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The Second Coming of Augmented-Reality Glasses

The Second Coming of Augmented-Reality Glasses,

Female wearing Google Glass
Source: https://s3.amazonaws.com/digitaltrends-uploads-prod/2015/01/Google-Glass.jpg

When it debuted in 2013 the Google Glass was the first of its kind. A augmented-reality (AR) accessory that sits right above one eye and gives access to emails, text messages, directions, etc. without hindering the user’s view. For many reasons the product never reached the critical mass amongst early adopters to become mainstream and Glass was phased-out.

In retrospect, the product was decades ahead of its time and debuted in a time when smart devices are still at the early stage of adoption. People were still getting use to having instant access to information in the form of a phone in their pocket. Needless to say it did not find much success in the consumers’ marketplace. First, the features it provide are readily available on smartphones: maps, email, etc. Second, the price marketed placed the device out-of-reach of most of the consumers.

Recent advances in computer hardwares and AI assistants are charting a path for AR devices to to re-emerge into a more technology-savvy generation. In this article, I will explain why I think the AR glasses are coming back and they are staying this time.

The Smart-Accessory Revolution

A Pew Research Center survey conducted at the beginning of 2013 showed that only 51% of adults in the United States owned a smartphone, 6 years after the launch of the 1st-generation Apple iPhone. Compare that number with another survey conducted in February 2019, the percentage of adults who own a smartphone jumped to 81%.

Another survey conducted mid-June 2019, 4 years since the debut of the Apple Watch, showed that roughly 1-in-5 U.S. adults (21%) regularly wear a smartwatch or a fitness tracker.

With the introduction of the 1st-generation Airpods, Apple has shown the world that people are willing to pay top-dollar for a sleek, convenient, and more importantly wireless device that they can wear for hours on end.

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The above trends show that the mass is primed for AR glasses given that they meet the following criteria:

  1. Compact and fashionable design
  2. Has an AR app store with diverse applications for the device
  3. Includes voice assistant
  4. Intuitive user interface
  5. Long battery life

Good Design

The Google Glass was a good looking product. So much so that it even got co-opted into the 2012 New York Fashion Week; worn by Diane von Furstenberg and her models on the runway.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2013/2/22/4013406/i-used-google-glass-its-the-future-with-monthly-updates

The titanium band creates futuristic look on the device. The small crystal resting on one side blends seamlessly into the touchpad on one side and extends all the way to the end of the band. This signals the purpose of the crystal, to display information, and of the thick side of the band as the touch interface.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2013/2/22/4013406/i-used-google-glass-its-the-future-with-monthly-updates

It is unclear whether this design will be kept when Google re-introduce the next generation of its AR glass but it is one that I hope they do.

Source: https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/jy2ireguQNakhqKJQg73Mf-1200-80.jpg

Compare Glass to the Magic Leap One, it is clear that Glass is meant to be worn continuously and in public while the Magic Leap One, admittedly with better visualization, is meant to be used in an indoor environment. Not to mention that it is not completely wireless as the user would have to wear a small box containing the processor and battery with a wire connecting to the glass.

With rumors swirling around online about Apple’s take on AR glasses, product design fans can breath easier knowing that they will deliver on the design and won’t produce a product that is egregious. At least better than the illustration in their patent.

Source: https://appleinsider.com/articles/20/06/16/auto-adjusting-apple-glass-may-not-need-prescription-lenses

AR App Store

AR technologies have been silently improving in the past couple of years. A look at the Magic Leap’s app store shows that there is active support and development for AR applications. Both Google and Apple, ARCore and ARKit respectively, also released their AR SDK to app developers so the lack of apps is not a concern when AR glasses are released.

To see the current AR capability, look no further than the Live View feature in Google Maps or the Pokemon Go (a popular real-world interactive game where users capture Pokemon by searching real locations using their phones).

Source: https://support.google.com/maps/thread/11554255?hl=en

Voice Assistant AI

With virtually all smart devices having a voice assistant AI: Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, and Bixby. It is not difficult to predict that AR glasses manufactured by the Big Tech will also include this technology. While usage of voice assistant is not popular due to privacy concerns and still unnatural responses, it is slowly becoming more and more ubiquitous in our every life. The most popular products with voice assistant AI’s are smartphones and smart speakers.

Photo by Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash

By far the most popular is the Amazon Alexa with about 69% share of the U.S. smart speaker market, reported the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) in January 2018. With already 29% U.S. adults under the age of 50 reported to own a smart speaker, as the product become cheaper, we will see this number increase. Amazon also allows internet-of-things (IoT) developers to access its Alexa voice assistant service through Alexa Voice Service (AVS), more devices will have Alexa built-in, which further accelerate the improvement of the voice assistant AI.

These AI will continue to improve as users interact with them more, allowing them to learn and improve on their voice recognition models. By the time AR glasses are re-introduced, touch interface may even be obsolete.

User Interface & Battery Life

The Google Glass had about 3–5 hours of continuous use which, for its compact design, was a good trade-off. The Apple AirPods Pro is also reported to have up-to 5 hours of use per charge (without the case). Wireless charging using a carrying case can further extend its battery life, as seen in many offerings of wireless earbuds.

As discussed in the previous section, voice assistant AI is an important indicator of AR glass’ success. A device that can infer commands regardless of the sentence structure, slang words, etc. and respond in a timely manner would be more useful than those requiring more physical interaction like swiping or tapping on a touchpad.

The Wait Is Maybe Over

Tech observers following the product development closely have speculated that Apple will release their AR glass by 2023. The success of this product at that time will inform other tech company about the trends and allow them to push their versions of AR devices out to consumers, similar to how the market react to the success of the the 1st-generation AirPods.

While companies continue to refine their version of AR glasses maybe, for the time being, we can be content with a revised version of the 1st-generation of Google Glass or, for the more adventurous with deeper pockets, the Magic Leap One.

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The Second Coming of Augmented-Reality Glasses was originally published in AR/VR Journey: Augmented & Virtual Reality Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Author: Tru Hoang

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