Wearable tech has only recently been coming into the mainstream. Smart watches were the first form of wearable tech to garner widespread usage. Pebble, Fitbit, and, eventually, the Apple Watch opened the door to wearable smart devices.
Smart glasses in the past have struggled to break into the mainstream. Let’s take a look at the Google Glass for example. It was a device built in terms of what engineers wanted, not in terms of what customers would want*.
Let’s just take a subjective look at the Google Glass. The only person who would want to be seen in public with these is a Silicon Valley engineer. Very few non-engineers would want to wear something so un-stylish and obtrusive.
From a more objective standpoint, the Google Glass was over-engineered and over-priced. A pair of glasses that retails at $1,500 is not a consumer product, no matter how ‘smart’ it is. In Joan Schneider and Julie Hall’s article ‘Why Most Product Launches Fail’ in the Harvard Business Review, they dive into 5 common flaws in product launching. One of these is ‘the product is revolutionary, but there’s no market for it’. This is where the Google Glass failed. Google didn’t ask the vital question Schneider and Hall pose, which is “Who will buy this and at what price?”. They spent time and money making a platform, not a retail-able product.
Now, its unfair to say that Google Glass was a failure. It may have been a commercial failure, but that does not mean it was a failure. Google gathered some valuable data from the experiment and has been working on their next generation of smart glasses**.
Let’s take a look at Snap Inc’s new Spectacles. They don’t have a suite of features or developer tools — tap a button and record a Snapchat, that’s it.
So, why have the Spectacles been such a hit so far? A few reasons. First, they have an artificially limited supply. The financial benefits of restricting product supply have been written about extensively in management literature. This drives exclusivity and further hypes up the product. From the linked Stanford article, “limiting the supply…increase[s] bidder competition for the goods”. When there is a limited supply, consumers are more willing to pay a premium. Look at how much Spectacles are selling on ebay for as proof of this. Spectacles retail at $130, but re-sell online for $300+.
Most importantly, Snap Inc. simply got the design right. The Spectacles don’t look obtrusive like Google Glass. They’re fun and whimsical — they look like a toy. Snap Inc. didn’t build sunglasses around cameras, they built cameras around sunglasses. Design came first and the positive consumer reaction has benefited directly from this.
Even their delivery method is fun and design-centered. Initially, you had to find their cute Spectacle vending machines which were hidden and moved across the country. And now until New Year’s Eve, there’s a Spectacles pop-up shop*** in NYC.
With their trendy design and low price-point, Snap Inc successfully traversed the questions of “Who will buy this and at what price?”.
*I believe this is true for many Google projects. See: Google+, new versions of Chrome, Project Ara, etc.
**Please Google, drop the “Google Glass” brand from the next generation of smart glasses. It’s already attributed to Silicon Valley pretentiousness by the non-tech community.
***From Amazon’s Treasure Truck to Kanye West’s ‘Pablo’ shops, pop-up shops seem to be the ‘in’ trend for retail right now, frequently following the trend of using exclusivity to drive demand.