Total Pageviews

Friday, August 16, 2013

Trying to Make Google Glass Fashionable

In the 2006 movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” with a high-end fashion magazine’s office as its backdrop, there’s a memorable scene when the character Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, is picking between two belts for a photo shoot that look almost identical. As she surveys them in her hand, her assistant, Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway, starts to laugh quietly.

“Something funny?” Ms. Streep asks.

“No. No, no. Nothing’s…” Ms. Hathaway says as she pauses to collect her thoughts. ”You know, it’s just that both those belts look exactly the same to me.”

Ms. Streep then spirals into a lengthy tirade pointing out that the fashion magazine they both work for can change what society decides to wear in public.

Google seems to be hoping that this theory still applies today. Google Glass is being featured in a 12-page spread in Vogue magazine’s September fashion issue, propped up on the faces of models wearing haute couture outfits.

As my colleague Claire Cain Miller noted in February, as Google and other companies build wearable technology like glasses and watches, the biggest challenge hasn’t been privacy issues or the technological hurdles of building these products. Mostly, the challenge has been trying to make these products seem stylish.

This has proved quite difficult.

People I’ve spoken with in Silicon Valley who own a pair of Google Glass share a somewhat similar feeling. While they love the glasses for their technological prowess, many say they feel incredibly self-conscious when wearing them in public.

Ari Mir, chief executive of Pocket Change, a start-up based in San Francisco, went through this when he first procured a pair, noting that when he first tried them on he was smitten. “Google Glasses are going to change the world!!!!” he wrote enthusiastically on Facebook in July. “They far exceed every expectation I had.”

But when I see Mr. Mir in San Francisco at social gatherings, he’s often without his Google Glass. “Where’s your Glass?” I asked him a few weeks ago at dinner.

“I love them, they’re amazing, but I feel like a dork wearing them in public,” he replied. He added: “This will change as the form factor gets smaller.”

But don’t expect them to become smaller anytime soon. In May, when Brad Stone of Bloomberg Businessweek talked to Sergey Brin, who is directing the Google Glass project, Mr. Brin pointed to the device perched on his nose and said, “You know, this is basically done.”

So if Mr. Brin thinks the design is complete and the people who wear them think they are too “dorky,” Google only has one course of action left: make people think Google Glass is cool. What better place to do that than Vogue?

“The Vogue September issue has become a cultural touchstone ahead of New York’s Fashion Week,”said Chris Dale, who manages communications for the Glass team at Google. ”Seeing Glass represented so beautifully in this issue is a huge thrill for the entire Glass team.”

At the end of Ms. Streep’s tirade in “The Devil Wears Prada,” she concludes by noting to her assistant that “you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room.”

Let’s see if that same theory applies to technology in a fashion magazine.