For all the Jetsonian innovation packed into Google Glass, the product just couldn’t live down its most glaring flaw: the dork factor. For regular people, the mere idea of a face computer is a creepy nonstarter. To Google, it’s concluded Glass’s stigma is just a fashion problem.
Investing in this hypothesis, Google is teaming up with Italian eyewear giant Luxxotica to build the next iteration of Glass, according to Fortune. While most people have never heard of the massive eyewear company, they certainly know the brands it produces for–everyone from Ray-Ban to Oakley to Prada. Glass is no longer being run by the geeks inside Google X research lab; it’s now being handled by Nest CEO and Apple vet Tony Fadell. Can the engine behind the world’s biggest eyeglass brands de-dorkify wearable tech’s most ambitious product?
With this partnership, Google seems to be taking a page from Apple’s playbook. Before Cupertino’s first foray into wearables started shipping this week, Apple went to great lengths to craft a product that would be seen as fashionable, rather than just pumping out another gadget. In fact, some speculate that the Apple Watch isn’t called the iWatch simply because the company wants to invoke style before technology, despite the fact that it’s essentially a souped-up iPod Nano strapped to your wrist. If pre-orders and early press are any indication, this fashion-sensitive angling is paying off for Apple.
It makes sense: Once technology becomes wearable, it can become a barrier between an individual and those around them. These gadgets need to look more like accessories we’d buy in a boutique than the computers they are inhabiting. With the first version of Glass, Google let its engineering sensibility dominate, emphasizing its technical feats. That’s all well and good until somebody shows up to your party wearing a camera-equipped computer on their face, looking like a robot.
This isn’t the first time Google’s dabbled with the fashionista set. In recent years, it ran a limited-edition collaboration with DVF and appeared in a 12-page Vogue spread. This time around Google will try to mitigate its challenges through design. However, half the battle here may not be hardware after all, but marketing different behavior. Maybe smart glasses just aren’t something we should wear in every situation? What might be great for perusing an art gallery or performing surgery might not be ideal for a first date. Even if they happen to be Google Glass camouflaged as Ray-Bans.