THE BLOG

Google Glass, Bluetooth Handsfree and Where Bad Design Becomes Good

17/03/2014 15:05 GMT | Updated 16/05/2014 10:59 BST

Google Glass, the beginning of wearable tech? No. That started with the Bluetooth handsfree headset, a clunky device that made middle-aged men look like one-eared Spocks. It failed to take off. Cool kids would never wear such a thing. But Google Glass is now taking on the Bluetooth handsfree mantle. And it may just seize a generation appreciative of the aesthetics and function well designed technology can bring.

There are similarities between Glass and Bluetooth handsfree devices. Both sit on the ear and occupy headspace. Glass takes voice commands while the handsfree headset's sole use comes via vocal conversation. Both require the certain awkwardness of talking to an absent being.

Bluetooth headsets should have taken off. They were inexpensive and fulfilled a real practical need by freeing up hands for those on a call while moving or driving. The idea of telephone calls without hands should have naturally succeeded mobile phones.

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The problem? Handsfree devices were never cool. It didn't help that early adopters were middle-aged men in suits. A lot of the designs were made of a dreary grey plastic. But most of all people felt awkward looking like they were talking to themselves. Drivers would rather miss calls than purchase a Bluetooth headset. Perception of the design negated its practical value.

Google Glass announced four new frame styles as well as the option for sunglass and prescription lenses last month. The device goes on general release later this year. But does it face the same problem as the Bluetooth handsfree?

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Hype and marketing around Glass' launch means it cannot fail. The Explorer Program where Google cherry picks Glass' lucky early owners has led the device to become an exclusive trend. A clean modern design means it will sidestep aesthetic problems that Bluetooth headsets endured. A combination of exclusivity and sleek styling will even see Glass avoid complaints over the product's cost.

Google has taken a leaf out of Apple's book there. Steve Jobs believed a consumer's use of an object correlates with its beauty: the more aesthetically pleasing something is the more people touch it. More touching means increased usage and the higher Apple can charge for products since customers would be getting more value per unit.

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A high price tag also gives an illusion of exclusivity that drives mass-market to get their hands on the item. Think about the scores of people roaming around Apple Stores despite products' high price points. Google can charge $1,500 for each Glass device because aesthetics and exclusivity mean consumers will want to use it and therefore pay for it.

These new age spectacles have something else going for them. Bluetooth headsets fulfil an obvious practical need for handsfree calling but potential uses for Glass remain unrealised. The best designs serve a function people never even realised existed. How many questioned where the iPad would fit in a world of mobiles and laptops?

'Seeing through someone else's eyes' will take on a whole new meaning with Glass. Social journalism with the device will go far beyond what Twitter and camera phones do. A surgeon in Toronto with Glass has hailed its potential for medical research. Possibilities in industry are endless. We'll all be talking to ourselves- but it could be worth our while with Glass.

Tomo Taka is a writer for ALTO, a luxury design and lifestyle magazine

Images supplied by Tomo Taka