Can Google Glass Overcome Social Stigma With Enterprise Scenarios?

This week, Google released a new promotional video for Google Glass that featured a non-consumer scenario – public safety. In this case, firefighters can use Glass to help them in a hands-free way in the field. For example, they can pull up an architectural schematic of a burning building before they run inside. They can pull up design specs for specific models of cars before using the jaws of life to save a crash victim. Or they can locate the nearest fire hydrant. Take a look:

Public safety is well-established as a scenario for wearable technology – as Motorola Solutions and other vendors have shown in their product portfolios. In this case, it also pulls at the heart-strings: Who’s more beloved by the general public than firefighters and other first responders?

That emotional connection is important, because Google Glass faces some significant PR problems – even before the product has really launched. You can see this in the derisive monikers popping up for Google Glass users as well as through news reports of Glass-banning and even an arrest. All of this fits under the rubric of social stigma, the perception that using Google Glass isn’t a socially acceptable behavior. What are the sources of this social stigma? They include:

  • Privacy concerns for bystanders. Google might have underestimated the negative reaction people would have to a device that can take photos of them discretely – with a wink of their eye – at any time. In turn, these privacy concerns are creating potential legal concerns.
  • Privacy concerns for wearers. At the same time, wearers (aka potential buyers) of Google Glass will be ceding a great deal of their privacy to take maximum advantage of the device. Will buyers be willing to make the tradeoff – privacy for functionality?
  • Conspicuous consumption. Glass suffers from an elitist perception – a $1,500 toy for the 1% of tech. How can Google broaden the market to a mainstream?
  • Lack of élan. Like most wearables, Glass suffers from a certain fashion awkwardness. Other companies are working on partnerships with the fashion community – Intel with Barney’s and Fitbit with Tory Burch – to solve this problem, but it will take a while to get there.

To overcome these elements of social stigma, Google is (smartly) engaging in some storytelling about scenarios in which people can use Glass to improve their lives. But Google’s choice of the public safety scenario also points to another solution to the social stigma problem: An enterprise model. For consumers, wearables are wrapped up in cultural patterns — and wearables create blowback when the devices don’t mesh with those patterns. But enterprise-provided devices are perceived as professional tools, no more threatening than a doctor's stethoscope or a UPS driver's electronic clipboard.

I’ve written a report about how enterprises will adopt and use wearables to drive business value. I invite you to read and download the report here.

 J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder.

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