first made a decade ago.

 

With their own product re-launch, Google are leaving themselves sufficient strategic latitude to back away if the same challenges reappear: customer indifference, security concerns, price barriers and the like.

 

Whereas Facebook – sorry, Meta – seem to be betting the strategic house on VR tech becoming the standard, way beyond the scope of gaming, or niche business applications.

 

My personal bet is that Google have the shrewder strategists, and whilst VR headsets and a Meta world will gain more traction as the tech improves and customer acceptance widens, VR tech will never become as widely adapted or used as the Meta hype (and investment) is predicting.

 

Am I right? Maybe I should bookmark this blog, and come back to it in a decade’s time.

 

If I’m re-reading it via a VR headset, then I’ll just have to eat my Meta hat.

 

Simon Hayhurst

July 2022

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