10 Apr 2014

Google Glass: Finding Non-Consumers

New Market Disruption - Non-Consumers

In my last post on "field-of-vision" tech, I hypothesized that these products were unlikely to be "good enough" for mainstream usage for at least five years. Initially, their success will not depend on mainstream appeal, but on their value to a certain niche of "non-consumers". The traction seen by Google Glass in sectors like medicine seems to be consistent with this pattern.

The hallmark of a new market disruption is that it initially appeals to a niche customer base because of unique attributes that no other product category can offer. This occurs despite its sub-par performance on attributes valued by the mainstream market -- in this case, design, speed, user experience, app ecosystem. For example, early smartphones only appealed to business users even though they were clunky, difficult to use and had poor battery life. However, email access on the go was a feature valued by that particular segment and one that no other product category could match.

Keeping the above in mind, let's take a look at a few quotes from early Glass customers:

Surgeon from UCSF: "There’s relatively little shift of attention between seeing the patient in front of you and seeing critical information in your field of vision."
CEO of Wearable Intelligence on why Schlumberger (an oil services company) uses Glass: "Their hands can be elbow-deep in grease and they can still navigate their checklist, hands-free." 
Firefighter: "I’m the driver of a ladder truck, so it’s helpful to see that map really quickly and get a real quick glance of where we’re going."

The common theme from the quotes above is that these customers value access to information in their field of vision (something that existing mobile computing products cannot offer). This unique feature is likely to go unchallenged by existing product categories while other attributes (design, speed, user experience, app ecosystem) continue to improve. The key question to ask then is if "field-of-vision" products can improve sufficiently on other attributes to cater to mainstream consumers.