Wearable Tech World Feature Article
February 02, 2016

Can Microsoft Revive Consumer Smart Glasses?

While Google Glass didn't go as far as some might have liked, Microsoft is not planning to let this market die quietly. Sure, smart glasses have made a great case at the corporate level, but there's still room for a consumer market. Microsoft plans to make a push in the market, and help drive it to some noteworthy new levels, as illustrated by a new study from Juniper Research.

The Juniper Research study suggests that, in 2020, over 12 million consumer smart glasses will ship, and most of the growth in the market will arrive after 2017. Given that there were fewer than one million devices shipped in 2016 over the entire market, that's a fairly big gain. The biggest hit to the market came with the departure of Google Glass, a hit so big it actually knocked the market about 15 months behind previous schedule. The arrival of several new devices, however—Sony's, the Magic Leap and the Microsoft HoloLens—should likely perk the market back up and achieve those sales targets noted earlier.

Already several devices have offered noteworthy use cases; the Recon Jet, for example, has proven useful for athletes, particularly cyclists. Aside from these examples, however, the notion of how to use these devices has left potential users uncertain of the value. Reports suggest that real success will come from smart glasses being used mainly at home, rather than taken everywhere. The Atheer One put this method to use, but its departure from the market left a fairly substantial hole behind. Naturally, the use of smart glasses in the workplace will still be huge, but for the consumer market it will take something of a different proposition.

This is a reasonable notion; one of the biggest objections to Google Glass was its always-on cameras. The users didn't so much object to that as did everyone around the users at the time. There were some places that refused service to anyone wearing Google Glass, and that's not the kind of thing that encourages use. So the notion of a home-based system that puts smart glasses to work is reasonable, and might be best. The idea of watching television while wearing smart glasses is noteworthy; one could look at a commercial and want more information about a product on screen. However, one key use case—one I've always believed to be the best—for smart glasses is gone at home: navigation. Being able to see representations of turn arrows right in a driver's field of view is much more helpful than looking at a dash-mounted unit. Say what you will about distracted driving, but I maintain a driver constantly looking at the road, even to get directions, is less distracted than a driver looking at a dash unit.

Still, the opportunities are there, and Microsoft HoloLens might be able to succeed where Google could not. That's an unusual proposition by itself, and one that bears watching the closer we get to 2020.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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