The promise of smart glasses has been the source of buzz in the technology sector for some time. We have seen excitement over various products, starting prominently with the introduction of Google Glass in 2012. Since then, the market has gotten quite crowded with products from Realware, Vuzix, and Microsoft, to name a few. These glasses create true extended reality/mixed reality (XR/MR) experiences for users. In contrast to virtual reality–which totally submerges the user into a computer-generated world of visual and audio stimuli–XR/MR overlays information onto the user’s view of real world. Smart glasses make science-fiction experiences like those from the movies Terminator and Iron Man a reality.
State of the Smart Glasses Market in 2021
At Help Lightning, we follow the smart glass market enthusiastically. In fact, our Help Lightning app is currently supported on Vuzix M-Series devices, as well as Realware’s HMT-1 series, and Zebra’s HD4000. Here are some of our observations:
- Smart glasses generally don’t have a touch interface to which users are accustomed on iOS and Android. Instead, users control apps running on the smart glasses via voice commands, specialized inputs like small touchpads on the side of the glasses, and remote apps that run on paired smart phone.
- Some smart glasses have very small viewports. This is the strategy for Vuzix and Realware products. Users have to switch focus between the task at hand in the real world and the small screen of the smart glasses, which the user usually adjusts for their dominant eye. It takes most users some time to get comfortable with switching focus back and forth.
- Other smart glasses are designed to superimpose XR data anywhere is the user’s field of view. One example of this is Microsoft Hololens. Hololens 2 is a lighter-weight goggle-style hardware. A user in healthcare or manufacturing would likely find this form factor natural and comfortable. The user looks through a semi-transparent lens, onto which the device projects the UI. This produces a Minority Report-type experience. Hololens also tracks the user’s hands, which allows the device to provide an intuitive gesture-based interface.
- The most ambitious smart glass designs feature the projection of XR information directly onto the user’s retina. Focals 2.0 by North is set to launch in 2020. These lightweight glasses can support the Holy Grail of smart glasses: prescription lenses, stylish frames, and ‘retinal display’ technology. There are other competitors that have similar retinal display technology, such as Nreal’s Light glasses.
- Rumors are swirling that Apple will eventually launch a smart glass product. If Apple follows the same blueprint as with Apple Watch, one can imagine that Apple would design product similar to Focals 2.0, especially with the fashion aspect. Apple takes the approach that the best technology is invisible to the user–it just becomes part and parcel of the user’s everyday experience.
Climbing Out of the Trough of Disillusionment
Recent years have seen a tepid market response to smart glass products; initial enthusiasm has given way to the trough of disillusionment. People may wonder “how can we use this technology to solve real problems for users, rather than just looking cool?” I believe smart glasses hold real promise for creating amazing remote assistance experiences, which is our primary focus at Help Lightning. To maximize adoption by users, we must design smart glasses with a primary focus on the user’s experience: they should be simple, intuitive, and ‘just work’. Therefore, this must shape both the hardware and software (such as Help Lightning) built for smart glasses.
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