Keys to Driving Adoption of AR Glasses

One of the modern day debacles coming from any tech company was Google’s Glasses. I was quoted in the WSJ saying that buying Google Glasses for $1500 was one of the worst purchases I have ever made in my life. Although in my case it was for research purposes, I am sure that any prosumer or consumers who bought Google Glasses had the same feelings about spending any amount for these worthless prototypes. I also chided Google at the time for even offering prototypes to the broad market at any price as they were not even close to being ready for prime time.

These glasses proved to us researchers that glasses of this type, even with dedicated software available for them, had little value for consumers and for many, the fact that they made them look like a geek, made the situation even worse. They were banned in movies theaters, bars, and most public places and were pretty much shamed by the broader public and Google was forced to take off the market altogether after slightly a year of their availability.

But to me, Google’s biggest sin is that they did not understand that technology in almost all cases starts at the top of the user’s pyramid, and it takes years to trickle down to a broader consumer market. If there were any real interest in Google glasses, it came from the top of that pyramid, which mostly represents what we call vertical markets or markets in business and industrial programs where one could create custom applications to solve real world problems for them.

Four years later the demand for glasses today come from only these vertical markets, and I do not see any glasses gaining any interest by consumers for many years into the future. The good news is that some great glasses are being designed for use in these vertical markets now, coming from companies like Vuzix, Epson, Meta, and others. I am also seeing serious software created to support them from companies like Atheer, who’s Air Enterprise software delivers a set of applications that can be customized for use with these glasses even today.

Today, I still have many reservations about Glasses becoming a mainstream product. We do not have the technology or even the right UI today to even make glasses that I believe could entice a consumer to use them anytime soon. There are also challenges of depth perception of our eyes, adding gestures, voice, etc., all things that will take a long time to perfect in a small form factor. However, I do think that sometime in the next ten years glasses of some type will become an extension of our digital user interfaces.

But for that to happen I believe some important things have to happen for these glasses to be accepted by consumers and become useful beyond the vertical markets where they will become relevant in the next 2-5 years. Here are some ways watch for which could help drive adoption:

  • The first thing we need is technology that delivers the video screens built into ordinary looking glasses that are acceptable to the public and won’t make them look like geeks. They have to be invisible in the sense that they look like regular glasses but on digital steroids. We just don’t have the optics and types of displays that would work in this form factor now, and I do not know when we will see these types of digital displays that would work in normal looking glasses.

  • The second thing we need will be a set of software tools to create applications optimized for glasses and hands-free gestures and voice actions to control them. The public will not accept having to navigate a digital glasses world if there is a touch pad on the glasses that they need to use just to navigate the content they will want to access through these glasses. We will need significant hardware and software advances in voice, gestures and other hands-free UI’s if glasses are ever to be accepted by a broad market of users.

  • The third thing we will need is for the consumers to not only want to use glasses as part of their digital experience, but they will have to have compelling reasons and applications for them even to be interested in any glasses. This is where Apple may have a real effect on this market over the next 2-5 years. Apple’s introduction of ARKit and its AR platform is set to revolutionize the user experience on the iPhone and the iPad. ARKit and the applications that will be generated by it will begin to get Apple’s customers familiar with this significant experience and start to introduce a new user interface that includes voice and gestures to the AR experience delivered on their mobile devices.

In the next 2-3 years, I expect Apple to evangelize the idea of AR and mixed reality and get their customers not only used to using these apps on an iPhone and iPad but will want some additional ways to have even better ways to view AR and mixed reality content beyond the iPhone and iPad. We know that Apple has two or three glasses patents in the works and if Apple can use these next three to five years to get their customers familiar with AR and mixed reality it will be much easier to transition them to some glasses that would serve as an extension of Apple’s UI prowess. ARkit will certainly help emphasize the pain point of holding your phone up out in front of your body while walking around the world using AR applications. After a few years of these experiences, glasses will be a no brainer.

Google, of course, has not given up on glasses and their newest versions are focused on vertical markets today. But they too want to use AR on Android phones to start getting their customers more familiar with AR and mixed reality applications. This too will help make people more familiar with these types of apps and eventually more receptive to some glasses Google may bring to market for consumers in the future.

I do not doubt that someday glasses will become an extension of the broader consumer digital experience but much must happen before that ever becomes a reality. Just don’t expect to see them anytime soon.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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