In my very first TechWatch post for Network World, I took Samsung and other smartwatch makers to task for creating supremely ugly devices that only the geekiest of the geeky would actually wear in public.
Well, it now appears that Google, at least, got the message and is trying to do something about it for its Google Glass augmented reality glasses.
Google and VSP get cozy
The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that Google is in talks with VSP Global, a huge provider of vision insurance that also makes traditional glasses. According to the Journal, VSP Chief Executive Rob Lynch said his company "is talking with Google about making more fashionable frames for the device, developing special prescription lenses to use with Glass and training optometrists to fit the device for customers." The talks reportedly involve "discussions of distribution channels as well as specialized corrective lenses."
Glass and glasses do not mix
Having tried Google Glass myself, I can very clearly state that early versions of the concept do not play well with regular glasses. It's hard to see the Glass screen, the two frames bump each other out of visual alignment, and the combination looks even more preposterous than just wearing Glass alone, if such a thing is possible.
But this is a big deal even for folks who don't wear glasses. As glasses wearers already know, deciding what frames to put on your face is a really big and difficult decision. Style, not merely vision correction, is the global eyeglasses market is expected to top $95 billion in 2015. In that kind of environment, Google's one-style-fits all approach clearly wasn't going to cut it with the mass market.
Technical issues remain
Google Glass still has plenty of technical hurdles to overcome. In my testing, I was far more impressed by device's potential than what it actually delivered. The low-resolution screen didn't hold a lot of useful information, the limited selection of apps had limited utility beyond taking pictures of and videos, and controling the device's operations was slow and awkward with either voice or touch commands.
The new version of Glass that Google is now rolling out is said to address some of those problems, and Google has just opened Glass' Mirror API to all developers, but better technology alone won't be enough to make Glass mainstream, either for consumers or in business and IT applications.
For augmented reality glasses -- or any other wearable device -- to reach its full potential, the technology will have to be worked into formats that won't turn wearers into social pariahs. A Google/VSP deal could be an important first step in that direction.