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Why 'invisible smart glasses' are the perfect wearable

Mike Elgan | Nov. 7, 2016
Dozens of companies promise conspicuous, bulky and expensive smart glasses. But the best idea is regular glasses that are smart.

Crowdfunding is one way to gauge demand. Vue's Kickstarter campaign launched less than two weeks ago, and has raised more than $370,000.

Kickstarter backers can get Vue glasses for $179, and the company expects to ship in July. The full retail price is expected to be $269.99.

Why invisible smart glasses are the perfect wearable

Vue glasses represent an emerging category of invisible smart glasses that make the gadgetry invisible by abandoning optics -- no cameras, no screens. Other contenders in this space include Zungle Panther sunglasses and VSP Level glasses.

Eventually, we'll have the technology to make invisible smart glasses that do have optics. I wrote in January about Carl Zeiss's smart glass technology, which achieves invisibility using something called a fresnel lens.

Laforge Optical is already offering for pre-order a $590 pair of smart glasses called Shima glasses, which do offer a heads-up display but achieve near invisibility by reflecting a temple-embedded screen into the right eye via a "series of optical elements in the lens." (I wouldn't advise pre-ordering new technology like this without seeing and trying them first.)

Optics, not optics -- whatever. The crucial feature is "invisibility" of the electronics. The future of smart glasses will be dominated by wearables that pass as ordinary, everyday glasses.

I believe the so-called "killer app" for invisible smart glasses is artificially intelligent virtual assistants -- the coming-soon revolution I wrote about here recently.

Consumers are falling in love with their Amazon Echos and Google Homes. These virtual assistant appliances thrill because you don't have to pull out your phone and find and launch an app. You just talk. And the appliances talk back.

Once people have these in their homes, they want them in their cars, offices and everywhere. But plugging in "appliances" all over the place is inelegant. True ubiquity (as well as improved fidelity, lower cost and enhanced personalization and privacy) will be enabled by wearing the virtual assistant appliance on your physical person.

Hearables are one solution. This new category of wearables that I told you about in this space involves earbuds with wirelessly connected computers built in. Hearables are great, but aren't practical for everyday, all-day use. They're uncomfortable after a few hours, which doesn't matter, because their batteries don't last that long.

Invisible smart glasses will prove to be far more practical. With batteries that last longer than a full day, and no uncomfortable "bud" in your ears, they'll be just like wearing the glasses you're already wearing.

Unlike Google Glass, hearables or even smart watches, invisible smart glasses are perfectly "sticky." Because they're your glasses, you'll wear them all day, every day, even if the battery is dead.


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