Smart glasses companies have released several products over the past few years, but none have truly taken off with consumers. Manufacturers have produced models aimed at developers and enterprises, but consumer-focused products have so far failed to make the grade. However, with upgraded versions of these initial products in the works and major players entering the market with their own offerings, will 2020 be the year that AR glasses finally make it?
Just what can smart glasses do?
The answer to that varies depending on the product. Simpler offerings, such as Snapchat’s Spectacles, focus on the ability to take photos and videos. Others use augmented reality technology (AR) to overlay information and other content onto the user’s surroundings. They might be operated via buttons or touchpads on the glasses themselves, voice commands, or even gestures. Capabilities vary widely depending on the size, price, and target customer base.
What smart glasses products are currently on the market?
Google Glass will be the first thing that comes to mind for many people, and while Google has been a leader in AR glasses innovation, it’s just one of many smart glasses companies that’s been making progress in this field. Here’s a look at some of the notable products that have come out over the past few years.
Google’s smart glasses may not have been the very first product in this industry, but they created a lot of awareness and excitement among consumers. Glass uses AR technology to display information in the user’s field of view, controlled by a touchpad on the side of the glasses or by voice command. It also has the ability to take photos and record HD video.
While a low-profile, hands-free way of recording video was exciting for many people, others had significant privacy concerns around the ability to record people without their knowledge or consent, or to identify strangers via face recognition. Many facilities banned the use of Glass due to these and other concerns.
The Glass never really took off with consumers, but it has many industrial applications. Google has shifted its focus away from the consumer for the time being and is producing new editions aimed at enterprises such as manufacturers and hospitals.
Microsoft’s contribution to the AR glasses field is its HoloLens, a headset that responds to eye movement and hand gestures to allow users to interact with AR displays. While this functionality has great potential in the gaming industry, the headset is currently marketed at enterprises. Consumers can buy it – if they don’t mind spending $3,500 – but they’re not the target audience. The HoloLens is also a lot more conspicuous than other smart glasses, so users looking for something for everyday wear won’t find it here.
Smart glasses company North won over many users last year with a product that was more stylish and appealing than many of the other offerings on the market. North’s Focals pair with a smartphone to display notifications and other information in front of the user’s eyes. The product has some drawbacks, however, such as the need to be individually fitted to the customer before purchase. There is also a limit to the prescriptions that the glasses support, so not all users have been able to get a pair that works for them. This, combined with some quality and functionality misses, has resulted in North discontinuing the Focals while the company develops its next iteration of the product.
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Snapchat is actually on version 3 of its take on smart glasses technology, meaning it’s had some time to refine both the appearance and functionality of the Spectacles. These glasses are much more affordable than many other offerings on the market, coming in at $380. However, the lower price tag means the Spectacles are also lower on features – these glasses don’t offer the AR functionality that many other products do. They take photos and videos, and while they boast the ability to add fun Snapchat filters, these effects can only be added after the fact in the Snapchat app.
What is the future of smart glasses?
The companies above – as well as several others – have made exciting advances in smart glasses and AR technology. However, it hasn’t been enough to make these glasses truly mainstream. So what’s in store for 2020 and beyond? Current smart glasses companies are updating their offerings, but there are also some very big players entering the market who could be key to making this product as ubiquitous as smart watches and phones.
North’s latest iteration aims to improve upon the original in every way. The company promises lighter, sleeker glasses with a display 10 times better than before. The glasses are also expected to be easier to fit. There’s no word on price so far, but with North’s previous offering starting at $1000 and dropping to $600 soon after launch, consumers will likely see something that’s fairly pricy but more affordable than enterprise-focused products. If North delivers on its promised features, consumers could find themselves with a pair of smart glasses that are both functional and attractive.
Amazon Echo Frames
Amazon is jumping into the smart glasses market with a slightly different offering: the Echo Frames have no cameras and no AR capabilities. What they do have is Alexa, allowing the user to give commands and receive information. They can also make calls and deliver notifications from the user’s phone – on Android. The glasses currently aren’t compatible with iPhones.
While they may not have all the features offered by other smart glasses companies, the Echo Frames look more like normal glasses and can be fitted with prescription lenses, making them more accessible than some of their competitors. They’re also more affordable: $180 during the “invitation only” period, and $250 when they become more widely available. Amazon has yet to announce just when that will be.
Apple AR glasses rumors
There’s no official news on these yet, but they’ve been hinted and rumoured at for a few years now. Originally the word was that Apple would have a pair of smart glasses on the market by 2020, but that’s now been pushed back to 2022. These glasses are expected to function similarly to the Apple Watch, connecting to a user’s iPhone and displaying messages, games, and other information. While facts may be light on the ground right now, Apple’s presence in an industry is not to be ignored. Any smart glasses the company produces will impact both consumer behavior and future products from competitors.
Facebook ventures into AR
Several years ago Facebook purchased Oculus VR, maker of the Oculus Rift VR headset. While development on that product line is ongoing, the company is also working on a set of AR glasses. Facebook has partnered with Luxottica, parent company of Ray-Ban, to develop a pair of smart glasses designed to replace smartphones. They will allow users to make calls, view information, and capture and stream video. Apple is aiming for a release date sometime in 2023-2025. It may be early days for this product, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly very interested in seeing this project through.
Niantic teams up with Qualcomm
The name Niantic is more likely to conjure thoughts of virtual pet monsters or wizards and witches than anything else – the company is behind the hugely successful Pokemon Go AR phone game, along with its newest game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. However, Niantic recently announced that it would be working with Qualcomm to create an AR solution combining hardware, software, and cloud services. While it’s currently unclear whether the companies will be producing their own smart glasses or merely providing the framework for others to do so, this development is worth watching. Niantic may not have the same influence and resources as giants like Apple and Facebook, but the company managed to get millions of people of all ages playing an AR game around the world. If Niantic brings together Pokemon Go and AR smart glasses, it may just be the catalyst needed to bring this product into the mainstream.
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So is 2020 going to be the year for smart glasses companies?
Given how many of the above glasses aren’t scheduled for release until at least 2023…probably not. There are several products already on the market, and several more currently in development, but for the moment, smart glasses are a tool for enterprises, not the everyday consumer. However, the market is a promising one for smart glasses companies: Technavio predicts that it will grow at a CAGR of 167% by 2023, increasing in value by billions of dollars. There are many opportunities here for manufacturers and consumers alike.
Other key smart glasses companies
- Kopin Corp.
- Seiko Epson Corp.
Learn more about the competitive landscape with Technavio’s report on the Global Smart Glasses Market.