Smart glasses: The AR revolution is nearly upon us

Virtual reality has its loyal followers, but most would still consider the technology a niche. Augmented reality (AR), on the other hand, has the potential to become transformative across entertainment, enterprise, healthcare, and many more verticals. What the more successful VR headset, Oculus Quest 2, has demonstrated to the industry is just how valuable an all-in-one solution can be.

The world wasn’t quite ready for Google Glass back in 2014, but many in the industry are working towards an AR-powered set of “smart glasses” that can offer a plethora of features and possibly replace a smartphone in the coming years. Insiders believe that Apple will launch its first-ever smart glasses sometime in 2022. NY-based Vuzix, meanwhile, has already iterated on several versions of its own smart glasses, and sales of its newest version to businesses tripled during the first quarter of 2021, while annual sales in 2020 rose 68% to $10 million.

Vuzix CEO Paul Travers has called their smart glasses the “beginnings of a sea change to the future of wearable computing.” And Big Tech undoubtedly will want a piece of the action. Facebook’s Oculus is just the beginning (and Mark Zuckerberg has talked before about AR’s potential), Microsoft’s HoloLens is likely to further evolve, Amazon has already created minimalistic Echo Frames (using Alexa), Snap has its own Spectacles, and there are countless others. The holy grail for engineers is to create something that is as lightweight and comfortable as a traditional pair of eyeglasses yet offers intuitive and powerful AR-enhanced features.

Enterprise, as Vuzix has shown, already sees the value in smart glasses, but consumers will take more convincing. The opportunity to disrupt the market in much the same way that Apple did with its first iPhone in 2007 certainly exists, but exactly who the target audience will be is unclear at this juncture.

Interpret’s New Media Measure® does give us some clues, however, as men and gamers are far more likely to either own, know about, or want to know more about AR headsets than women or non-gamers. Additionally, younger audiences have been more interested in AR, especially teenagers. This bodes well for future acceptance of AR and smart glasses, particularly as these younger consumers grow older and increase their earning potential.