Google wants to mass produce a computer you wear on your face

An employee demonstrates how a pair of Google Glass connected glasses are capable of reading barcodes on day three of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. (Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg)

Google is partnering with eyewear industry giant Luxxotica to turn Google Glass into a fashion statement more people will want to make.

The deal is Google’s biggest effort so far to make its internet-enabled eyewear a mainstream accessory and prove the company is committed to  wearable technology.

Other wearable tech companies have also looked to the fashion industry for guidance. Fitbit partnered with Tory Burch to make fitness trackers that look like stylish jewelry. Intel partnered with Opening Ceremony to make smart bracelets. But a high-tech bracelet just isn’t the same as wearing a computer on your face because, well, it’s on your face.

Luxottica which controls more than 80 percent of major eyewear brands, including big names like Chanel and Prada, will design, manufacture and distribute frames for Glass. The first Glass-enabled brands, Ray-Ban and Oakley will be sold only in the U.S. market at first. A release date has not been finalized.

“The sophistication and elegance of this new generation of products will be a dramatic step forward,” Luxottica said in a statement, suggesting the new specs will be vast improvement over earlier models.

In terms of style, the early Glass was basically the ocular version of the gadget belt worn by the geeky Data Wang in The Goonies, or perhaps an accessory Joan Cusack’s character in Sixteen Candles would have donned at the high school dance.

Far from fashion forward, wearers of the technology are known as “glassholes.”

Google has been trying to beef up Glass’ street-style cred for a few months now. Models wearing Glass appeared in the all-important fashion bellwether, the September issue of Vogue. Diane Von Furstenberg sent her models down the runway in Google Glass at New York Fashion Week in September.

In terms of style, the Glass redesign released in January was an upgrade from the version Google made available to testers and developers last April.

The redesign included sleeker titanium frames in four shapes with an option to get prescription lenses. In a society obsessed with appearances, making Glass less strange-looking will be a key step to convincing people to wear a computer on their face. The partnership with Luxottica “marks the start of a new chapter in Glass’s design,” Google said.

Fashion isn’t the only hurdle to mainstream acceptance of Glass. It has been banned in bars and lawmakers want to ban it while driving. A San Francisco woman was assaulted last month for wearing Google Glass to a local bar and an Ohio man was interrogated by Homeland Security after wearing Glass to a movie.

People see Glass as intrusive. They are afraid of being filmed without realizing it, or fear that facial recognition apps for Glass could be used to identify strangers on the sidewalk. Google recently tried to debunk some of the myths about Glass but skepticism lingers, perhaps in part because people can’t try Glass for themselves since the product isn’t commercially available.

With Luxottica in charge of distribution, finding the new Google Glass frames should be no problem once they’re ready to debut. By some estimates, the company controls 40 to 50 percent of  the US eyeglass and sunglass market, according to the Washington Post. Its holdings include Lenscrafters, Sunglass Hut and the optical department at Target.

The company’s lock on the eyewear industry means it can get away with charging high prices for its product, earning it bad press in the past. With Google Glass frames currently selling for $1500 a pop (to a select few) it’s unclear whether the Luxottica partnership will make the new Glass frames a better bargain for consumers. The companies have not decided how much the commercial version of Glass will sell for.

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.



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