The Next-Generation Smart Glasses Design and the Consumer Uptake Challenge

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By Eric Abbruzzese | 2Q 2017 | IN-4531

In a recent ABI Research Insight, ABI Research discussed Apple’s potential role in the augmented reality (AR) space. This Insight dives deeper into one of those potential roles, demonstrating that realistic consumer smart glasses and associated technical advancements are moving down that path.

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The Emergence of a Market


Following a familiar trend in technology markets, 1Q 2017 hinted at a future of smaller, lighter smart glasses. What makes this trend unique compared to other miniaturization trends in the past is that smaller and more comfortable smart glasses are absolutely necessary to significant consumer interest and adoption, not just as a nice advancement. While consumer-targeted smart glasses are on the docket (ODG’s R8 glasses and Vuzix’s Blade 3000, which have yet to be released), their form factor and design leaves much to be desired when considering the total addressable market for consumers. 

Cracking the Consumer Market Is Difficult


ODG’s R8 glasses are a great augmented reality (AR) product, but not realistic in form or price for a widespread consumer device. When compared to Vuzix’s AR3000 glasses, the difference in weight and shape is clear, but even so, Vuzix’s AR3000 is still one or two generations away from being a truly compelling consumer product. Companies like Lumus, Kopin, and Texas Instruments are working to improve the display technology for these devices, maintaining form factor while simultaneously delivering adequate brightness, opacity, and resolution.

Despite enterprise interest, capturing the consumer market is needed for ubiquity. Look to the mobile device market as an example; large-scale consumer adoption helped fuel an eventual enterprise mobility revolution. No small part of that was thanks to Apple, the iPhone, and the iPad. Apple’s famed design and marketing can create interest in a product seemingly out of nowhere. We have already seen the potential for AR as a fashion statement with Snap’s Spectacles. A wide-reaching product rollout with similar interest to Snap’s Spectacles or the Apple Watch would create an instant AR market revolution.

The push toward smaller form factors is less important to enterprise customers than it is for consumers, but some use cases will favor smaller devices. Use cases requiring all-day wear, high movement, and high visibility would all prefer these thinner devices. The lower cost of these devices also helps spur early adoption; the AR market has seen a slow but steady growth over the past years, and is moving toward an inflection point in the next two to three years. This is thanks to an increase in pilot phases and small implementations (often with lower cost, simpler smart glasses) and movement toward larger rollouts. The most promising use cases currently in enterprise—remote expertise, see-what-I-see, and pick and pack—have low device capability requirements, and therefore will continue to demand devices in this category.

They're Just Like Glasses!


Consumer-friendly devices will follow a similar growth trajectory to the overall AR market, albeit slightly more delayed. Expect 2018 to present usable and realistic prototypes, with 2019 bringing increases in demand and scale. As mentioned earlier, Apple’s eventual introduction into the market could shift the space dramatically; while no such device has been confirmed from the company, a pair of attractive, iOS-compatible smart glasses would be set up for success without the same quality or usability standards to which its peers aspire.

Like many novel technologies and products, devices begin to roll out before actual interest is realized. Barriers including battery and heat need to be solved, but a focus away from performance—as seen in some enterprise-focused glasses like Microsoft’s Hololens and ODG’s R7—will minimize these obstacles a bit. Continual hardware improvements, the introduction of compelling use cases and applications, and greater consumer understanding and interest will drive adoption; this is not an instantaneous process, as paralleled in the virtual reality (VR) market, but will continue surely over the next few years.

There are no guarantees when it comes to consumer interest and adoption, but at least when it comes to hardware, current advancements are pushing devices in the right direction. Display technology will be the first to meet consumer market demands; resolution, brightness, field of view, and size are progressing quickly. What needs to catch up is battery and processing. In terms of physical size, Systems on a Chip (SoCs) are already good enough for the glasses form factor, but are let down by heat and performance. Battery features—efficiency, density, etc.—need significant advancements to hit the magic consumer glasses form factor. 

Google Glass was early to market, and it faced difficulties due to a lack of applicability and design acceptance. For design, some of the first generations of true consumer-ready smart glasses are far more advanced technologically, while coming close to a marketable design. Looking back at the progress seen over the past two years alone, it is not out of the question to expect a captivating, mass market smart glasses product available to consumers.