With smartphones seemingly heading towards a saturation point and with growth in the smartwatch market remains weak, tech companies have started investing more resources in the smart glasses segment. Many believe smart glasses will emerge as the next computing platform and maybe even eventually replace the smartphone. A pair of smart glasses will be as powerful as your existing smartphone and help do everything from checking email to shopping. While Google Glass and Snapchat’s Spectacles didn’t manage to attract consumer attention, a number of smart eyewear are expected to launch in the coming months from big and small players.
Smart Glasses are a wearable computer that belongs to your face
In simple terms, they are a wearable computer capable of transmitting information to the user. Smart Glasses are capable of displaying contextual information such as notifications, text messages, alerts, maps information from smartphones into the wearer’s field of view. For instance, users can initiate a text message through voice command right in front of the eyes without even glancing at your phone screen. As the smart glasses segment evolves, they are getting better at object and text recognition.
Smart Glasses are divided into three segments: VR, AR, and HUD
Virtual reality (VR)
A virtual reality (or VR) headset is a device that you wear over your eyes like a pair of massive goggles. It blocks out all external light and shows you an image on two high-definition displays in front of your eyes. A headset can be connected to a gaming system, a computer, or a smartphone. Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive are some of the most popular VR headsets on the market today. Several cheap headsets are also available that only require a smartphone in order to view the content in virtual reality.
Augmented reality (AR)
A lot of tech companies are excited about AR glasses. In fact, Apple and Amazon are rumoured to be working on Augmented reality-based smart glasses. This technology overlays virtual objects into the real-world environment. These type of glasses use various sensors to overlay the information and the image is projected onto the glasses to overlay on an object you are looking at it. There are currently four major companies in the AR glasses domain: Microsoft, Magic Leap, Meta, and Vuzix.
AR glasses are usually expensive to make because they require immediate processing of a lot of information at the same time. Microsoft’s HoloLens, for instance, is an augmented reality headset that allows users to interact with holographic images, make Skype calls, or play video games. Magic Leap, on the other hand, is planning to launch a “creator edition” of its Magic Leap One version of the headset in 2018. The Leap One is touted as the most advanced AR headset, when it hits the market. The secretive company is already valued at $6 billion without even launching its first product on the market.
Heads-up display (HUD)
These smart glasses have a display that is positioned at the edge of your field of view and they actually function like a rear view mirror in a car. Benny Goldstein, the CEO of Benny Labs Inc, an Israeli company is currently developing a pair of smart glasses with a Heads-up display that it aims to sell for $200 apiece. Its LinaTxt, the heads-up display glasses, are capable of displaying text messages, one line at a time.
“LinaTxt uses a smart LCD micro screen on the top of the lens. When light from the top screen throws it to the bottom of the lens, it is directed towards the eye through a magnification process,” Goldstein told Indianexpress.com over WhatsApp. Perhaps the biggest advantage of these smart glasses with the heads-up display is that they allow you to see the information up close. LinaTxt looks like an ordinary pair of glasses, something people would be interested to buy. Intel also recently released a prototype of Vaunt smart glasses which looks very much like a normal pair of glasses, and uses retinal projection to put a display in your eyeball.
Designing powerful smart glasses is a challenge
Although a lot of companies are making smart glasses, the process isn’t easy. It requires a high-level of sophistication to design a pair of smart glasses that are lightweight and comfortable to wear. Most smart glasses pair to a smartphone through Bluetooth that transfers the information to the processing chip on your glasses – which transports it on to a little LCD micro screen and ultimately through smart optics into your eyes. Goldstein, however, says the most difficult part in designing a pair of smart glasses is the lens and not actually the Bluetooth and the chips that exist.
Tech companies want to make smart glasses to expand the ecosystem
So, why do tech companies want to make smart glasses? Snapchat, Google, and other companies are investing heavily in smart wear. Even a company like Bose, known for its high-end speakers and headphones, is developing one.
“There are four types of organisations that are interested in making smart glasses; cell phone manufacturers, traditional sunglasses makers, social media companies and large-format retailers. Out of the four, one division consists of smartphone manufacturers. These companies want to offer smart glasses as a combination of their newly launched smartphones. Take for example, Samsung which came with their VR headset together with their smartphone. The company is using the headset as a gimmick and that’s what they want to do. It could coincide with their smartphone and that’s where the biggest money is,” says Goldstein.
“The second group of companies consists of traditional sunglasses companies like Luxottica, for instance. These companies want to offer their clients a pair of smart glasses. The third division of companies that are interested in offering smart glasses will be social media firms like Facebook and Google. They want to develop smart glasses in order to push text-based notifications so that consumers use their apps. And the fourth division includes regular retailers like Walmart and Target. These companies are interested in marketing their products and which is why they want to come up with smart glasses,” adds Goldstein
Privacy and security concerns could hinder the growth of smart glasses
The response to the Google Glass was dull because of privacy concerns. It had a camera built-in and people usually don’t like to be captured without their consent. Due to privacy and security concerns, the Google Glass was banned in many movie theaters, restaurants and clubs, and in 2015, the company discontinued sales to consumers. The adoption of smart glasses in the workplace, is a matter of concern. Tech companies need to think twice before putting a camera on a pair of smart glasses.
Mass adoption of smart glasses still years away
It’s too early to say smart glasses will replace the smartphone anytime soon. The technological landscape is changing fast and it is certain that in the next few months we might see a pair of smart glasses from the likes of Apple and Samsung. However, the mass adoption of smart glasses is still a few years away. Initially, the enterprise market will likely jump into the smart glasses bandwagon. Smart glasses can be transformative in retail, airlines industry, education and training, manufacturing and healthcare sectors. A recent report from Forrester Research estimates that nearly 14.4 million US workforce will use smart glasses by 2025.