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Google Glass And Consumers: Nothing To See Here

Google Glass may soon transform the workplace, but the mainstream disconnect runs deep.

Has any product evoked such fear and loathing as Google Glass?

Sure, Glass is being put through its paces by thousands of testers, and it's in full use at hospitals and manufacturing plants, which value its hands-free delivery of information.

But for most consumers and many business users, the forever-in-beta computer screen on your face is still just something they've heard about. It's an idea… and a bad one.

[Cyborg Unplug promises to boot Google Glass from local networks. Read Blinders For Google Glass.]

Some examples of the negativity:

  • The derogatory term "Glasshole" is now part of the cultural vocabulary: "I was in line behind some Glasshole, waiting for my latte, when the barista flipped out over being recorded." (Of course, you can also be recorded unknowingly by a smartphone, but it's harder to be stealthy.)
  • A site called Stop The Cyborgs was created to educate users about the privacy dangers of Google Glass.
  • Even Congress got involved, writing a letter to Google CEO Larry Page last year demanding that Google address a range of privacy concerns about Glass.
  • Google Glass has been banned in bars and restaurants in major cities, including San Francisco and Seattle.
  • Last February, a story about a woman who was verbally and physically assaulted for wearing Google Glass at Molotov's, a San Francisco dive bar, struck a nerve and spurred conversation about the privacy and class conflicts surrounding Glass.

But don't equate "dislike" with "disinterest." The term "Google Glass" enjoys 12 times as many searches as the term "wearables," according to a new Forrester report on how privacy violations will shape Google Glass adoption. When surveying 4,556 online US adults, Forrester found that 50% of respondents agree that "Google Glass raises privacy concerns for me." However, 45% of those same people say they would buy Glass if the price were right.

Hey, if you can't beat 'em, am I right?

Sadly for Glasshole wannabes, at $1,500, the price isn't exactly right for most mortals. Still, privacy fears won't deter some consumers from giving Glass a try if they can get a pair at a reasonable price. And privacy fears have a history of diminishing (or we just surrender to Overlord Google, I can't tell which).

Yet Google Glass is up against more than just privacy paranoia and a steep price. There's also a snobbery stigma. In the Bay Area, Google Glass has come to represent uber-wealthy techies who are loathed by nontechies aggrieved by the relentless march toward technological progress, not to mention sky-high rents. Is there any doubt this animosity will spread to more cities?

One hopes that, as Google Glass becomes better understood (it's not recording you all the time), people will calm down, and altercations like the one at Molotov's will cease and desist. But for now, Google Glass is a symbol of socio-economic class tension. Add to that the exorbitant price tag and the ease with which a thief could snag Glass from your face, and there's not much going for it as a consumer product -- breathtaking augmented reality features aside.

So where will Google Glass grow up? It's already doing so in enterprises, mostly for field service technicians and logistics pros in manufacturing plants, where Glass can speed up productivity and address specific worker needs. Doctors are also using Glass to access patient records without taking their eyes off the procedure at hand. Gartner forecasts that the use of Google Glass and other smart glasses will help add more than $1 billion per year to company profits by 2017. So there's that… and the fact that nobody at work is going to smack you upside the head for wearing Google Glass.

But don't expect such courtesy out on the mean streets. At this point, Google Glass has too much working against it to appeal to thrifty consumers overserved by smartphones and tablets and now glancing at the smartwatch menu. Most of us are too poor, distracted, and humble for Google Glass.

As a tech enthusiast, I'm excited about Glass and other smart glasses as ambitious niche products for savvy developers, warehouse workers, technicians, doctors, and nurses. Business productivity has found a friend.

The same can't be said for consumers.

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