Jan. 28, 2014 at 4:01 PM ET
Google Glass has a pretty limited appeal. Its main demographic: wealthy, in-the-know techies who don't mind looking ridiculous or wearing glasses over their contact lenses.
Before the year is out however, pretty much anyone may be able to walk into a VSP-certified optometrist, get an eye exam, choose frames and wait for the VSP One Sacramento lab to make and deliver a prescription pair of Google's Internet-enabled glasses. On Tuesday, Google and VSP, the nation's largest optical insurance provider, announced a partnership that may push the tech giant's head-mounted computer into the mainstream. (One in five Americans have eye insurance through VSP, the company claims).
"It's that next wave of early adopters who will make the difference," Frances Dare, managing director of technology services company Accenture, told NBC News. "They are kind of intrigued, they think it's cool, and that small discount could make the difference in whether they buy it or not. That will expand the early adopter curve and once more people use them, the price will come down."
Consumers with insurance through VSP will be able to pick up subsidized, prescription pairs in four different styles — which, if the press photos Google released are any indication, will make everybody look like a model.
Google will also release three styles of sunglasses, because cycling isn't cycling unless you can check your email while you do it.
The lightweight titanium frames, designed by Isabelle Olson, will be available for an extra $250. That is on top of whatever the computer portion of the glasses will cost. (Currently, Google Glass, which is only available to a limited number of people through the Glass Explorer Program, costs $1,500 total).
VSP will provide coverage similar to what it provides for normal glasses, which usually comes out to between $125 and $150 for frames. Subsidies for lens options like anti-glare and -scratch protection will depend on the plan.
Google Glass probably won't be cheap enough to lure the average near-sighted consumer into spending extra cash, and hardcore early-adopters have already purchased them. But the subsidy could push more mainstream, style-conscious techies into giving Glass a try, Dare said.
Of course, to get prescription Google Glasses, those people will need to get their eyes examined. Right now, VSP is focusing on training optometrists in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco on how to work with Google Glass.
The plan is to expand to other parts of the country and train around 6,000 optometrists by the end of 2014, Jim McGrann, president of VSP, told NBC News. He called trying to fix Google Glass onto your own frames a "bad idea" because the Google put a lot of work into precisely placing the prism on the right temple. Installed incorrectly, he said, and it could obscure your vision or make using the Glass more difficult.
In the end, knowing a doctor has been trained specifically with Google Glass could help make it more mainstream.
"The fact that general consumers will know that doctors have taken a look at them and understand how it will impact their vision will help the consumer launch move forward," he said.
Until the consumer launch, scheduled for late 2014, however, Google Glass Explorers will have to bring in their current, less-hip Google Glasses and have the computer component switched over to the new Titanium Collection frames.
So far, VSP is the only insurance company to cover wearables. But that could change in the future, Dare said, with other insurers deciding to cover smart devices that monitor things like heart rate and glucose levels.
This partnership could be the catalyst that makes not only Google Glass popular, but all types of wearables.
"I think it sends a message that this is becoming mainstream," she said. "It's now available through a well-known, mass-market insurer. It's a bit of an endorsement."
Keith Wagstaff writes about technology for NBC News. He previously covered technology for TIME's Techland and wrote about politics as a staff writer at TheWeek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kwagstaff and reach him by email at: Keith.Wagstaff@nbcuni.com