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The Resurgence of Smart Glasses: 2023 Marks a Pivotal Year for AR Wearables

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Written by AiBot

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Dec 31, 2023

After early missteps and faded hype, 2023 is shaping up to be a landmark year for smart glasses and augmented reality wearables. Major tech firms like Meta and Snap are doubling down on AR glasses, while startups continue pushing boundaries. Recent advances, falling costs, and growing enterprise adoption signals these devices may finally be ready for primetime.

A Decade After Google Glass, the AR Industry Regroups and Refocuses

The story of smart glasses cannot be told without revisiting Google Glass. Unveiled in 2012 to much fanfare, Glass marked the first time a major tech company released an optical head-mounted display for consumers. With features like hands-free photos, messaging, and web browsing projected onto a small transparent screen, Glass appeared straight out of a sci-fi movie.

But significant privacy concerns, social stigma, and a $1,500 price tag hindered mainstream success. Google pivoted Glass for business use before eventually shutting down the Explorer program in 2015.

While Glass underwhelmed, it offered valuable hardware and user experience lessons to the nascent AR industry. Companies realized the technology was not ready for average consumers. Instead, they shifted focus to developing enterprise and specialized use cases.

Meanwhile, hardware capabilities, cellular connectivity, app ecosystems, and AI software have improved tremendously since Glass first launched. These foundations now enable more polished, useful AR wearables for both businesses and consumers.

Meta Quest Pro Targets Hybrid Reality for Knowledge Workers

In October 2022, Meta unveiled the Quest Pro – successor to the shelved Facebook AR glasses project.

Priced at $1,500, the Quest Pro features pancake optics with vivid AR visuals, multiple outward-facing cameras for mixed reality capture, eye- and face-tracking, plus new environments optimized for productivity.

Rather than chasing full immersion like VR, Meta is positioning the Quest Pro as a hybrid reality device. Key use cases include 3D visualization for designers, hands-free computing for knowledge workers, and advanced collaboration tools.

During a recent earnings call, Meta shared over 1,100 organizations are already using Quest Pro via custom enterprise programs. This includes PwC accountants overlaying multiple screens in VR, Volvo technicians remotely assisting with repairs, and NBC broadcasting Racketball matches in AR.

While still early for consumers, Meta’s enterprise push aims to validate real-world utility for AR wearables. Their goal is seeding Quest Pro in businesses today to eventually achieve scale and distribution for mainstream adoption down the road.

Snap Spectacles Showcase Stylish, Social AR Capabilities

Snap has taken a differentiated approach from Meta, developing fun smart glasses catered towards their younger demographic.

In 2016, Snap launched their first camera-enabled Spectacles, which could record 10-second clips synced to Snapchat. The viral sunglasses generated hype via pop-up vending machines in surprise locations. At $130, Spectacles were an affordable, quirky way bringing AR into the mainstream.

Today Snap offers 3D-enhanced Spectacles for $380. The latest model adds dual 3D cameras, spatial audio, and hand-gesture interactions to overlay immersive AR effects over real world views. Spectacles unlock social use cases like applying funny facial filters while video chatting with friends.

While Snap may never rival Meta’s enterprise distribution and infrastructure, their stylish, social take on AR glasses serves an important niche. Snap’s viral marketing and strong Gen Z following validates consumer appetite for these types of wearables. Their continued Spectacles innovation pressures the overall industry to keep enhancing designs, capabilities, and real-world benefits.

Emerging Trends Show Hardware Getting Tinier, AI Getting Smarter

Beyond major brands like Meta and Snap, we are seeing promising developments across the AR glasses startup ecosystem:

Hardware Miniaturization – Companies like Vuzix are packing projection systems and optics into standard prescription lens frames. MicroLED projectors and waveguides will eventually yield normal-looking glasses. Integration with hearables for private audio also continues improving.

prescription lens frames.

Company Product Description
Vuzix Blade 3 Smart Glasses AR wearable with waveguide display in frame, Android OS, Alexa built-in
Lumus Consumer AR reference design Prescription lens integrated with transparent AR display

AI Assistance – Startups Nreal and Anzu specialize in tethering glasses to phones. On-board cameras scan surroundings while AI assistants identify objects, surfaces, room layouts, other people’s faces, and more to enable advanced mixed reality overlays.

Immersive Fitness & Gaming – ThirdEye and Mojo Vision are developing AR glasses tailored for consumers and athletes. Applications include HUDs overlaying stats to track runs or sports performance, plus immersive gaming and entertainment.

While still evolving, falling costs and cloud services enable startups innovating niche use cases on modest budgets. These smaller firms act as product testing grounds before capabilities make their way upstream.

What Does the Future Hold for Smart AR Glasses?

Early skepticism around bulky designs, short battery life, and spotty software has given way to guarded optimism. The AR industry finally has strong foundations for building towards mainstream adoption.

We are nearing an inflection point where the first wave of consumer and enterprise devices will ship at scale later this year. These will act as trojan horses seeding ambient computing through glasses rather than phones.

Once the hardware, software, and use cases fall into place, smart glasses adoption could scale rapidly over 2-3 years, similar to the early days of Pelotons, AirPods, and VR gaming.

The next major milestones involve Apple’s highly anticipated AR glasses expected to launch around 2025. Apple’s entry to the market with luxury styling and polished user experiences should catalyze competition and kick the smart glasses industry into overdrive.

2023 won’t be the year AR glasses replace your phone, but for early adopters they unlock amazing new ways perceiving the world. For average consumers, they represent the first glimpses into an emerging computing paradigm centered around effortless immersion. The groundwork laid this year marks just the beginning for smart glasses becoming integral to how we work and play.

What Questions Remain Unanswered Around AR Glasses?

Despite promising advances, questions persist on whether smart glasses can truly gain mainstream traction:

  • Social acceptance – can consistent design iteration finally overcome glasshole stigma?
  • UI/UX refinement – what control mechanisms beyond hand tracking feel natural?
  • Safety & regulation – how will policy makers balance privacy, safety and functionality?
  • Power & portability – can battery tech improve while shrinking hardware?
  • Developer support – how quickly can ecosystem support professional and consumer use cases?

While the initial outlook appears bright, the ultimate fate of smart glasses rests on how the tech industry navigates these open challenges in the years ahead.

AiBot

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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