While the smartphone controls the world of technology today as the primary computing device, the next big hardware platform is expected to be some version of augmented reality glasses.
The big picture: Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Google are all pursuing this vision, and many pieces are starting to fall into place. But the holy grail of an affordable computer in something not much bigger than a standard pair of glasses is probably still a few years away.
How it works: Such glasses allow users to see what is in front of them, but with digital information overlapped, such as map directions, contact information and messages. Cameras and microphones make it possible to take pictures and sounds and allow different types of inputs, with speech likely to play a key role.
Who is involved: Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft have all shown interest and invested heavily in the underlying technologies. Analysts also expect phone manufacturers such as Samsung and PC manufacturers such as Lenovo to enter the action.
Be smart: If you look closely, you can see some of the key underlying technologies that have already been developed and tested right away.
- Facebook plans to debut smart glasses later this year, designed in collaboration with Ray-Ban manufacturer Luxottica. These glasses ̵
- Oculus Facebooks The device has focused mostly on virtual rather than augmented reality, but there is a good deal of crossover between the two. Oculus Quest 2 and other VR headsets can deliver AR using cameras to see into the outside world.
- Microsoft already sells Hololens, which packs the power of a Windows 10 computer into a headset, albeit one that is still too bulky and expensive to appeal to consumers. Microsoft has made it available to developers and some enterprise customers, and also does early work with the U.S. military.
- Google Glasses, the first device in this category that attracted regular attention, flopped as a consumer product, but a slightly updated version is still sold to companies.
- apple has shared a few details, but has made many moves – including a recent move by CEO Dan Riccio, reportedly to lead Apple’s VR / AR efforts. According to reports from Bloomberg and The Information, Apple is developing a VR headset that will also use cameras to see into the real world. The device, which could cost in the $ 3,000 range and arrive next year, could serve as a chance for both high-end consumers and developers to start testing the technology that will make fully developed AR glasses work.
- Both Apple’s AirPods and Apple Watch represents efforts toward miniaturization of technology and ways to test individual components, such as the spatial sound feature that comes with the latest AirPods Pro. Several companies hope to solve some of the AR technical glasses’ tough technical challenges by sharing the data processing on several devices. Qualcomm, among other things, aims to relieve some of the glasses ‘treatment needs on users’ smartphones.
- Pokémon Go creator Niantic has a partnership with Qualcomm and has also been concerned with mapping the real world and developing the kinds of augmented reality experiences that consumers want.
Yes but: The technical obstacles are many, especially if the goal is really something as light and unobtrusive as glasses.
- Miniaturization: While many of the computing processes are in place for such glasses, including small cameras, microphones and processors, the components are not yet small enough to have something that is both fully equipped and lightweight.
- Battery life: Just as you want your smartphone to last all day, you will be able to wear your smart glasses wherever you go. Many of today’s headsets, both VR and AR, last only a few hours between charges.
- Heat: Today’s processor chips are more energy efficient than ever, but they still provide heat when they work hard, and users will not appreciate it when the device rests on its face.
- Show: Many of today’s AR glasses have only a limited field of view, instead of the ideal experience of being able to place computer images anywhere the eye can see. Devices also have difficulty obtaining enough light to make the projected information easily visible in sunlight.
- Cost: Putting all the necessary technology in a single device, even with the above limitations, adds a product that costs several thousand dollars.
– The challenge is to make the technology more energy efficient, so that it can be used for a longer period of time, without affecting the form factor, Qualcomm’s VP Hugo Swart told Axios. “AR glasses need to be smaller, lighter and have a longer battery life. Qualcomm is committed to making AR glasses the next big thing,”
Even more difficult than the technical challenges are the social dilemmas of the new technology, Facebook Reality Labs CEO Andrew Bosworth told Axios.
“How do you fit all this into a socially acceptable, comfortable form factor that people feel fits the way they want to express themselves? And then of course you have to consider the people who do not have the glasses. How does this affect them, how do you solve their discomfort? How do you always overcome the privacy issues with cameras and microphones? “
– Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth, to Axios
That’s part of why Facebook has launched Project Aria, an attempt to measure the societal reaction to smart glasses that always have cameras and microphones.
Our thought bubble: Although users may be persuaded to trust that the glasses do not spy on their friends and families or record private conversations, the new devices will require new standards for every conceivable social situation.
Looking back: These questions came back when Google first introduced Project Glass back in 2012.
- Part of what judged the groundbreaking smart glasses as a portable consumer – beyond the immature technology – was that they were seen as scary and intrusive. (Remember this?)