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Why Apple will make smart glasses

Mike Elgan | Jan. 23, 2017
Instead of making unfashionable smart glasses, Apple will make fashionable glasses smart.

The Sony SmartEyeGlass, GlassUp UNO and Factory 4.0, Epson Moverio BT-300, Jins Meme, Recon Jet, Optinvent Ora-2 Professional Smart Glass, CastAR, LaForge Shima, Oakley’s Radar Pace and HiAR Glasses all fall into these categories. They're all too much on the face to be worn around all the time.

Another emerging category are so-called smart glasses that measure brain waves. Safilo Group, which is the company behind Dior, Fendi and Hugo Boss glasses, is developing ordinary looking glasses that measure brainwaves, then send that data to an app where users can monitor their moods.

Finally, of course, there is the already thriving enterprise smart glasses market.

Chinese computer and smartphone giant Lenovo launched new smart glasses at CES. The company's Glass C200 product comes with a pocket unit that connects the glasses via high speed LTE mobile wireless.

I told you about Osterhaut Design Group's consumer announcement. They also announced an R-9 for enterprises.

We've been hearing about Vuzix's M300 Smart Glasses for enterprise for quite a while, but the product should go on sale this month.

Why the market is wide open for Apple
All the bulky, goofy, expensive smart glasses on the market now may find niches in gaming, drone-control, enterprise and other uses. But they won't go mainstream, and therefore won't change how we use our mobile devices.

I wrote in this space about Vue glasses, which use bone-conduction audio and blinking lights to deliver communion with a smartphone and thereby deliver smartness. They offer neither screen nor camera. But they do offer one feature that makes them more mainstream than all the other products I told you about: They can pass for regular glasses.

They also demonstrate a core feature of smart glasses that just about everyone overlooks. It turns out that glasses are a perfect place to deliver audio interaction -- a microphone and bone-conduction audio. Because glasses can hold a bigger battery, glasses are better than earbuds for interaction with a virtual assistant, such as Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant or Cortana. They can be worn all day, every day. They keep the ears unobstructed. And the battery can last for days between charges.

For that reason alone I believe smart glasses are inevitable. Any subtle integration of a screen -- perchance a camera -- is frosting on the cake, so to speak.

The weird thing about wearables is that they're fashion, with all the attributes of customization and personal identity associated with fashion.

The tech sector has proved that it's not really up to the challenge of offering compelling fashion designs in wearables.

But Luxottica is a fashion company. And, let's face it, Apple is too.


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