Augmented reality glasses are coming

We may all be glassholes soon, which is great news for augmented reality marketing agencies.

The augmented reality revolution is well underway: over the past couple years, tech and social media giants like Snapchat, Facebook, Apple, and Google have slowly made AR a part of everyday life. Augmented reality marketing campaigns are becoming more common and millions of iOS users now have access to AR features.

Yet, despite the public’s voracious appetite for facial filters, Animojis, and furniture placement apps, the prospect of ubiquitous AR glasses still sounds like science fiction. After all, the first incarnation of Google Glass – which has admittedly experienced a renaissance in business and manufacturing settings – launched less than five years ago to cynical jeers from the public. The term glasshole, inspired by the dual evils of pretention and creepiness that Glass-users exuded, is perhaps the gadget’s most enduring legacy.

However, if rumblings from the tech and augmented reality marketing worlds are to be believed, that’s all about to change. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), hosted in Vegas as always, provided a showcase for a number of augmented reality glasses. The Verge called Vuzix’s Blade AR “the real deal.”

“The Blade provides all the benefits Google Glass provided, but better,” wrote Nick Statt. “The display is larger, clearer, and in full color. It can be moved around your vision by toggling a slider up and down in the setting of the device itself. The glasses themselves are prescription ready and weigh less than three ounces.”

The Blade isn’t physically tethered to a smartphone or computer, but can connect to the internet via Wi-Fi and pair with Android or Apple devices to display notifications, videos, and pictures. A developer version of the headset is expected in the coming months, and Vuzix is targeting the second quarter of this year for a consumer launch. The Blade costs $1,000 US today, but the company wants to cut that price by more than 50 per cent

To be sure, the Blade isn’t the perfect AR headset: it can’t touch Microsoft’s HoloLens in terms of sophistication, and it still looks a little goofy. But the HoloLens isn’t intended for mass consumption, and the Blade remains a significant improvement on Google Glass in terms functionality and style.

Reviews suggest the Blade was the cream of the crop of AR headsets at CES. In a separate article, Statt notes that the majority of headset developers at the event appeared to be “waiting for one of the really big players to take all of these disparate hardware and software ideas and marry them together into a breakthrough product.”

It’s possible that Intel may already have done just that. In early February, the company introduced its Vaunt smart glasses, which look stunningly similar to prescription frames. Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge, elaborates:

“There is no camera to creep people out, no button to push, no gesture area to swipe, no glowing LCD screen, no weird arm floating in front of the lens, no speaker, and no microphone (for now).

From the outside, the Vaunt glasses look just like eyeglasses. When you’re wearing them, you see a stream of information on what looks like a screen, but it’s actually being projected onto your retina.”

Now that’s science fiction! With Vaunt, Intel is aiming to create a pair of smart glasses that everyday users can wear without negative social consequences.

“We wanted to make sure somebody puts this on and gets value without any of the negative impact of technology on their head,” NHD head of products Itai Vonshak told Bohn. “Everything from the ground up is designed to make the technology disappear.”

Intel will allow some developers early access to Vaunt, but no consumer release date has been revealed. Bloomberg reported on February 1 that the company plans to sell a majority stake in the glasses to a business with stronger sales channels and design expertise.

Apple, too, is rumoured to be hard at work on a consumer-facing AR headset. Tim Cook’s company made its augmented reality ambitions clear when it launched ARKit last year, and Cook has been hyping the technology for months. An official announcement could be made as early as this year, and some analysts believe the product could be in stores by 2020.

“Apple’s in need of a new product category,” wrote TechRadar’s Gerald Lynch. “The last time Apple launched an inarguably successful new product line was the iPad – and even that has proved difficult to maintain momentum in. AR is an exciting new area, and one in which Apple (at least in hardware terms) wouldn’t have huge competition in, at least in the present.”

Will AR glasses from Apple be accepted where Google Glass was not? If Apple were to introduce its headset today, it seems unlikely that consumers would flock to such an alien product. On the other hand, Apple has a reputation for waiting until the iron is hot before striking. A 2020 launch may give the public enough time with other augmented reality products to overcome its glasshole-inspired bias against AR wearables. Augmented reality marketing agencies certainly hope that’s the case.