Why 2014 is the 'year of smart glasses'
- 23 December, 2013 15:08
In the technology press, every year is the year of this and the year of that. Much of this kind of prediction is based on expectations or wishful thinking and is essentially meaningless.
But the fact is that more than a dozen smart glass products are expected to ship in the first half of next year, ranging in price from $79 to $3,000.
Oh, and Google Glass will probably ship, too.
The hype around Google Glass has inspired a division of opinion. The people who want Google Glass and smart glasses are probably in the minority, with most people saying: "No way!"
They say this because Google Glass looks weird or dorky, they're too expensive or they're thought of as creepy invasions of privacy.
But the wide range of smart glass products coming next year may change a lot of minds. Some of them don't look, function or empty wallets like Google Glass does.
Here's what's happening now and over the next year in the incredible new world of smart glasses.
Thanks to the personal investment of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, as well as massive investment by Google, the invitation-only Google Glass product has by far the leading mindshare among all smart glasses competitors.
With a current user based of a several thousand people and a price of $1,500, Google Glass is hardly "mainstream." Still, it gets a lot of press and attention.
Google itself decided that allowing a face-recognition app would be rejected by the public as too "creepy," but a development group called Facial Network unveiled this week a face-recognition app for Google Glass called NameTag. Another app claiming face recognition, called MedRef, became available earlier this year.
Google announce a long list of powerful new Google Glass features recently. For starters, a MyGlass app was published for iOS devices on the Apple App Store. While not quite as full-featured as the Android version, it nevertheless provides connectivity and control options for Glass from an iPhone.
Google also enables Glass users to simply command the playing of any song with a voice command (as long as they have a Google Play Music account). This works nicely with recently announced stereo headphones sold by Google for Glass.
Google rolled out a wink-to-take-a-picture feature. It works even when Glass is in "sleep" mode, but only for the newer Google Glass 2.0 hardware.
Google also unveiled some new "Glassware" -- Google Glass apps -- including an RSS feed reader called Winkfeed and others.
Google Glass gets a lot of press. But don't think Google's is the only "smart" glass. In fact, the category has more than a dozen new entrants.
Epiphany Eyewear from Vergence Labs starts at $299 and is mostly for pictures and video. The content is livestreamed to your PC via Wi-Fi or USB. One of the best things about Epiphany is that the headset looks a lot like regular glasses, and they can be fitted in some circumstances with prescription lenses, according to the company. But that comes at a price -- Epiphany has no display, so you can't see what you're filming until later. Vergence says Epiphany Eyewear may ship as early as January.
A company called GlassUp makes $299 glasses that show you, in their Google-like glasses headset via Bluetooth, what's displayed on your smartphone screen. Conceptually, it's just like a Bluetooth earpiece, but for your eye instead of your ear. GlassUp intends to release apps, and has already released an SKD, but these will be smartphone apps that optimize the experience of using a phone while looking at it through the GlassUp glasses. The biggest difference with Google Glass is that GlassUP has no camera, so it will be spared criticism for invading privacy. It's supposed to go on sale in February.
Meta believes that smart glasses can replace smartphones and even laptops in the future. They make glasses that are not only "augmented reality" -- a screen superimposed onto the natural field of view like most smart glasses -- but in 3D via two 1280 x 720-pixel LCD displays, creating the illusion of a hologram. The Meta 1 glasses also have two cameras for capturing 3D images and enabling Kinect-like in-air gestures, and stereo sound. They also have far more powerful electronics (Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM in an included pocket computer which is connected by a physical cable) which enables processing on the headset, rather than relying on a smartphone. They have a powerful price, too: $3,000. Meta 1 glasses are expected to ship to developers only in February, then to the public in June. The company also hopes to have up to 300 apps available by launch.
Oakley Airwave 1.5
Sunglasses maker Oakley is also getting into the smart glasses game. Their $649 Airwave 1.5 product is optimized for use on the slopes while snowboarding or skiing. It gives route maps and current speed, and the battery is designed to withstand the cold. In fact, they're really ski goggles. On the plus side, they're also shipping.
Optinvent ORA-S AR
A company called Optinvent makes Android-based glasses the company claims give you a larger and brighter screen than Google Glass does. The sub-$1,000 product ships to developers in January with a $300 consumer version coming next summer, according to the company. The ORA-S has a comparable list of features to Glass, including support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a microphone, a speaker and a front-facing camera. One cool feature is something called "Flip-Vu," which enables you to position the display above, below or in the middle of your field of view -- or flip up the glass so everyone can see you're not using it.
ION Glasses are crowd-funded glasses that look like ordinary sunglasses ($99) or prescription glasses ($79 for the frame), but have a blinking light in your peripheral vision and sound to alert you to incoming messages or other events on your smartphone. You can program it with colors so that, for example, a blue light means a Facebook message and a red one means a Google+ notification. It also lets you control a PowerPoint presentation, and will alert you if your smartphone is out of range. The company expects to ship in February.
Android-based Recon Jet glasses are expected in September but the company will take your $599 now. Unlike Google Glass, Recon shows you the screen at the bottom of your vision. It's got an HD video camera and microphone and pairs with your smartphone. Recon Jet is optimized for sports, and an early app tracks speed and other data useful for athletics. The company offers an SDK for developers.
Vuzix's smart glasses have an important feature that Google does not offer: It's shipping now to consumers -- sort of. For about $999, Vuzix will sell you its M100 glasses. (They're backlogged, though, so expect a few weeks for delivery.) The M100 runs Android, and offers a 5MP camera, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, a speaker and microphone and many of the other features found in Google Glass.
Another crowd-funded project from a Silicon Valley-based company called Atheer is expected to result in relatively low-cost 3D smart glasses, one costing $850 for developers and shipping in a few months, and another priced at $350 for consumers and expected to ship "late next year." Atheer has two screens for 3D input and two cameras for in-air gesture control.
Technical Illusions CastAR
Technical Illusions' CastAR augmented reality glasses use two screens to create 3D views of data and objects. It's especially optimized for gaming where the virtual objects look like they exist as holograms in the real world. Unusually, the company uses RFID tracking to interact with physical gaming objects. The company is in its early stages, and raised $1.5 million on Kickstarter. Their web site says they intend to ship to consumers "sometime in 2014."
Icis "smartspecks" are designed to look and work like regular glasses (in three styles and they fit prescription lenses), but they connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth. They're optimized for social network notifications and turn-by-turn directions, taking pictures and video and more. The pre-beta product is expected in "mid-2014" for $400 a pair.
Lumus has been in the heads-up display business for years (mostly for the military). Now the company is getting into the consumer smart glasses racket. Lumus DK-40 smart glasses, which run Android, are expected to debut with an SDK at CES next month but won't ship to developers until the end of the first quarter. They're also seeking out OEMs to manufacture them.
Tech giants Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Baidu and Samsung are rumored to be working on smart glass headsets, too. If these rumored products come to fruition they may not ship in 2014.
I'm not big on "The Year Of" proclamations. But I do know that a whole lot of companies intend to ship a whole lot of smart glass products in 2014. The range of prices and features are very broad, with some models priced competitively with "dumb" glasses and sunglasses.
I think that many of the smart glasses naysayers are going to be tempted by some of these new products. After all, if smart glasses look like regular glasses and are priced like regular glasses, why not get a pair?
It's going to be a tempting year.
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