Smart Glasses: Major Comeback or Major Flop?

The idea of augmented-reality wearables as a more intuitive way to connect with people created a massive wave of excitement among the crowd when Google unveiled its smart glasses in 2013. The potential of the product to completely untether smartphones and initiate the third generation of computing was deemed visionary and futuristic by many, yet surprisingly it flopped in execution. 

Smart glasses are a revolutionary product, which translates to limitless possibilities. In such a scenario, defining concrete use cases and making sure that the product’s features resonate with its need is critical for user adoption. The failure of Google Glass can be attributed to a lack of clarity as to what value and advancement this product was providing for its users. For an expensive device costing $1500, Google Glass allowed users to take pictures instantly and browse through the internet. However, its edge over the traditional smartphone, with faster processors and superior battery life, was non-existent. Additionally, the unpleasant aesthetics made the glasses socially unacceptable for a consumer. Finally, the privacy issues caused by an inbuilt camera constantly pointing towards whoever the user was having a conversation with, were also to the product’s detriment.

Google Glass (image credits: Oll Raqwe)

Google Glass (image credits: Oll Raqwe)

The technological trade-off constraining the market currently is that high-performance glasses require enhanced hardware capabilities, making them bulky and oversized. Tailoring these glasses for consumer applications is challenging as it requires boosting both of the above factors: performance and lighter aesthetics, which Google Glass learned the hard way. 

However, smart glasses are scaling rapidly in enterprises as companies like Google and Microsoft build innovative new models portraying powerful applications for businesses. Google Glass Enterprise is penetrating the manufacturing and warehousing segment by solving the need to reference and communicate massive information during the operation. Through video collaboration, transparency among management and engineers is increasing by providing real-time feedback remotely to everyone. Microsoft’s Hololens and Magic Leap’s One glasses have taken smart glasses to the next level through their augmented interaction of virtual and physical objects, thus promising substantial value to the industries involved in intricate manufacturing. Further, integrating image-recognition and language processing AI has transformed these glasses into virtual assistants, essentially making them smart recommenders as well as remote task controllers. Doctors at Harvard Medical School have started using AI-enabled glasses to get valuable information about patients for delivering dosages precisely, thereby preventing drug allergies, especially during emergencies. With these in action, EDITH glasses from the movie-Spiderman: Far From Home won’t seem sci-fi after all.

Learning from the previous shortcomings, companies are tailoring smart glasses for consumers by miniaturising technology to fit into a standard pair of glasses. Vuzix Blade is fusing the smartphone with the smart glasses, with a product that looks and feels very close to a non-computerized accessory. With an easy-to-use and responsive interface integrated with Alexa, Blade stands out as a polished product that consumers are willing to buy. North, a Canadian startup, is building design-savvy custom-made focals with a holographic display only the user can see. Packaged with selected functionalities to stay heads-up, productive and connected, the company is maximising consumer utility thus laying down a strong for personal wearable innovation.

Although the product demanded by enterprises and consumers is entirely different, this difference is playing a pivotal role in making AR glasses mainstream. The enterprise demand is driving software development in AR and creating a potential successor to desktop and mobile computing on which future AR applications will be built. The consumer demand is making the AR hardware more accessible to the masses by doing precisely what Apple did to mainframe computers. There are still challenges that need to be overcome before this turns into reality: mainly, high product costs and the health implications of having electronic hardware constantly placed close to the brain. But that’s what innovation is for in the first place.

Thumbnail image: Guiseppe Costantino