At last, the ‘cool’ factor is in sight for Google Glass

It started out as just a night at the movies. In January, a local man took his wife to Easton Mall in Ohio to watch the new Jack Ryan spy film – Shadow Recruit. Half-way through, fiction suddenly turned into frightening reality when he was approached by a man from Homeland Security. The officer snatched the man’s spectacles off his face and insisted he, and his wife, immediately leave the theatre.

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Outside, they were met by federal agents who quizzed the man about his spectacles and what he was doing in the cinema. He and his wife were separated into interview rooms and spent the next four hours in interrogation. It might sound like an Orwellian nightmare but the root of the man’s problems was his choice of spectacles – Google Glass.

He was wearing Glass because it had prescription lenses, but the recording capability of the wearable tech’s computer functionality were turned off, which he proved when he plugged his Glass into a computer and showed the federal agents a total lack of any images or video from the                                                                      past few hours.

It’s a frightening story but entirely typical of the constant stream of attention, not all of it good, that has been focused on Google Glass since its inception. Despite a global launch that is still another six to eight months away, hardly a week goes by without prototypes of the product making headline news.

Marc Newson the famous industrial designer, for example, spent last week criticising Glass during an interview to promote his own new line of spectacles. “What Google has done thus far, I wouldn’t be seen dead wearing. It really looks stupid,” he told Dezeen magazine. “It’s a bit like that wonderful invention called the Segway. It’s such a fantastic piece of technology but you just look like a complete dick when you drive around on it”.

That’s exactly the response that Google has been trying so hard to avoid since launching the Glass prototype two years ago. The company was so worried about the effect of geeks adopting the product first and alienating the rest of the market that it specifically pre-launched Glass to a small band of ‘explorers’ who gained the right to buy the first spectacles based on their coolness and appropriate use of the new technology.

Although that targeting programme deserves plaudits – if you have seen Glass on the street, it’s almost certainly being sported by an attractive non-nerd – but it will take more than geek avoidance to make Glass a success. Specifically, Google has now recognised two fundamental issues with Glass that it plans to rectify prior to its Christmas 2014 launch.

First, Google might be a cool tech brand but it has a long way to go to cross the chasm from technology to wearable cool. Second, the Glass itself looks a bit shit. No matter how cool the wearer might be, the side of the Glass looks like an early science experiment gone wrong or a flattened iPhone stuck to the side of your face.

So Google is trying to fix these issues. Last Monday, the company announced a partnership with the Luxottica Group – the largest eyewear company in the world – to design and distribute frames for Google Glass. The announcement suggests more than simply attractive frames for Glass as we approach Christmas. It opens up the tantalising prospect of co-branding.

Based in Italy, Luxottica owns big brands like Ray-Ban, Oakley and Persol and the licences for luxury eyewear offerings from greats such as Prada, Armani and Chanel. The new deal means that Google will benefit not only from better designed spectacles but also the important associations of cool authenticity and legitimacy that come from Ray-Ban and Oakley (the first two brands confirmed as manufacturers of Glass eyewear). In return, these brands get an all-important injection of modernity and excitement and a genuine source of editorial coverage and traffic into store.

It’s a partnership that makes perfect strategic sense. This Christmas we will find out if it has produced a marriage made in heaven.

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