What it is: Google Glass made a huge splash upon its introduction as a wearable computer, but its promise fizzled out too soon.
Whatever you think of Google Glass, it’s not the runaway product success that Google might have hoped for. Beyond the $1,500 price tag, Google Glass seems to have failed more because of privacy concerns and less because of technological issues. With its video camera, people feared being secretly recorded without their permission. Others fears that Google Glass could use facial recognition features to spy on people and record conversations. Google Glass seems to have faded from view, but it’s likely Google’s engineers are still toying with improvements to make it more acceptable.
Although Google Glass didn’t quite succeed, rumors recently point to Apple investigating the idea of wearable computers embedded in glasses as well. This is supposedly part of Apple’s augmented/virtual reality research. While it’s possible that Apple is investigating smart glasses for augmented reality, chances are good it will be something more.
First of all, any technology works best when you don’t need to force users into buying something new. The Internet became popular since people could access it using ordinary computers. Imagine if you had to buy a special computer to access the Internet. Chances are good few people would have done so.
Second, technology works best when it’s convenient. The Segway may be a revolutionary transportation device, but it’s too expensive ($5,000), too cumbersome to carry up stairs like a bicycle, and too limited since sidewalks are for people and roads are for cars, so where do Segways go? Riding a Segway on a sidewalk interferes with pedestrians and riding a Segway on the road is somewhat dangerous.
Those two reasons alone make the idea of smart glasses interesting, but not necessary to realize Apple’s augmented reality dreams. Smart glasses may be part of a heads-up display that pilots already use in cockpits to keep their eyes on the skies inside of scanning their instrument panels, so smart glasses will have specific uses, but not general uses. Smart glasses are most useful if you wear them all the time, but you likely won’t be needing them at all times. When you have to wear smart glasses without using them, then they become a nuisance.
Put the smart glasses away and now it’s too easy not to take them out again. Smartphones are different because people are already used to carrying them around and pulling them out when they need them. That’s why the future of augmented reality doesn’t rely on headsets or smart glasses, but on existing smartphones and tablets.
Pull out a smartphone, aim it at a scene, and augmented reality can overlay the live image with cartoon descriptions of street names or directions to a destination. Then put the smartphone away when you don’t need it.
Using a smartphone for augmented reality makes sense since people already use smartphones. Requiring smart glasses to use augmented reality makes far less sense because this immediately limits the number of people willing to use it.
So while it’s likely Apple is investigating and researching the idea of smart glasses, it’s far more likely they plan on introducing augmented reality to the iPhone long before they introduce smart glasses of any kind.
Google Glass failed because it wasn’t convenient to wear all the time, especially since so many people developed negative ideas about being recorded secretly by Google Glass wearers in public. Smart glasses likely won’t fare any better because they’re equally inconvenient to use in public, although they can be perfect for niche markets such as baggage handlers at airports or police officers searching for criminals in a crowd.
The latest rumor claims that Apple’s augmented reality interests include smart glasses. The truth is that apple’s augmented reality doesn’t need smart glasses because it can be viewed on iPhones and iPads instead. Smart glasses may be part of the future of augmented reality, but it’s definitely not a necessary component.