Buried deep in the FAQ that Google updated when it announced its prescription Glass frames Tuesday, there's a teeny-tiny teaser on when the headset will graduate from public alpha testing to something presumably closer to retail availability. Glass, the update says, will "move towards a wider consumer launch later in 2014."
If you've been following Glass, you know that statement is a tantalizing spec of specificity--a reaffirmation from Google that it's seriously considering selling Glass to normal folks. And now that Google's new Titanium Collection frames paint a fashionable sheen over a wearable that's always looked so geeky it's almost un-wearable, the entire Glass concept inches closer to tenability.
Indeed, no one looks socially attuned when wearing lens-less face-pinchers outfitted with a lucite hippie crystal. But get a load of this woman and ask yourself if she really looks quite that bad:
And this is what makes today's Glass announcement so important. Google ostensibly captured the high-tech news cycle with a technology story, but once you begin to poke and query the "What just happened?" of the Titanium Collection announcement, you have to marvel at Google's ability to market Glass as a lifestyle story.
I'll call this deflection marketing. Today Google asked us to forget the Glass narrative of the last few months, and refocus on a much more palatable angle.
It turns out Glass has absolutely nothing to do with people being collared by law enforcement on the suspicion of distracted driving or media piracy. And, fear not, Glass will most definitely not make you look like a Glasshole. Instead, via photographs that evoke a designer lookbook and a video that could have been cast and cut by Apple, we now see that Glass is emphatically a lifestyle brand:
Certainly, the latest salvo of Glass marketing harkens back to the original Glass design studies that Google released in 2012. Those images, like the ones released today, show beautiful people making an exceedingly geeky technology as socially tenable as possible. But after 2012, reality imposed its will on the general Glass story: Glass is difficult to use and feature limited. Glass will get you in trouble. And, perhaps worst of all, Glass will make you look like a dork.
So kudos to the Glass marketing team for doing so much with such a challenging product. And seeding The Verge with what appears to be an exclusive first look at the Titanium Collection is a masterstroke as well. Sure, The Verge is one of the most important tech sites around--as good a place as any to place an exclusive.
But The Verge also has a proven ability to make technology look cool. So, no, you don't want the first uncontrolled examples of Titanium appearing on Walt Mossberg or David Pogue. You want to place them on Dieter Bohn. He looks the part. His name is Dieter.
If only for one day, the Glass narrative has changed--though I expect Google can ride the momentum. Everything about the Glass customer experience is more refined and mainstream than what we encounter with other Google products. Should you be lucky enough to pick up your Glass Explorer version at a Google office, you'll enter a fancy showroom reminiscent of a high-end optometrist's office. You'll be offered a refreshment, and led to a display case full of fashion-design frames. And then you'll be assigned to a 100 percent, unequivocally cool Googler, who will walk you through the basic Glass experience:
They're cool. Now you're cool. Because it's cool. Who knew?
I'm still skeptical that Glass will go retail in 2014 as the updated FAQ suggests. Between problems I've encountered with eyestrain and general usability and usefulness, I don't think Glass in its current incarnation is ready for a general consumer audience. I see a smothering volume of customer service complaints on the horizon.
Still, Google has already demonstrated that it's completely comfortable releasing retail hardware that's not really ready. In the summer of 2012, I spent a number of weeks interviewing the developers behind Nexus Q. I even visited the factory where the media streamer was being manufactured en masse. I didn't have a lot of faith in that product either--but I was still impressed with Google's commitment to experiment, and throw mud at the wall, and even go to market with flawed hardware.
Google Glass may never make you feel good. But, hey, if and when it comes out, you'll look marvelous.