Image: courtesy Google Glass
On Monday, Google and Italian eyewear designer Luxottica announced they’d “joined forces” to work on Google Glass. You might not recognise the name Luxottica, but you’ll definitely have heard of the brands in their portfolio, which include hipster favourite Ray-Ban and sports must-have Oakley. At long last, Glass might just have solved its fashion problem.
While you might expect many brands to bend over backwards to work with Google, there’s no doubt that getting Luxottica onboard is a bit of a coup for the tech giant. According to a Forbes article, the company owned 80 percent of the high-end eyewear market in 2012, with over 500 million people wearing their products. Most importantly, that popularity is complemented by an undeniable cool factor that Glass desperately needs.
The power of fashion can’t be underestimated in tech (though there’s a tendency among techies to shy away from the f-word and call it “design”). That's especially true when it comes to wearables—and even more so when it concerns wearables you’re going to put on your face. When even Google is referring to its users as glassholes, you know it's got a bit of an image problem.
Google X leader Astro Teller apparently recognises this, telling the Wall Street Journal that convincing people to don face-computers is “a fashion problem as much as it is a technology problem.” One glance at the photo of him wearing Glass next to Luxottica CEO Andrea Guerra in his classy spectacles is enough to tell you who you’d rather have designing your accessories.
Google’s had a go at making Glass actually wearable before with the launch of its Titanium Collection frames earlier this year, but the result was still clearly the workings of a tech company, which apparently came across its final designs by amalgamating the thousands of glasses frames people choose into a minimal selection of catch-all options. But that kind of robotic analytical approach to design ignores the whole point of fashion: to add a bit of flair. In its statement regarding the Luxottica deal, Glass admitted the collection was “not enough.”
Luxottica, on the other hand, has design down. They confirmed that Ray-Ban and Oakley will be involved in the Google project, which basically means that whatever kind of Glass they end up with, it will be cool—at least more so than it was before. Where convincing people Glass is fashionable would be a monstrous task for Google alone, Luxottica probably won’t even have to try; its products almost are by definition.
Ray-Ban sunglasses (no Glass yet). Image: Flickr/Sean
It’s interesting that in Google’s release on the latest news, they emphasise the nature of Glass as a pair of glasses rather than a high-tech gadget, characterising the device as the “next chapter” in eyewear development, and not a separate new gizmo. That casts Glass as an item you wear all the time, rather than a toy to play with now and then, and suggests that the first word of “wearable tech” is just as important as the second (which is something I've argued before).
Quite what the Luxottica-Glass partnership will bring in terms of products is still under wraps, but it sounds like they (thankfully) won’t just be sticking a Glass device on a pair of Wayfarers. Luxottica’s statement announced they’d be working on a “new breed of eyewear for Glass” and would “work together across multiple efforts on the creation of innovative iconic wearable devices.”
That’s promising, as there’s only so aesthetically pleasing you can make the Glass computer, even if you hack it onto a pair of frames that aren’t as dorky as the Glass standard—though presumably the basic device will have to remain similar to maintain the same level of functionality.
Another aspect Luxottica brings to the party is retail potential. The company has 7,000 worldwide stores, and while Glass is still only available to limited “explorers” at the moment, that could come in handy further down the distribution road. Picking frames out of a Ray-Ban store window is undoubtedly a much more attractive proposition to consumers than ordering blind off the web.
Of course, adding a dose of cool does nothing to allay one of Glass’ biggest concerns: privacy fears. But at least if Glass looks more normal—and less like a not-so-secret recording device stuck to your temple—other people might be less inclined to reject the tech outright.
Sure, people will still call Glass users glassholes even if they're wearing chill shades. But just as cursing at hipsters never stopped anyone buying a plaid shirt, fashion could be enough to overcome those taunts.