Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) (NASDAQ: GOOG ) (NASDAQ: GOOG ) hired Ivy Ross, design guru and marketing evangelist at some of the big names in the fashion world, to lead its Glass team. Ross is tasked with convincing the masses to embrace Google Glass as a cool and fashionable gadget, not something only techies would want to buy.
Can Google depend on Ross to meet that challenge or does she have more on her plate than she can handle? And is Glass' fashion problem just the tip of the iceberg?
Simple steps to make wearables wearable
The move bodes well for Glass' efforts to put the wearability in wearables. The $1,500 pair of smart specs has already made inroads in the fashion world. In fact, it has reached the upper echelons of influence when it comes to trendsetting style.
It was featured in a 12-page editorial in last year's encyclopedic September issue of Vogue. During New York's Fall Fashion Week in 2012, legendary for her vibrant patterns, Diane von Furstenberg sent her models down the runway wearing the augmented reality glasses.
More recently, the tech giant shook hands with Italian eyewear maker and Ray-ban's parent company Luxottica (NYSE: LUX ) (NYSE: LUX ) (NYSE: LUX ) on a deal that's a big win for Google. Luxottica's extensive wholesale distribution network and over 7,000 stores worldwide will give Google direct access to hundreds of millions of consumers in an eyewear-appropriate setting.
Handing over the reins to a world-class fashion executive was the next logical step.
What's Ross bringing to the table?
Ivy Ross might not be a tech expert, but she's bringing an impressive track record, fashion expertise, and marketing know-how to the Glass team. She knows how to design and sell people stuff that they actually want to wear. In her own words, she has worked at "Calvin Klein, Swatch, Coach, Mattel, Bausch & Lomb, Gap, and, most recently, Art.com -- at the intersection of design and marketing."
Research has shown that women -- who, generally speaking, care more about looks than men do -- outnumber men among prospective buyers of wearable-tech devices. Ross' sense of style could shake off Glass' dorky feeling and turn it into a cool gadget every lady would have on her wish list.
More importantly, having worked for both mid-level and higher-end labels means that she understands the ins and outs of luring people into paying through the nose for things that might be inexpensive to make, just like Google Glass. A recent report from TechInsights' Teardown.com revealing that the high-tech headpiece costs less than $80 to produce, even though it sells for a whopping $1,500, caused quite a stir. Ross could find a way to frame the futuristic headset in a way that makes consumers feel that they're getting their money's worth.
Why fixing Glass' image problem is important
Turning Glass' perception around has never been more crucial, especially now that the battle for the lion's share in the smart-glass market is getting tougher.
Word is out that Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF ) will unveil a Google Glass competitor as early as this September. If a new report from Business Korea turns out to be true, Samsung, which sells the largest number of Android phones worldwide, will come out with its own version of smart specs, titled the Gear Glass. The South Korean tech giant plans to power it through its Tizen operating system rather than Android and equip it with an earpiece for listening to music and answering calls.
Moreover, while Glass has sparked extraordinary public interest, it is yet impossible to say if it will take off business-wise. Even so, looking ahead, Glass could be an essential part of Google's business and growth strategy. It could be Google's way of introducing the world into technologies that are likely to shape our future.
"With Google Glass, the computer sees what you see and hears what you hear, opening up serious artificial intelligence opportunities. Continuous monitoring is likely to be a powerful element in our lives: health monitoring, environment and security controls, traffic management, flow of materials.... Google Glass and similar devices will draw computing power into context of your interactions with other people and the environment. This gives a new foothold for artificial intelligence," Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, pointed out to Pew Research recently.
Positioning Glass as a more mainstream consumer product is of paramount importance.
How big is the iceberg?
Shaking off that dorky feeling might be easier said than done. Experimenting with different colors and designs to make Glass fashionable or even spending vast amounts of marketing dollars on pushing it into the mainstream might not do the trick. There's undeniably a stigma attached to wearing a computer on your face.
Recently, Google published a post titled " The Top 10 Google Glass Myths" in an effort to address the skepticism surrounding the device. "In its relatively short existence, Glass has seen some myths develop around it. While we're flattered by the attention, we thought it might make sense to tackle them, just to clear the air," Google asserted.
The fact that Google had to go into the trouble of defending its product says a lot about public perception of Glass-like futuristic devices and limitations stemming from what people feel comfortable to use.
Glass encompasses the "new normal" -- living life through technology, not around technology. Social acceptance of the "new normal" is an issue that needs to undergo a sea change. But the time for this might not have yet come or the product that could provoke this change might not have been invented yet.
Slowly but surely the worlds of fashion and consumer electronics are converging. Fashion start-ups are testing the technology waters in a daring way while more and more tech giants are turning to established designers and fashion experts for help. Ivy Ross could work wonders for Glass.
Nevertheless, Rome wasn't built in a day. All that Glass may need to be successful is a little more time.
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