Google’s partnership with Ray-Ban and Oakley maker Luxottica on Google Glass was always on the cards, given that the internet search giant was never realistically expected to mass produce the Google Glass, much less distribute it to the general public.
Android needed the handset makers and sooner or later Google needed a partner that firstly knew how to make eye-wear but equally importantly has a handle on the fashion and lifestyle implications of wearable technology in the consumer space.
As Luxottica puts it, this is about matching up developers with fashion designers.
Details of just what the strategic partnership entails are scant, but Luxottica and Google are to work together across multiple channels to create a Glass product that will be palatable in the general consumer space.
For now, the message from Luxottica is standard aspirational stuff about combining “high-end technology with avant-garde design".
This shouldn’t be surprising given that there’s still substantial doubt over whether Google Glass can ever be more than a niche product, one that is beloved by early adopters but treated with apprehension by the mainstream.
Does partnering with Luxottica make Google Glass cool? The partnership seems superfluous in this regard, given that Google Glass already has the cool angle well covered thanks to the tech trendsetters. But the fact is, it isn’t fashionable.
What Google needs is to figure out a way to make Glass mainstream and that’s where the mass market appeal of Ray-Ban and Oakley comes into play.
In addition to the mass appeal, the Luxottica deal also provides Google with a well-established retail and wholesale distribution channel.
Google Glass is currently available through a beta program, where the user must connect with and rely on Google to deliver the finished product, for a price tag of $US1500.
That set-up was never going to work in the long run and Google has quite wisely decided to bring Luxottica into the frame and leverage off its existing strengths. Again, it’s a bit like what Samsung brought to the table for Google in their Android partnership.
This is a big leap forward for Google Glass and neatly connects the dots from the deal Google secured with the biggest optical health insurance provider in the United States, VSP, in January.
Under the terms of that deal, VSP offers subsidised frames and prescription lenses for Google Glass, essentially creating a channel between healthcare providers and consumer tech giants.
It’s a critical link in the wearables story and, having secured it, Google has now taken the next logical step in the journey from screens and software to understanding fashion.
This step isn’t a simple one for the likes of Google and Apple or Samsung, and reconciling the two disparate streams requires building partnerships and securing expertise.
This why Apple is taking its time with the iWatch and has hired the likes of Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry, and former Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve.
They may not be technologist but they understand fashion and they understand what the public wants. And that just might be edge needed to turn wearable into real money spinners.