Smart Glasses: Google’s Problem, Snapchat’s Potential and the Future of Digital Frames

Wearable devices are in demand. According to Statista, the market hit $3 billion in 2016 and is expected to double over the next two years as both consumers and enterprises adopt wearable tech. While the bulk of sales stem from devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers, there’s still the elusive promise of smart glasses; Google tried and found limited success, Apple is now in on the action and Snapchat is taking aim at the top. Here’s a look at the future of digital frames:

Google’s Gaffe

In 2013, the search giant rolled out its eyewear-able Google Glass. From day one, though, there were issues: Glass wasn’t available for general sale but instead was offered to so-called “Glass Explorers,” who had to pay $1,500 for the privilege of purchasing what one Explorer called a “terrible” experience in Business 2 Community.

The article notes that the device was plagued with problems: It looked clunky, randomly stopped working and, while it offered internet connectivity, it didn’t display much in the way of useful information. It also caused a public backlash because of the ability to record videos or take photos without any notification. Theaters, casinos and similar businesses banned Glass for this reason, and the Explorers were given a certain crude and unflattering nickname. Oh, and it didn’t help that speaking to Glass in public was a requirement — who wants to say “OK, Google” on a crowded bus with no device in hand?

Of Snaps and Apples

Despite Google’s strikeout, smart glasses aren’t dead in the water just yet. According to Business Insider, Apple is working on a pair of smart frames that could hit markets by 2018 and potentially include augmented reality (AR) to convey useful information to device owners.

Snapchat Spectacles

Then there’s Snapchat. The popular here-and-gone app-maker recently rolled out its version of smart glasses — Snapchat Spectacles (shown to the right). According to Vox, they’re a whole different animal than the much-maligned Glass. Here’s why: First, they’re supply-limited — Snapchat drops dispensers at random locations that sell the specs for $129 to increase user demand and generate hype. It’s working; the company established a Spectacles store in New York for the holidays, and consumers are lining up, willing to wait hours to grab a pair. Spectacles also took different form and function cues than Glass. They look like regular sunglasses, except for a white circle in the top-left corner that lights up when recording and a similarly sized camera in the opposite corner.

The white circle makes it easy to tell when someone is taking video, and aside from posting those videos on Snapchat, there are no other features here. The Spectacles exist to help users more easily do what they already enjoy doing — without looking ridiculous. So far they’re a huge hit, but post-holiday sales will help determine the specs’ ultimate longevity.

Google, Redux?

What does the future of smart glasses look like? Ironically enough, it may rest with Google. As noted by BetaNews, the more data that surfaces about the Glass project, the more it’s becoming apparent that the tech wasn’t intended to be a finished product but rather a proof-of-concept — one that spawned numerous advances within the company and is now helping Google transition into an enterprise version of Glass. Manufacturing, health care and other industries are all slated to benefit from on-demand information access that doesn’t require users to fumble with smartphones.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the larger retail market, you could expect the future of smart glasses to look like a combination of Spectacles and Glass. The form factor will trend more toward “normal” glasses that don’t stand out or obfuscate user views, while functionality will extend beyond videos to context-aware information access. Put simply, the winning combination here will nail both social acceptance and information access simultaneously.

Photos courtesy of vivoandcapitone and Giuseppe Costantino on Flickr.

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