One of the more exciting products I have purchased in the last few months is the new Bose Smart Sunglasses with the bone conducting headphones built into them. I have many Bluetooth headphones including Apple’s highly popular AirPods and others that you take out of some box and place them in your ears to gain access to music, make phone calls, etc.
For all of these products, the Holy Grail, besides Bluetooth connectivity, is sound quality. If you look at buying ear pods, you have many choices. Prices range from as low as $15 to over $200. The more expensive ones deliver the best sound quality although I have found some around $50 that provide excellent sound albeit not as good as the more expensive ones.
The new Bose Smart Sunglasses with headphones built in is a new twist on ear pods and one that has real ramifications for the eyewear industry. I believe it is a forerunner on how quality audio will be delivered in future AR glasses.
At the moment, the Bose Smart Glasses only have one shade of green in all of their glasses and no choices beyond that. These green lenses are not very dark, and while they do work as sunglasses, people want options in the gradation of their sunglass lenses. Also, it is a one size fits all and in my case, they are rather large, and I have to use a strap to secure it to my head better.
These smart sunglasses signal an essential step in audio delivery beyond standard headphones and ear pods. It makes sunglasses a new medium for audio delivery. Of course, bone conducting over the ear headphones have been around for a while but this is a first for sunglasses, and one can easily see them as one of the best ways to deliver sound to AR glasses in the future.
I spent the last week in Hawaii working on various projects for the State of Hawaii, but when I am in this beautiful state, I always try to get some beach time, even if it just a short time sitting on the beach and enjoying the scenery. During these beach foray’s, I love to listen to music or even a podcast and either used a headset or earbuds to enjoy these mediums. Since Hawaii is also almost always sunny, the other thing that’s is a must are sunglasses. With the Bose Smart Sun Glasses, I kill two birds with one stone.
I try and walk at least two to three miles a day when I am home or on the road and listen to music or podcast as I walk. Now I just put on the Bose Sunglasses, and the audio is built in and don’t have to think twice about carrying an external headset with me on these excursions.
Bose brands their sunglasses “smart” because when tied to a smartphone, you gain access to things like Siri or Google Now voice assistants which are great for initiating a hands-free call or asking for directions. They are also very handy when walking, and voice assistants give you turn by turn directions. I had a rental car in Hawaii with no map built in, so my iPhone was used to give me turn by turn directions through these sin glasses to places I needed locating. I can ask for current news reports, weather, or ask any question of interest.
What was most significant to me is that with the headphone being in the sunglasses, I was not as self-conscious on my looks as I am with Earbuds of any type are used. To people who see me, they have no idea that my sunglasses are anything but sunglasses. I used them for hours each day while driving, at the beach or going to meetings at the State Capitola in Honolulu. It became much more natural for me to ask Siri questions, activate music or make a call and it became second nature instead of having at least a two or three step process when using external headsets or earbuds.
A few observations about bone inducting audio built into glasses.
First, you will see all types of sunglasses or regular glasses with bone-conducting audio built into their frames. Many people need prescription lenses, and given the success, Bose is having with their Smart Sun Glasses, competitors are taking note and will try to differentiate themselves by making more custom versions to meet their customer’s needs.
Second, I can see how bone-conducting audio will be the number one choice for AR glasses. Bose looked closely at what people wanted if they added sound to glasses and concluded that they did not wish to have in-ear speakers. People wanted their audio experience to be as natural as possible and building the audio into the glasses via bone conducting technology, and they realized this goal.
I have seen some AR glasses prototypes that are in standard frames that have ear pods that dangle from each side and are placed into the ear. While it may work, it adds that “dork” look to the experience. This will be the biggest challenge all AR glasses providers will have to deal with in the future. People will not wear goggles or bulky glasses to deliver consistent AR experiences throughout their day. AR glasses will have to look like regular glasses and most likely will have minimal technology built in beside the optical lenses, Bluetooth radios, and an audio solution.
The heavy lifting will most likely come from their smartphones that provide the AR apps and services to the glasses via a wireless connection.
Bose’s Smart Sunglasses gives us a good idea of how audio will be delivered in AR glasses in the future. The first generation bone-conducting audio in their Sun Glasses are good, but I suspect they will be even better in Generation two and three.
While the kind of AR glasses that are needed to deliver mass market AR is still a few years away, in the interim, we should see the eyewear industry embrace bone-conducting audio in traditional sunglasses and prescription glasses. So that by the time AR glasses do hit the mainstream market, sound delivers in eyewear will be widely accepted and easily adopted within the AR glasses experience.