Will Google Glass Fuse High Tech With High Fashion?

Acclaimed designer Diane von Furstenberg recently launched the DVF Made for Glass collection, a line of premium frames for Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Glass aimed squarely at addressing the "nerd factor" that has discouraged the widespread adoption of the device.

DVF Made for Glass. Source: Google.

The DVF collection includes one model in five colors for women, and three models for men. The one for women costs $1,800 while the one for men costs $1,650 -- costing $300 and $150 more, respectively, than the original $1,500 Google Glass.

While the DVF line is certainly a step in the right direction, Google still faces a steep uphill battle in winning over the cynical public -- a May survey from Bite Interactive found that 90% of Americans won't wear Google Glass due to "social awkwardness."

Will enlisting the help of Diane von Furstenberg and other companies help transform Glass from a geeky niche device into a fashionable one?

Source: Google.

Google Glass' biggest backer
In March, Google announced a partnership with eyewear manufacturer Luxottica (NYSE: LUX  ) to develop more fashionable frames for Glass.

Luxottica's in-house brands include Ray-Ban, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Alain Mikli, Arnette, Vogue Eyewear, and Persol. Its licensed brands include Versace, Prada, Chanel, Burberry, Armani, and many others. Luxottica will initially integrate two in-house brands, Ray-Ban and Oakley, with Glass.

Google Glass would be a natural fit for Oakley, which expanded into tech eyewear with its line of Thump MP3 player sunglasses several years ago. The Thump eventually evolved into its Airwave snow goggles, which can synchronize to smartphones via a heads-up display.

The Thump (L) and the Airwave (R). Source: Oakley.

Since Airwave's HUD is hidden inside the googles, it means that Oakley might overcome the awkward position of Glass' eyepiece by targeting skiers and snowboarders instead of mainstream consumers. However, Glass' price of $1,500 (which will likely be higher with custom frames) is much higher than the Airwave's $649 price tag.

Oakley also produces standard issue eyewear for the U.S. military, which might lead to sales of integrated Google Glass solutions to military personnel. TrackingPoint, an Austin-based start-up, recently demonstrated how Glass can help soldiers fire safely around corners -- indicating that sales to the military and law enforcement could be a possibility in the future.

Beyond the high-tech implications for skiing and shooting, Oakley and Ray-Ban are well-established, fashionable brands, which could elevate Google's profile among mainstream consumers. If initial sales of Oakley and Ray-Ban Google Glasses are successful, Luxottica will likely consider expanding Glass to its licensed luxury brands, such as Versace and Prada.

The pricing issue
Google's partnerships with Diane von Furstenberg and Luxottica are promising, but they both make a pricey device even pricier. Glass' base price of $1,500 is enough to buy a 55" TV.

Luxury eyewear generally costs between $300 to $500. Therefore, the only way to justify the $1,650 to $1,800 price tag of the DVF models is to consider the DVF frames to be high-end sunglasses.

In March, a Glass Almanac Google Consumer Survey revealed that 12% of Americans would buy Glass if the price fell to $750. Some analysts believe that the price could eventually drop as low as $300, based on its teardown cost of around $200. If the price of Glass actually drops to $300, the DVF models would only cost $450 to $600 -- making it a much more practical choice for consumers.

Glass' biggest problem remains unsolved
But in the end, high-fashion frames and lower prices fail to address Glass' core cosmetic problem -- the fact that its hovering eyepiece makes wearers look like members of the Borg Collective.

In many ways, Glass is like a Segway -- it's a convenient piece of technology, but it makes the user stick out like a sore thumb. In my opinion, the problem with Glass isn't its appearance or the lack of designer frames -- it's the lack of mainstream visibility.

I believe that Google should first sell Glass to workers across various industries to build up a ubiquitous presence. Doctors can use Glass to pull up electronic health records, teachers can use it to look up information instantly, and police officers could use it to access criminal records. Those are all far more compelling reasons to buy Glass than the "personal voyages" that Google has been endlessly promoting through its Glass Explorer program.

As more professionals wear Glass publicly, the public will also become used to the idea of people using Glass outside of the work environment. Only then will designer frames like the ones from Diane von Furstenberg and Luxottica become more relevant to Google Glass.

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