Italian eyewear behemoth Luxottica is not afraid to throw its weight around — After Oakley took them to court over a patent dispute, the integrated manufacturer/retailer/insurer bought its biggest rival and now Oakley is just another Luxottica brand — the eyewear equivalent of Coke buying Pepsi.
That Google Glass is potentially a major disruptor in eyewear is self-evident. As has been widely reported, Luxottica has not been sitting on its laurels — Oakley has been working on HUDs for years and has a HUD product on the market, an expensive system for skiers. Like Google’s developer set now in circulation among a relatively select few, it’s not a mass market product yet, but it’s out there. If Google needs Luxottica in order to get Glass manufactured, distributed, covered by insurance, or stocked in common stores like Sunglass Hut or LensCrafters, it is completely at Luxottica’s mercy. They’ll need a strategy to bypass this hegemon at least three of those four ways (the insurance issue seems minor in the case of Glass).
Google has reportedly been speaking to upstart Warby Parker about helping out with the design of Glass, which sounds like a good idea to solve the design and manufacturing problem. But Warby Parker uses a send-the-frames-then-send-them-back strategy for fitting, which seems impractical with Glass, where the frames contain a lot of the value. That means they’ll need a retail presence, perhaps through another partnership, where people can get their Glass fit. Right now the prototype for that experience has already been made available to the developers using Glass.
Like when smartphones put onetime collaborators like Motorola and Apple into direct competition, wearable computing is going to put new rivals up against one another. In this case you have two massive near-monopolies facing off; Luxottica and Google both have deep enough pockets that I doubt either could just buy the other.
Can Google bypass the incumbent? Can Oakley’s technology beat Google’s? Think Google might decide to license Glass software to Luxottica just to get it out there, like they did with Android? If so, would Luxottica go for that? What do you think?