Smart glasses, as their name indicates, are glasses that internally display computer information like weather, emails and other messages, GPS coordinates, or even environmental descriptors, acting as mini-screens superimposed over their primary function. Several prominent names in tech have their own version, from Snapchat’s Spectacles to Intel’s prototypes. If this futuristic and practical object has its way, will it be enough end the hegemony of the smartphone, with its more than 5 billion subjects? It’s not impossible to imagine.
If there’s one project synonymous with withering on the vine, it’s Google Glass. Launched in 2013, the project that was supposed to bring about a revolution quickly became a monumental flop. So much so that they ceased development in 2015, before the object even saw the commercial light of day, reports Forbes magazine. The blame lay in poor aesthetic design and — especially — the fear of those nearby of being watched by the glasses’ cameras. “Society does not appear to be ready to accept a permanent link between the real world and the web,” the magazine says. In 2017, that was still the case, and it’s uncertain if the v2 glasses, announced last summer, will fare any better, writes the Guardian.
Spectacles, doubling down
After Google, it was Snapchat’s turn to attempt to transform glasses from accessory into technology… and to run straight into a wall, in 2017. Despite publicity campaigns to try to reframe them as cool, the Spectacles fizzled. As The Information writes, only 0.08% of Snapchat users bought them. Without a doubt, the company underestimated the enthusiasm of potential clients for smart glasses whose sole purpose was to record what the user looked at and to post it on Snapchat. The result: Evan Spiegel, founder of the brand, was stuck with hundreds of thousands of unsold glasses. The glasses “not only made people uncomfortable being around Spectacles, but made you feel like a bit of a creep just wearing them,” writes TechCrunch. Hm. Déjà vu.
Another problem: they’re ugly
Popular Mechanics is radical. If Google Glass was a bitter failure, it was in large part because the product was “ugly and stupid” and “a joke before it could even get off the ground. Unsubtle, dumb-looking, and prohibitively expensive from the jump, they were all but doomed to fail.” In fact, references to the glasses’ design are gaining steam. So much so that we’ve come to wonder whether, in the end, it was never really cool but was simply cast aside its crude look. When asked about the importance of the product’s look, the response is nearly unanimous, according to a 2015 poll by the research firm Gfk: appearances are everything.
If Popular Mechanics shot Google down in flames, it better rolls out the red carpet for Vaunt, Intel’s smart glasses that, for once, “look normal,” The Verge claims. And it’s that deliberately low-tech approach that has let them succeed where their predecessors have failed. Intel’s glasses weigh only 1.7 ounces and use a basic black frame. They’re supposed to work in tandem with a smartphone, via Bluetooth. And the ultimate snub to Snapchat’s and Google’s designs: Intel’s glasses don’t have a mounted camera. Suddenly, with the Vaunt having shed what caused its elders to fail, perhaps it will finally bring some respect to the wearable. But of course, these are all about making smartphones even more enticing rather than replacing them. You gotta start somewhere.