Smartglasses are here today, just not the ones that sci-fi promised.
For many tech and sci-fi fans, smart glasses are one of the most popular gadgets behind implantable brain chips. From augmented reality to immersing yourself in a fully virtual world with a pair of lightweight smart glasses, this has to be one of the three coolest technologies out there – it’s here, right?
We’ve gotten many different smart glasses over the past decade, but none of them give customers a compelling reason to pick a pair.
Perhaps the most famous product, and possibly the one that propelled the category forward and back, was 2012’s original Google Glass. The device is most similar to what we’ve seen in the movies, from a robotic design to a tiny computer that offers a ton of functionality on our faces. Unfortunately, in reality, the product was a bit ahead of its time, and neither the world nor the supporting technology was ready for it.
Today, smart glasses come in a variety of styles – but does anyone buy them?
Google Glass surprised almost everyone at Google I/O.For everything the product can do – take pictures, video, act as a HUD for your phone, answer calls, etc., it is it no Doing so eventually caused it to fail. Google Glass is a privacy nightmare because people are always concerned that they’re on a connected camera pointed at them when someone else is wearing it nearby. It also doesn’t have a lot of third-party software support to expand its appeal.
Fast forward to today, and while we don’t have a true successor to 2012’s Google Glass, we do have more options in the smartglasses category, and more ways to support them. However, just because they can be made doesn’t mean they should be made.
Smart glasses split my mind in two. Some people want to have every version because I’m a tech geek and once I have them I’ll figure out what to do. The other part, the pragmatic part, rejects this outright. These are still expensive products trying to figure out a compelling use case, or in the case of the Nreal Light AR glasses, trying to find enough software to justify their existence.
For all the cool and exciting things we think about smartglasses, our current reality says no.
Then there’s the price. When we look at the most cost-effective options on the market today, such as audio glasses like the Razer Anzu or the Amazon Echo Frames 2, I still don’t think there’s a legitimate need for them to exist. The idea of a pair of glasses with built-in speakers is similar to what the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset does, which seems like a good idea on paper. But in practice, they make too many concessions and compromises, even as exercise accessories.
I love listening to music, but I’m having a hard time figuring out why I need a pair of audio frames. Can these types of glasses fill the gaps in my audio consumption lifestyle? With so many great wireless headphones and earbuds on the market that do so much more than audio glasses, I just can’t afford them.
As a parent, I can see a case for smart glasses for photography. Ray-Ban Stories seemed like a beneficial product to engage with my family more naturally, while also capturing our experiences for sharing and reflection. But then I thought about privacy. However, like the original Google Glass, it’s a connected camera that’s always facing people, so it might run afoul of privacy and copyright issues. The struggle to keep the public comfortable with it is eternal and seemingly hopeless, especially when privacy-plagued Facebook is the one dealing with all this footage.
There are also hardware bottlenecks. Technology can’t achieve the optical and audio capture that many want. Smartphones have gotten so good in image quality, and some of the best Android phones even have respectable audio chops, consumers have higher expectations for reproducing their memories.
However, we can go a step further and enter the real tech nerd of AR and XR glasses. These devices are both beyond the scope of everyday use and the biggest cases in the category of smart glasses. This is also the most innovative place. We even saw some new players show up at CES 2022 with the TCL NXTWEAR AIR and Somalytics’ ambitious eye-tracking sensor.
Small, lightweight glasses that can replace TVs or computer monitors have the potential to be a major market disruptor.
The idea behind this product category is to provide an enhanced overlay of digital information on what you see in the real world, or by effectively replacing a larger display like a TV. As a pair of AR or XR glasses, the potential to overlay information for things like museum tours, engineers’ schematics, or even scans during surgery suggests there’s definitely room for this product type.
While these types of glasses have enormous potential in everything from industry to entertainment, they are also the most technologically constrained. For years, we’ve heard that Magic Leap glasses haven’t lived up to their promises. Even a big company like Microsoft that owns Hololens has difficulty reaching the mass market.
I’m glad the company continues to invest R&D dollars in this area because I find it interesting – even Google seems to be working on another pair of smart glasses. But, as of today, these devices have to cross a lot of bridges to earn a place in my face and show why they should exist.