Smart glasses and wearables will only succeed if they are transparent

Ray-Ban smart glasses
Ray-Ban smart glasses. Image credit Ray-Ban.

Smart glasses and wearables generally have so far failed to capture the imagination. Jouko Ahvenainen wondered why a couple of weeks ago and came to the conclusion that big brands cannot provide the ecosystem that makes wearables a valuable proposition.

Then Facebook launches a pair of smart glasses, in conjunction with cool brand Ray-Ban and you can suddenly see why some wearables have succeeded.

And many have failed.

First, you need the ‘cool’. Apple managed, sort of, to capture the cool with its Apple Watch. It coincided with a consumer trend to become healthier and fitter and, with that sense of timing that Apple can quite often pull off, launched a fitness device at the moment that fitness became cool.

Second, as Jouko says, you need value in depth. This means partnerships are vital for success. You need the ‘cool’ and you need the value from the data that, say, an Apple Watch can provide. You look cool and you can monitor how well you are doing and how healthy you are.

What you do not need is creepy.

The smart glasses from Facebook may have looked cool to the marketing guys at Facebook. Hey, we’re doing this with Ray-Ban, what on earth could go wrong.

The trouble with these smart glasses is that they come with a tiny camera. They are called Ray-Ban Stories (the marketing team were on a break) and, as the name suggests, you can record videos and produce stories. You can use a ‘capture’ button or the app to start your ‘story’ and when the camera is rolling, a tiny little light comes on.

Except, you can hardly see it and you can cover it up pretty easily. This means that instead of ‘cool’ you have ‘creepy’ and no one likes creepy marketing, or anything else.

There have been a few iterations of smart glasses. Remember Google Glass, which we made much fun of, dreaming up scenarios where wearers would be wandering down a street, blinking and winking and bumping into lampposts and people and generally causing chaos.

They disappeared for a while but reappeared in more specific environments. Medical use cases for those smart glasses made more sense. A surgeon, for instance, might need to check a fact or result, his scalpel posed. With smart glasses, he could do this without having to stop, scrub out, check the data and scrub back in.

For smart glasses or any wearable, to succeed, the product must have that balance of ‘cool’ and useful. Creepy and secretive will not cut it, not one little bit, whatever Facebook says it leads to.

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