Ever since Google first unveiled the original prototypes for its wearable Glass technology in 2012, the tech giant has faced one major obstacle to large-scale adoption: what the thing looks like. Sure, it's also expensive and poses any number of ethical concerns. But when it comes to consumer electronics, those kinds of problems always take a back seat to convincing people that they'd want to use something outside of a space like the Consumer Electronics Show or Comic Con.
When "use something" becomes "wear something on the most visible and recognizable part of your body all day," the challenge understandably increases. And as Wired writer Mat Honan noted last year, wearing Glass is still considered odd enough that even other technology journalists scoff at the sight.
Today, Google unveiled its latest attempt to break out of this design mold with the "titanium collection," which consists of four new frames to which the Glass computer can be affixed. At $225 a pop, the frames are reasonable priced compared to other brand-name frames — though they still require the $1,500 investment in Glass as well. Speaking to The Verge, lead designer Isabelle Olsson said that the frames were not intended to be "a new technology" in their own right, but "a new accessory to the technology." And just like regular glasses frames, the titanium collection will be compatible with prescription lenses for people who need them, or non-prescription ones for those who find the frame-less versions too alien.
The most striking thing to notice about the titanium collection, then, is just how normal they look, for lack of a better word. Sure, there's still the whole matter of the computer being perched on your face. But Google is doing something deceptively clever here: in redesigning one of the most futuristic pieces of technology possible, it's hearkening back to what the company hopes will one day be seen as its predecessor in the field of wearable tech.
Of course, there are going to be snags along the way. Glasses were first invented in the late 13th century to solve a particular problem: people couldn't see clearly enough. As the technology became more ubiquitous and readily accepted, its aesthetic and social role evolved as well.
The fact that glasses, like braces, can still serve as a point of embarrassment for many of their "users" only goes to show how steep the uphill battle is for Google here. But even then, the tech giant can still do more to start thinking of itself as a fashion company, which is what it might need to do to turn Google Glass into something most people would actually want to wear.
Olsson told The Verge that the company arrived at the four new frames by breaking down the "thousands of styles" one would find at a glasses store into broad groups: "when you when you start to categorize them you realize that there are only about six to eight styles that people wear."
This is exactly the kind of smart analytical mindset you'd expect from a company like Google, and it may work for the broad brushstrokes with which ideas about any emerging technology must be painted. But as the legendary design guru Donald Norman explained to me during CES, it’s the multiplicity of different kinds of "wearable technology" like, say, glasses or jackets that make people so invested in them. It's only when there are enough different kinds of models available that you can start using these devices to say something about yourself, and when the technology in turn "becomes a symbol of who you are."
Four new frames is a good start in this regard. But Google is going to need a lot more than that before Glass really starts to take off.