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The 5 surprising things to know about smart glasses

Mike Elgan | June 19, 2017
The nexus of augmented reality and smart glass hardware is a powerful combination.

With "pilot" projects like Emirates to real manufacturing applications like Boeing to a world of smart glasses research, the Google Glass program has delivered an important platform and a huge body of knowledge for figuring out how smart glasses would work.


2. Augmented reality is all about smart glasses

The public can be forgiven for believing that the smart glasses industry is just a moribund category of wearable computing that itself has disappointed expectations. Instead, the industry has moved on to focus on more promising and exciting technologies, like augmented reality.

The more sophisticated understanding, however, is that augmented reality and smart glasses are the same thing. In other words, all the investment and progress in augmented reality is building a foundation for the coming smart glasses revolution.

As Google demonstrated with Google Glass, the hardware part of smart glasses simply involves a camera, a way to control the interface (such as voice commands or touch screen) and some way to bend light into the wearer's eye.

Such hardware is already available, but it's too big and clunky to be socially acceptable. However, it's getting better, smaller, lighter, offers longer battery life and is becoming more "wearable" all the time. The hardware is an industry-wide work in progress.

More important than hardware is the creation of development platforms and the resulting interfaces and content for smart glasses -- augmented reality platforms and apps. Earlier this month, Apple unveiled something called ARKit, an augmented reality developers kit for the upcoming iOS 11 mobile operating system.

In fact, the normally stoic and circumspect CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, told an interviewer this week that he's so excited about augmented reality that he wants to "yell out and scream."

The ARKit idea is that developers can build apps for iPhones and iPads that use the camera for augmented reality. You look at the screen, and see what's on the other side of the device, plus whatever digital objects or information are to be inserted as augmented reality.

Thousands of developers are expected to use ARKit, so we can look forward to thousands of apps. But augmented reality on a phone or tablet is clearly just a stopgap for development while smart glasses evolve sufficiently for widespread use.

Apple is rumored to be working on smart glasses, a rumor that was extremely convincing even before Apple announced an all-out push into augmented reality.

Once developers have used ARKit to build mobile apps, the distance to supporting smart glasses is very short. On such a platform, the "reality" part will be normal vision, with the "augmented" bits superimposed on what the user is actually looking at.


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