Tech Giants See Differently

December 3, 2020

What Happened?

Facebook

During Facebook’s Connect live stream on Wednesday, the social media giant announced that it would be launching a new consumer wearable, namely a pair of consumer ‘smart glasses’ in partnership with Ray-Ban.

However, the glasses won’t have an integrated display, and won’t qualify as an AR device. Nevertheless, they will be an important step forward for the tech giants foray into AR and will pave the way for similar projects, including Project Aria, an experimental research prototype more akin to a pair of AR glasses.

By this month, Facebook aims to test Project Aria internally with its employees and contractors and aim to iterate and improve on usability and design as well as address concerns relating to privacy and recording.

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One potential use-case is for navigation. At last year’s Connect conference, Facebook detailed its ‘Live Maps’ project, which creates a “multi-layer(ed) representation of the world” using crowdsourced data, traditional maps, and footage collected from phones and AR glasses.

Facebook has been talking about creating AR hardware since 2018, but this recent conference has provided a definitive date for releasing their new AR hardware and shows that the company is taking AR very seriously indeed.

And the Others?

Within the span of a decade, the Smartwatch industry grew from nothing to a $50 billion dollar industry and is still going strong. The consumer smart glass industry seems as juicy a pie, and giants in the tech industry are poised to take a slice.

Facebook has shown their hand. Below, we take a look at some of the other big players in the market and their plans to enter this lucrative space.

Google

Earlier this year, Google announced a new version of the infamous Google Glass, called “Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2”. The revamped edition features a new design, improved specifications, and sports a modest $999 price tag.

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Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2

However, after years of experimenting with Google Glass, the tech giant seems to have given up on the mass-market version of the Glasses and is instead focusing on the workplace.

The new smart glasses are not being sold directly to consumers, and are finding themselves in industrial applications such as Manufacturing, Logistics, Manufacturing and Healthcare.

But this doesn’t rule out Google’s entry into consumer wearables entirely. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, recently confirmed that they had acquired North, a pioneer in human-computer interfaces and smart glasses.

North’s Focals, their smart glass product for consumers, received significant media attention following their release, and reportedly provided the most consumer-friendly wearable-glasses interface on launch.


Microsoft

Microsoft launched the 2nd version of their Hololens last year, with more computing power, better sensors, longer battery life, wider FOV and a slew of improved controls such as hand and voice control.

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HoloLens 2

Designed purely for business use, the headsets are only sold to enterprise customers and come at the hefty price of $3500 USD. Hololens 2 is designed as a tool to bring value to industries such as manufacturing, construction, remote working, and many other sectors.

For example, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has recently deployed Hololens to transform training programs for technicians and frontline employees, allowing them to overcome space constraints needed to train large numbers of employees of oil and gas companies.

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But other than possible horizontal applications in Gaming, the headsets remain too bulky for everyday consumer use. However, Microsoft executives have repeatedly said that the journey to consumer AR will come eventually.

Apple

Leaks have suggested that Apple is at work developing “Apple Glass”, a pair of Augmented Reality glasses that could debut as early as 2022.

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However, a recent Medium post by former Apple executive Jean-Louise Gassée has highlighted the hurdles Apple needs to surmount in order to successfully deploy consumer smart glasses.

Gassée mentions problems with distractions, citing a 2015 study on visual attention, but raises significant concern on social and privacy issues, bringing up the uncomfortable “creep factor” of the Google Glass.

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Early prototype of Google Glass - the Verge

Nevertheless, Apple continues to work tirelessly in the pursuit of AR, with its slew of headset and mixed-reality patents, acquisitions of various AR companies, as well as recent focus on ARKit and the rollout of LIDAR.

As Bloomberg reports, Apple could be blending AR and VR with two different headsets in the coming years. The report also mentions some snags, namely internal disagreements within Apple on its approach.

Conclusion

Companies are scrambling to get a piece of the Consumer Smart Glass market. Though I touched upon a few of the largest companies, many others in the industry are also moving fast. Contenders include Chinese startup Nreal, which launched their glasses last month; Pokemon GO’s Niantic, working with Qualcomm to create a set of AR glasses; among others.

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With so many competitors, the smart glass market promises to be exciting and dynamic, and we at 26Hz are extremely excited about what the future may bring.

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