As Google revealed March 27 that it would bring the manufacturing of its much-hyped Google Glass product to U.S. shores in conjunction with Taiwan’s Foxconn — the electronics maker for Apple’s iPhone and iPad — the tech world went wild with speculation over whether or not this decision is simply the next in Google’s dramatic series of marketing ploys to gain consumer favor for its Glass product.
Google Glass is a pair of internet-connected glasses that function through voice recognition commands and have sped up industry hype for the augmented reality sector. Yet Google has not been able to drum up as much interest in its wearable technology as it had hoped. At US$1,500 a pop, that is not a surprise. But its consumer outreach has hit the kind of market that might actually consider buying a product like Glass for that price: Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, was prominent at New York Fashion Week in September 2012 with designer Diane Von Furstenburg, both of whom sported the glasses. DVF’s team later published a video made from footage captured by models wearing the glasses as they walked the runway. This stunt sparked a wave of further publicity from Google in which Brin wore the glasses on a New York City subway, and most recently awarded 8,000 recipients free Glass units through a U.S.-based contest.
These ploys aside, the putative “Made in America” tag on Google Glass has earned the tech giant positive, if puzzled reviews. Foxconn is notorious for its labor practices in its work with Apple — China-based factories were the sites of massive protests in 2012 over worker conditions, and Apple continuously made public statements about its efforts to better conditions and qualm public concern. Yet as the U.S. economy continues its struggle to revive manufacturing jobs, this move from Google and Foxconn is seen favorably should Google make good on its promise to bring factories to regions near Silicon Valley. It is also seen as a complement to President Barack Obama’s federal initiative to reshore manufacturing jobs as his administration launched the Make It In America Challenge in 2012. As long as the chief tenor of Glass reviews remains what it’s largely been so far — namely, What is this product good for, exactly? — expect more high-profile moves of this kind. But if Microsoft’s gargantuan $1.5 billion marketing scheme for its Surface tablet — including banner ads on every New York City subway car — is a lesson from which to learn, not even the most grandiose of marketing plans can save certain products.