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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.

In fact, it seems like every major technology industry is working on augmented reality platforms. Facebook, at its own developers conference recently, unveiled its platform for augmented reality. It's called the Facebook Camera Effects platform. And other major companies are not only working on augmented reality platforms, but have also announced smart glasses hardware itself.

Microsoft demonstrates Hololens with interactive games, but the product is pure enterprise for now. Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft, of course, is working on its highly anticipated HoloLens, which is available currently only to developers and mostly for enterprise applications.

Former Android founder Andy Rubin is in the news because his unicorn startup, Essential, announced a new phone and virtual assistant appliance. Less well known is that Essential's got a patent for smart glasses. Rubin is a well-known fan of the Google Glass concept .

And, of course, augmented reality smart glasses startups like Google-backed Magic Leap are getting major funding.

So whether we're talking about the companies like Microsoft and Magic Leap that emphasize hardware, or companies like Apple and Facebook that emphasize augmented reality, they're all working toward the same goal: the mainstreaming of augmented reality smart glasses.


3. Smart glasses are really about prosthetic knowledge

Why would Emirates Airline go to the trouble of outfitting flight attendants with smart glasses? Why not give them tablets to look up the same information?

The reason is that the effect of smart glasses will be completely different from every other user interface. It won't look or feel like people are "using" a computer.

Let's say Emirates did roll out augmented reality tablets. One flight attendant wants to interact with the passenger in seat 2B. He goes and gets the tablet. He stands next to the passenger and holds up the tablet, which shows the passenger's name and some helpful personal information.

This scenario is ridiculous and would never happen.

Now let's do the smart glasses version. The passenger in seat 2B presses the call button. The flight attendant comes over, and instantly the passenger's name and other information appears overlaid on his glasses. He's able to respond in a customized fashion, recalling previous engagements on prior flights and reflecting the passenger's personal profile.

The difference is that using augmented reality on a phone or tablet is like "using" a computer. Using augmented reality with smart glasses is like "prosthetic knowledge" — the information appears to the wearer in a way that simulates the occurrence of a thought or memory.

It feels that way, too.

I used a Google app called Word Lens on Google Glass while living in Italy three years ago. Word Lens is an early augmented reality app that translates the language of words. It's amazing because it keeps the translation in the same color and typeface as the original.


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