What it is: Three augmented reality firms have failed recently.
For a while, augmented reality was the latest technology trend much like 3D TV and Blu-ray DVDs. However in the past year, three prominent augmented reality startups have failed: Osterhaut Design Group (ODG), Meta Company, and Blippar. The reason is simple.
Augmented reality glasses are too expensive, too bulky, and fail to solve a specific problem. New technology always exists to capture that gee-whiz hype prominent at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) where technology is promoted for the sake of novelty.
However the purpose of all technology is to solve problems. Ideally, new technology solves problems faster and more efficiently, but the best technology solves problems that were impossible to solve with current technology.
The telegraph was simply a faster version of the Pony Express, and the telephone was simply a faster version of the telegraph. What the telegraph offered over the Pony Express was reliability. What the telephone offers over the telephone was interactivity.
A telegraph sends a message one way. A telephone allows two-way conversation instantly.
Smart phones are nothing more than mobile telephones. They solve the problem of not being reachable when others need to talk to you. Once mobile phones became popular, smart phones defined by the iPhone took over and got rid of the unwieldy mix of tiny screens, slide out keyboards, and physical buttons.
So technology always improves on existing solutions but offers something that current technology can’t do as well. That should be simple to understand but all those failed augmented reality companies didn’t grasp this concept.
Instead, they devoted time and money creating gee-whiz technology that looked impressive but failed to solve any particular need. With smart glasses, the most obvious glaring need is to replace eyeglasses.
People wearing eyeglasses are already using augmented reality in the form of physical lenses. Replace those lenses with computational photography found in smartphone cameras and you’ll have a light weight lens that you can adjust the magnification for close or far away.
Get the weight down to the weight of an average pair of eyeglasses, keep the price reasonable, and if smart glasses can replace traditional eyeglasses, there’s an instant solution right there. Smart glasses don’t need to display directions or ads in front of someone’s eyes, nor do they need to duplicate a smartphone’s purpose in a pair of eyeglasses.
Instead, smart glasses just need to replace ordinary eyeglasses. Give people to chance to magnify their lenses to see far away without the need for binoculars. Then let them change the magnification to read up close without clumsy bifocals.
The obvious need for augmented reality glasses is to improve eyesight better than physical lenses can do.
Once augmented reality startups realize they need a purpose for their technology, perhaps they wouldn’t waste so much time and money flushed down the toilet for no purpose. Too many startups come up with technology and then search for a way to use it. It’s far better to identify a solution and then create the technology to achieve that solution.
Obvious, but not to startups. Until people realize technology must solve a pressing problem faster, cheaper, or better than existing technology, we’ll continue watching startups failing as they ignore the obvious fact that technology must offer a clear, compelling solution.
The first augmented reality company that can achieve this will be the leader and everyone else will fall by the wayside.