It is no secret that Google has ambitious plans for its wearable technology, Google Glass. In the first quarter of 2014, the company released a string of news stories on various collaborations, one with an eyewear manufacturer and another with a vision care provider. Google is set to popularise its wearable products from being ‘uber-geek’ items to products that the average person on the street can relate to and, more importantly, afford to purchase. Previously, we looked at the impact on consumers and society but in this opinion we look at the impact on the eyewear industry.
Getting the Right Formula
When Google first soft launched Google Glass in 2012, it generated significant excitement. While the product gained immediate fans, it also amassed a fair number of critics. One main gripe concerning explorer editions of the headset that was made available to interested buyers was that Glass looked geeky and unfashionable for daily wear. Google’s plan to collaborate with Luxottica and VSP, as announced in the first quarter of 2014, was clearly a reaction to such feedback.
Luxottica Group, the leading eyewear company globally, manufactures and distributes various leading international eyewear brands, including Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Ray-Ban. A collaboration with Luxottica will give Google immediate access to existing eyewear consumers. Google also stands to benefit tremendously from Luxottica’s strong fashion and eyewear expertise as well as its formidable international distribution network.
Furthermore, Google is not leaving the fate of Glass to chance. In 2014, demand for wearable electronics will be dependent on the US, along with a select few developed markets. The US is the largest and most advanced eyewear market in the world and the company has shown its prudence in terms of strategic planning by teaming up with VSP, which has a strong presence in the US. VSP Vision Care offers vision insurance plans for individuals and companies across North America. Apart from subsidising a portion of the cost of eyewear, VSP also provides training programmes for optometrists to learn how to mount the Glass device on frames and fit Glass on people’s faces.
Will These Collaborations Work?
While all three companies have their own specialist skills and expertise to contribute to the alliance, mass-produced Glass will still be considered a one-of-a-kind product that combines technical expertise with health features, particularly in the crazy world of fashion.
Luxottica manages a wide range of brands, with each one having its own unique positioning so as to reach out to a specific target audience. To date, Luxottica has been very successful in enabling each one to shine as an individual fashion or eyewear brand. Whether Luxottica will decide to integrate Glass into an existing brand or build a new brand completely for Glass is yet to be confirmed. However, for now, many industry experts, including T3, are predicting the former.
T3 The Gadget Website’s Unofficial 3D Representation of Ray-Ban Glass
Source: T3 The Gadget Website
Ray-Ban, known for its classic Wayfarer and Aviator styles, encourages individuals to live their lives with no fear of judgement via its well-known “Never Hide” campaign. Integrating Glass into a pair of Ray-Bans will attract a niche group of consumers, perhaps even drawing new audiences to the brand. However, will doing so dilute Ray-Ban’s existing brand image over time? As a Ray-Ban user myself, I am unlikely to relate to the brand if it goes all high-tech with Glass.
With VSP as a partner, Google Glass has found its way into the healthcare system, allowing the company to tap into possible government funds to subsidise the cost of Glass, which for now is seen as high for mainstream consumers.
However, it is generally noted that depending on the choice of VSP plans, the level of subsidy will not be able to cover the entire cost of both eyewear plus Glass, with this ultimately falling back onto the consumer. This may lead to a dilemma for consumers who may choose to reduce their spending on spectacle frames and lenses to cover the cost of the Glass component. This will in turn represent a higher cost to eyewear manufacturers.
The commercialisation of Glass will undoubtedly take the world by storm. However, it will also result in several challenges and obstacles for manufacturers, consumers and governments. That is inevitable.
For eyewear manufacturers, it would be detrimental to not be part of this technological evolution. However, a great deal of caution is required on the part of first movers such as Luxottica and VSP in ensuring that it does not adversely impact their current standing in the industry and lead to a significant consumer backlash.