For nearly a year, Google Glass Explorers who lacked 20/20 vision—or didn’t feel like getting crafty with duct tape—were left high and dry with no way to make Glass play nice with prescription lenses. That functionality was among the device’s most requested features—and now it’s here.
As the company announced on Google+, Glass-friendly frames are now available in Google’s online Glass store. The online storefront stocks Glass itself (still an astronomical $1,500) plus accoutrements like replacement microfiber pouches ($50) and a pair of still-senseless stereo earbuds ($85).
The four new frame styles, dubbed “Thin,” “Bold,” “Curved and “Split”—all priced at $225—cover a decent range of hip eyewear choices. Made from titanium, the custom designs allow Glass owners to detach Glass from its existing titanium band and latch their device onto the new frame. It’s important to note that Google’s frames ship without prescription lenses, which Google suggests you procure through its small pool of “Preferred Eyecare Providers,” which are apparently fully clued into how to ensure Glass works with your prescription frames. (You can take them to your existing eye care provider too, though your mileage may vary at the local LensCrafters.)
But there’s a bit more fine print to be aware of.
From Google: “Single vision reading prescriptions are not currently recommended. Because of the curvature of the frames, we recommend cutting lenses for prescriptions within -4 and +4 with astigmatism up to 2D.”
Since my eyesight rivals that of a bird of prey, I’m not sure how many visually-impaired people Google’s little disclaimer actually leaves out in the cold, but it’s still worth noting.
A few new options for Glass-friendly shades also popped up in the Glass store, too. And thank goodness—I’ve complained about the Terminator-style sunglasses add-on included with Glass from day one. As a woman with a passable fashion sense, that style of shades would likely get more odd looks in public than Glass itself.
The original version of Glass’ shades is now termed the “Active” shade, since you’d really have to be some kind of super athlete to pull off that kind of look at all. The two new choices from Google, “Edge” and “Classic,” both offer gradient lenses and more stylish designs. These shades don’t work like the new frames; they snap onto Glass itself, rather than the other way around. All three pairs of shades cost a not-wholly-reasonable $150, though the two new styles seem to merit the price more so than the “Active” design.
All Style… And Some Substance Too
It’s all well and good that Google is tinkering with its moonshot eyewear to fit a wider body of potential Glass Explorers, but will the changes affect how people use Google Glass? I think so.
Personally, as much as I love the imperfect-but-still-downright-cool device, I hardly wear Google Glass in public these days—it’s just too conspicuous. I don’t wear glasses, but I’d certainly consider picking up a pair of the non-prescription frames just to give my Glass more functionality. Still, $225 is a steep price to pay for being social acceptable, which I could also do by just taking Glass off my face. But I’m already $1,500 deep into being Google’s futurewear guinea pig as it is.
Would-be Glass Explorers who need prescription glasses might be able to justify this extra cost more, but they’ll be paying considerably more than $225 once their frames get fitted out with prescription lenses.
It’s easy to wonder why Google can’t just craft Glass to play nice with existing frames, but in reality, that would be a design nightmare.
Taking a look at the new Glass frames, each have a side rail that resembles that of the titanium “lens-free band” that the Glass hardware normally sits on top of. The curve of the frame goes along with the curve of the device’s arm. It’s impossible to imagine a scenario in which you could pop Glass onto any ol’ non-proprietary frames and hope it was secure enough to not fall off. Even with Google’s pricey, specially-designed frames, attaching Glass isn’t exactly a swift and painless maneuver.
To use the new frames, you’ll actually have to take a tiny screwdriver to Glass, detach it from that original band, and reattach it to your new frames. That process isn’t as easy as just popping Glass on and off, so I can’t imagine switching the Glass hardware back and forth for the heck of it.
Google’s new frames look like they’d be wearable sans Glass, though they have a weird thin metal band that doesn’t taper into a larger sits-behind-your-ear type of thing, so it might be a bit awkward.
Glass Inches Toward Usability
Again, this brings up my core complaint about Glass—the one that renders the device unusable in a day-to-day way. If Google wants Glass to perch atop our brows day in and day out, it’s going to have to get really serious about battery life. Especially with prescription lenses.
Are people just expected to pop their Glass-glasses off and swap for a normal pair while they charge up throughout the day? The idea of wearing Glass for a full day makes even less sense when taking Glass off means that you’d be rendered legally blind.
Even with the new prescription lens compatibility, Glass remains a pretty impractical device. But the thing is, it could be practical. It makes a lot of things easier and most things awesome-er. Glass might not make sense yet, but it still packs a major “wow” factor—and that feeling, the sense of whoa, this is the future—is still pretty powerful.