Thoughts on Google Glass and the Overall Wearable Market

by Harry Wang | Apr. 15, 2014

Today marks the day, and the only day, that Google sells its much hyped and controversial Google Glass to the public. After almost a year of invitation-only trials by a few thousands tech junkies (I am still sour on the fact that Google has not sent me a pair even I consider myself a “junkie”), the public finally has a chance to test themselves. No one knows what the market response will be like, but we will know pretty quickly if the stock will be sold out quickly, or otherwise.

No matter what the results will be, I don’t believe Google Glass will be 1/5th as popular as the other hot gadget that Google put out—Chromecast. At $1,500, Google Glass is creating a niche market for this high-end wearable, compared with Chromecast, a mass market product priced at $35.

But here is the catch: Google is smart to partner with fashion house Luxottica, which owns brands such as Ray-ban, Oakley, and Vogue. Although these co-branded glasses will not arrive on the market until 2015, it shows that Google plans to “fashion-ize” the Glass to appeal to a bigger addressable market beyond just “explorers.”

Google’s move reflects the overall challenges of the larger wearable product category in marketing and product differentiation. As technology products get personal, even intimate in some cases, consumers will trade features for appearance. It is probably okay for two women to pull out the same Samsung Galaxy phone in public, but it is definitely a no-no if the two ladies find out they wear the same blouse for the same occasion. That’s my point—wearables need to be personalized and fashion-ized to create the perception (or illusion) that they show personal taste, social status, or lifestyle preference—tricks fashion brands know best in their trade.

I remembered my conversation with MetaWatch’s Andy Tarczon about the Smart Watch market. The statistics of the watch industry Andy quoted say it all—out of the 1.2 billion watches sold each year, one billion are from the cheap Quartz watches from East Asia under $10 a piece. Although these cheap watches account for over 80% of the volume, they are only 20% of the total revenues. High-end and mid-tier watches take 80% of revenue home, and perhaps 90% of the profit of the industry, because they know how to brand and differentiate a personal product.

For companies in the wearable technology market, this new category creates new market opportunities. Technology will always drive cost downward and entice vendors to compete on price or features. But it’s high time for them to think about their product not as a tech gadget, but a fashion brand.

Parks Associates will release its first wearable computing report in May, and at Connections in mid-May, we will also host a panel on the wearable topics, especially their opportunities in the connected home. Feel free to reach us if you have any thoughts on this exciting market.

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