Google may integrate the hardware more closely into future frames, so the device looks more like regular eyewear. However, existing gestures that are needed to operate the device will stay.
SAN FRANCISCO — Google unveiled new designs for its Glass wearable technology today and signaled that future versions will look more like regular spectacles than a gadget for tech geeks.
Four new Glass frames — called Bold, Curve, Thin and Split — were designed by an in-house Google team led by Isabelle Olsson. They cost $225 and go on sale online for members of Google's Glass Explorer program today. That is in addition to the current $1,500 cost of the Glass technology.
The frames hold prescription lenses for the first time, something that many early users of Glass requested. Google has partnered with VSP, a large eye-care benefits and insurance provider, which is training optometrists on how to put prescriptions in the new frames. VSP programs should make the frames cheaper through reimbursements, Google said.
Glass is not widely available to buy yet, with sales limited to developers, their friends and other people Google invites to join its Explorer program. However, the company is aiming for a full consumer launch before the end of 2014. The new designs are the next step in making the technology more attractive to a wider customer base.
"People want lots of preferences for how their eyewear looks, from loud to subtle," said Steve Lee, who has been the product director of Glass for almost three years. "This is where we are headed. You can start to see how the core design of Glass can accommodate lots of different styles."
Glass has made a splash in the technology industry because it has the potential to become a new mobile, connected platform that extends the capability of smartphones. However, the gadget's appeal has so far been limited in broader society because many people are reluctant to wear eyeglasses with a computer so obviously attached to the side.
The technology has also been controversial among privacy advocates who worry that it will let users record other people's activities too easily. It has even begun to symbolize what some critics see as the growing hubris of increasingly powerful tech companies such as Google.
Wired reporter Mat Honan used Glass for a year and in an article titled "I, Glasshole," recounted how people around him reacted negatively when they realized he was wearing the device. Robert Scoble, an early fan of Glass, noted that some Google employees have stopped wearing Glass because they don't want to advertise that they work for the company.
The new Glass frames attach to the existing hardware, which comes in five different colors. However, Lee said the technology will get smaller over time, which will let Google integrate the hardware more closely with frames, making it less obvious.
The original Glass prototype, which Lee came up with more than two years ago, weighed 168 grams (almost 6 ounces) and consisted of an old Google Nexus smartphone glued to the side of a pair of industrial eyeglasses. The latest Explorer Edition, made available in late 2013, weighs 46 grams and is less than an inch thick.
"We're making it more subtle. That will improve over time," Lee said.
As of April 2014, Lee will have been using Glass for two years. He has been wearing one of the new frames for several weeks.
"I get way fewer interactions and questions about Glass when I wear the frames," he said, while noting that, overall, 99% of the reactions have been positive since he began using the device.
While the technology will be small enough to include in a regular pair of spectacles in the future, Google may choose to keep the hardware detachable from the frames, he added.
"We're open to both approaches," Lee said.
If future Glass models look like regular eyewear, Google plans to keep the existing gestures that are required to operate the gadget. These include touching the hardware to take a photo or record video.
"This will be built with privacy in mind," Lee said. "Society is learning about this still, so it is important to have gestures that bystanders can understand. That will guide future product design."
Keeping the hardware separate will help third-party design firms make frames for Glass more easily, cheaply and faster. That's because they will not have to deal with the tough task of integrating the processors and other components, he explained.
"We want hundreds of style options for Glass," Lee added. "We won't get there by designing them all ourselves."