The Problem with Google's Concept Video

By Trevor Gilbert , written on April 6, 2012

From The News Desk

As most of the readers of this site are aware of by now, Google has released a concept video of a new product it is working on called Project Glass. Apparently the progress is far enough along that the company felt it was safe to share the product in a concept video and gather user feedback on what people would like to see in the hypothetical product.

Reacting to this, John Gruber of Daring Fireball said that Google is now Microsoft. MG Siegler chimed in saying that it'd be nice if it works, but he's doubtful. John Biggs of TechCrunch responded saying that sometimes it is nice to have a cool concept video to watch, and that we should all shut up.

Each of them is partially right, but the thing is, regardless of any excuses now, Google should never have released the video.

There are a number of possible reasons that Google could have had in deciding to release the video. The first is that Google wanted to show off something cool and gather feedback. The second is that Google wanted to break the news itself, rather than have it leaked like self-driving cars. The third is that Google believes that creating prototype hardware is worthy of celebration.

None of these is an appealing situation. The first shows that Google needs to figure out that technology revolutions are started by revolutionizing something, not by gathering feedback from users pre-launch. The second shows that Google could have built up more buzz by just letting employees use them in public and never saying anything -- that would be excitement -- but instead went the overly safe route. The third shows that Google doesn't understand the hardware business.

To be clear, I have no inside information that any of the above scenarios are true. At the same time, Google could have some secret information on other projects going on at Apple and Microsoft about HUD glasses, and wanted to have the "innovator's crown" for this revolution (a problem of its own). However, I can't write stories about hypotheticals, so unless Google reveals its master plan, we can only deal with the facts.

The facts are that there is no benefit to Google releasing a video about this secret project. It won't improve the product, because no one will understand the implications of using this until they use them. It won't create extra excitement, because people would be more excited if the project was secret and headlines said things like, "Google Employees Wearing Strange Glasses! Hiding When Confronted." Finally, it doesn't improve the industry's perception of Google as a company, as made evident by the mixed reaction to the video.

A video doesn't bring in money, it doesn't improve a device, it doesn't build up lasting excitement, and it doesn't better a brand. A video provides a lasting moment of delight for users to entices them with a promise of a bold new future, without any of the future attached. It's like smelling a pie but having no pie. Or worse yet, having the pie exist, but only available to the chef's assistants.

Google would have been better off not releasing the video. The important thing is to ship a product, not talk about a prototype or share a concept video. While I disagree with John Gruber's assertion that Google is now Microsoft, it is reminiscent of the Courier. If everyone will go back a few years, we will all remember Microsoft's now defunct tablet project that excited everyone so very, very much. Have you ever used a Courier? No? Me neither, it never shipped. (See also: car video)

Instead of shipping an amazing device, Microsoft put out a video. Sure, a video that tickles my fancy, but in the end putting out a five minute video entertains for five minutes, while shipping a revolution pays dividends -- literally -- for years. Until proven otherwise by a shipped product that lives up to the perfection shown in the video, Google has done the same. They've shipped a very nicely packaged video. Which is too bad, because I for one love a good revolution, regardless of brand.

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