I've dubbed 2014 to be the year of the wearable as tech companies like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) (Nasdaq: GOOGL) both appear poised to bring this market from niche territory and into the mainstream consciousness.
By now, Apple's intended strategy is by no means a secret. Although the exact launch timing remains elusive, everyone and their mom expects Apple to unveil its highly anticipated iWatch at some point later this year (probably the fall). It's my bet that Apple will significantly raise the bar with the iWatch, setting a new standard for functionality that current cadre of smartwatches will find difficult to match.
There are exceptions though. And to that point, we've recently seen a number of data points to support the notion that Apple's arch nemesis Google is also making serious strides on the wearables front.
Google finally gets its with Google Glass
Google will undoubtedly compete against Apple in the emerging smartwatch space with its Android Wear OS that it will license to OEM partners and with its Moto 360 smartwatches. However, the hallmark of Google's wearables efforts over the past few years has undoubtedly been its Google Glass, which Google finally made available to the public with its Explorer program earlier this year.
I've long argued that the highly fashionable nature of wearables presents a unique set challenges specific to this emerging device category. Technology companies like Google and Apple will need to successfully navigate wearables fashion in order to win over consumers, and expand their devices beyond a niche for tech enthusiasts. Apple's strong history of attractive design and recent hiring spree of fashion talent imply that its iWatch stands a strong chance of clearing this key hurdle. However, as I think has been historically safe to say, the design of Google Glass left a lot to be desired. Thankfully, it appears Google got that message loud and clear and has been leaning on some fashion heavyweights of its own to give Google Glass a much-needed revamp.
Google Glass gets a makeover
Recently, Google collaborated with high-fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg to add some much-needed style points to Google's Glass. And although I'm by no means an expert on the subject, the finished products appear far more likely to appeal to a broader audience than the original product. In fact, Google posted a video of von Furstenberg and Google Glass lead designer Isabelle Olsson extolling the virtues of their collaboration.
Rest assured, this move alone won't make Google's Glass an overnight success, but that's not the point here either. Much as is the case with concept cars at autoshows, Google's intention here is most likely to showcase what's possible with Glass in terms of design and fashion appeal. Earlier this year, Google also enlisted Italy's eyewear powerhouse Luxottica for more Glass frame design help. And although we have yet to see the fruits of Google's Luxottica partnership, these kinds of collaborations show that Google's keenly aware it will need to cater to users technology and fashion sensibilities if its Glass is to ever stand a chance at mass market relevancy.
Convincing the average consumer they need to wear a computer on their face won't happen overnight, and that's clearly not Google's expectation either. However, Google's shown enough dogged persistence in the face of the admittedly fair skepticism some have shown toward Glass to indicate Google remains committed to the project for the long-haul. Glass still needs to make a number of strides, design chief among them, in order to compete with the likes of Apple's iWatch later this year. The recent spate of design partnerships we've seen from Google will only help Glass and its mass-market ambitions.