Monday, April 08, 2013

Smart glasses. 3 of 4 search giants could be in. Good vision or blind hype?

Is this the start of the post-smartphone era? The future of search?


KEY MOBILE TRENDS: smart glasses, post-smartphone era, wearables, AR, proactivity, lifelogging.
EVENT HORIZON: Four years.

Smart glasses: there's lots of noise now, but exactly where is the market opportunity? The search is on.

Companies are throwing their chips on the table. There's Google, Baidu, Vuzix, Motorola Solutions, and Sony. I have also heard talk of advanced heads-up display accessories coming from adjacent industry players, so expect a headset computing flood during the next four years. In fact, now Microsoft is rumored to be developing a product in this category as well. Clearly there are those who see market potential.

It's interesting to note that the world's largest search service providers —Baidu, Google, and possibly Microsoft— are entering the un-market for such devices. Despite the fact that prospects are entirely speculative, the greater risk for these players is being absent early and then very late to market: search of the future could be very contextual and augmented right in front of your eyes.

The great unknown is not the technology or pricing, but rather it is consumer acceptance of the the product category. While interest in Google Glass appears sincere among developers and the "innovator" consumer class, mainstream adoption could face a long line of hurdles.

The concept is not entirely untested. Head-mounted displays or near-to-eye displays have been around for more than a decade. I've tried several of these headsets at industry trade shows over the years and have found the experience rather bizarre, like watching a move through a child's View-Master. But studies have shown that users of NEDs did enjoy the experience and were positively surprised by the display quality. But if you are wondering why you don't see many people wearing NEDs on your morning train, check out the picture at the bottom of this post.

Yes, there is the social stigma of looking like a Star Trek character, but in addition to the fashion police, consumers will have other concerns. For example, the police police, the potential adverse health effects, and privacy worries.

But for smartphone vendors, the worry could be that the post-smartphone era is in sight. Devices like Glass could combine the latest in miniaturized computing with the freshest business-model thinking. We could begin to see local search and other contextual services become an integral part of devices. So, smartphone vendors, don't look away: the day might come when it's time to get in your customer's face.

CNET's Top-Five Reasons for Google Glass:

A NED nerd. How many of these have you seen around? Sony's head-mounted display:


Michael said...

Regarding acceptance - and I'm generalising from my own experience here, which I know is dangerous - there's a sizeable minority, including myself, who wear glasses all the time anyway and are who used to paying the price of a smartphone for our entirely dumb frames. I also think the design of Glass is sufficiently subtle that many dumb-glass wearers would not feel self-conscious wearing it.

Also, some of the resistance to Glass, such as the Stop the Cyborgs campaign here in the UK, could almost have been designed by Google to glamorize the product.

Now, concerning Microsoft, you were speculating a few days ago as to whether MS has an equivalent to Google Now in development. It strikes me that Now/Siri-style technology is quite essential to make a success of spectacle-computing. It has to be something proactive that doesn't require constant input to be useful. I wonder if that's where the heart of this race is.

Peter Bryer: Mobile Foresighter said...

Thanks for the comment Mike.

"Proactive" is one key trend I neglected to mention in my post. Personal assistants like Siri will be usurped by proactive assistants which get much better at using many different data streams including behaving life tracking in order to make near-intelligent decisions for the user.

Here is an opportunity for some player, perhaps Microsoft+Nokia/NAVTEQ, to do some leapfrogging over Apple an even Google. Let's see.