Google's partnership with the glasses giant Luxottica is much more than just a fashion play: It's a plan to get Google Glass into every mall in America, and in doing so gain cultural acceptance.
The Italian glasses empire not only owns Ray-Ban and Oakley, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, but pretty much every single eyewear brand found in your local Sunglass Hut or LensCrafters, which, by the way, Luxottica also owns. Coach, Chanel, Oliver Peoples, Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren: All of them are designed, created, and manufactured by Luxottica. The entire glasses industry, besides a few emergent players like Warby Parker, is controlled by one company that also owns essentially all of the glasses stores and the world's largest vision care plan, EyeMed. By partnering with the most dominant player in the market, Google Glass can get its headsets into a huge, very effective, and very lucrative supply chain.
"In one fell swoop, Google could get Glass in front of tens or hundreds of millions of consumers in an eyewear-appropriate setting," one analyst told The Journal. According to a recent 60 Minutes expose of the company's monopoly, half a billion people wear a Luxottica-made pair of glasses. The company also owns over 5,000 eyewear outlets. "If you make glasses you want to be in their stores," 60 Minutes's Lesley Stahl said. And Google has found itself in the (high-tech) glasses business.
The move represents a significant shift in Glass's strategy to gain cultural acceptance. To date, Glass has been available only via the company's "Explorers" program, with several thousand early adopters testing out early versions of the technology in their day-to-day lives.
Last year, it was rumored that Google had partnered with Warby Parker to create fashionable lenses for its face computers. This chatter indicated that Google was possibly taking a bottom-up, high-fashion approach to getting people excited about wearing Glass. It would first create something for the more fashion conscious, and hopefully those people would convince the rest of us that we, too, want to look like beautiful robots. It also launched a redesign that made the device look less like something out of an '80s movie about the future and more like something you'd wear in normal life.
That strategy hasn't quite worked—even with the likes of Diane von Furstenberg and Vogue models donning the eyewear. The term "glasshole" and privacy concerns still haunt Google to the point that just last month the company put out a guide about how not to act like a creep.
It's not too surprising, then, that Google has moved away from the fashionista angle. The announcement of this partnership shows Google wants to go bigger—and not just in fashion or tech-centric cities like New York and San Francisco.
"Luxottica understands how to build, distribute, and sell great products that their clients and consumers love–-something we care deeply about at Glass, too," reads Google's announcement of the partnership. "They'll bring design and manufacturing expertise to the mix, and, together, we'll bring even more Glass style choices to our Explorers. In addition, Luxottica’s retail and wholesale distribution channels will serve us well when we make Glass available to more people down the road." In other words: Luxottica has some serious muscle in the space, which Google sorely needs.
If Google can't win over the self-conscious with a grass-roots campaign, maybe forcing us to stare at Glass every time we walk into a LensCrafters, Target, Sunglass Hut, Pearl Vision, or Sears Optical will normalize the cyborg thing.
[Image: Flickr user Giuseppe Costantino]