Will smart glasses replace smartphones?

Google Glass wearable product photography.
Photo: Google Glass

On July 19, 2022, The Google Announced a test of new smart glasses with augmented reality technology. Inevitably, the question has returned in the tech industry since 2013 – when Google launched its first smart glasses -: Will smart glasses replace smartphones?

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, believes that smart glasses will replace smartphones by 2030. The inventor of Microsoft Hololens, Alex Kipman, agrees, says Bloomberg That “smartphones are dead”, but people don’t know it yet. Even the major smartphone makers agree that something big is coming.

Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said 6G will be a reality by 2030, but users will not connect to it with their smartphones, but rather with smart glasses, CNBC mentioned.

Glasses such as Toshiba’s dynaEdge, Magic Leap One, Microsoft Hololens and Google Enterprise Glass Edition have sold and performed well but are mostly aimed at the industry and business segment. They are used in smart factories, to train technical workers, perform inspections, operate digital twins and even be worn NASA astronauts.

On the other hand, smart glasses targeting the consumer audience are slowly gaining momentum. Glasses such as the Lenovo ThinkReality A3, Amazon Echo Frames, Bose Frames, Snap Spectacles 3, Nreal Air, and Oculus Quest 2 – produced by Meta – are being promoted as the gateway to the Metaverse. However, there are many technical and legal reasons why consumers have not fully embraced smart glasses.

Smart glasses: technical and legal challenges

Mounting a fully functional mini-computer on a pair of glasses is a technically challenging journey. The processor chip and hardware should be smaller than those inside a smartphone, but it should be stable and powerful enough to provide the data-intensive features of augmented reality that even smartphones don’t.

In addition, battery size and duration, control options, connectivity, audio, video, and especially small displays, are the main barriers preventing the technology from taking off.

On the other hand, smart glasses for personal use have sparked controversy due to personal data tracking and abuse of individual privacy rights by recording video, taking pictures or grabbing audio and other data without consent.

We see: Artificial Intelligence Ethics Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

In September 2021, the Meta Rayban smart glasses were branded by both Italian and Irish DPC and Garante. DPC and Italian data protection regulator student Meta to show how smart glasses notify other people when they capture audio and video.

Amazon, Google, Meta, and even Apple have historically faced lawsuits over privacy and data management. Legal procedures in Europe have the power to temporarily suspend or modify new products or services. Technology companies may be asked to cancel product launches in the region.

Data and privacy policies are still highly demanded by global consumers and there are many regulations in place to ensure this. Companies developing smart glasses must meet requirements set by laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an important European law for data protection and privacy. And in the United States, they must also comply with federal and state privacy and data laws.

These complex technical, ethical and legal issues, undoubtedly put an end to the massive adoption of smart glasses globally. It could also be one of the reasons Why hasn’t Apple revealed its smart glasses yet. The Cupertino company can perfect its products to meet these challenges.

Google Metaverse: Reality vs. Virtual

Unlike Apple, Microsoft, and especially Meta, Google’s Metaverse project has historically remained low. However, the company has recently begun to take a more aggressive approach to building the hardware and software behind immersive reality experiences.

In December 2021, Google hired Mark Lukowski—General Manager of Oculus-Meta OS — as Senior Manager of the newly created augmented reality operating system team. The team was set up to develop the operating system for what Google describes as an “innovative augmented reality device.” Fast forward eight months and Google has announced the testing of a new smart glass technology.

“Augmented reality opens up new ways to interact with the world around us,” Google said in the announcement’s blog post. Google’s vision for the metaverse is one in which “technology helps people perform everyday tasks”.

With these new smart glasses, users can get real-time interpretation when they have real-world conversations by overlaying text in their field of view. Google is also testing the augmented reality navigation features of its new smartphones and the translation of text applications, for example when a user reads a menu.

We see: Metaverse Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need to Know (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Google’s new smart glass prototype is neither bulky nor heavy. They look like regular glasses with a display inside the lens and optical and acoustic sensors. The smart glass prototype goes from lab testing to real-world testing to determine its limitations. Google also wants to know how real-world factors such as weather or crowded streets affect the augmented reality experience.

A few dozen Googlers and trusted testers were selected for small-scale testing. Prototypes include in-lens displays, microphones, and cameras, but do not photograph, record, or take photographs to avoid privacy issues associated with smart glasses.

Google states that most images used during the experiment are later deleted. Some image data may be stored for analysis and debugging, but sensitive content such as faces and license plates is erased. Like the Meta Rayban smart glasses, this new Google prototype warns other users that the camera is active via a visible LED attached to the frame of the glasses.

Google appears to be moving into the metaverse augmented reality, building functional digital features of everyday life on the foundations of reality. This sober metaphysical vision contrasts sharply with the color VR vision being developed by Meta, Roblox, Decentraland, and Microsoft, to name a few. If smart glasses are to replace smartphones, they will definitely have to provide the real-world functionality that smartphones offer today, this gives augmented reality glasses a clear market advantage over virtual reality headsets.