CES 2014: new smart glasses want to beat Google Glass

Epson Moverio BT-200: one of the 5 new glass devices announced at CES 2014

See-through displays all over

Although Google Glass is not yet generally available – rumour says it will be by mid 2014 – the new challengers all pretend that they are “doing better than Google Glass”. The main criticism of the challengers, is the limited field of view of Glass. When wearing Glass, you have to look up & to the right- because that is where the display is mounted as an add-on to the glasses. Google says they did this on purpose: Glass doesn’t want to ‘sit in the way’: the idea is that you wear Glass constantly, but you only use it when you need it – or when Glass thinks it has relevant, “contextual” information for you.

The new generation glasses announced at CES 2014 are taking a different approach: they do it ‘in your face’: the display is integrated in the middle of the lens – so that the image is right in front of your eyes. And that display covers a bigger part of your field of view – they talk of Glass as ‘a tiny display’ compared to theirs. But that means that their device will be a lot more intrusive – so probably you won’t be wearing it as much as Google wants you to wear Glass. We will have to see which of these two user experience types will prevail.

Technical challenges for see-through displays

Although the large see-through displays are promising, a lot of questions remain:
Wat about the quality of the image ?
Are the prisms in the center of the lens troubling your eyesight?

Won’t the display image disturb your sight too much, by being projected in the middle of your eyes?
It’s hard to answer these questions, based on the quick reviews & comments that are now out on the internet – it will take more time to get these answers.

Time-to-market ?

All the new glass models that were announced, are early prototypes. That leaves us with more questions:

When will these new generation of devices be production-ready & generally available?

When will the technology to project in the middle of the lens be mature?

Let’s take as a benchmark for instance the ‘old’ Vuzix model, the M100: this first generation model – that still has a ‘tiny’ non see-through display – was first announced in November 2012. We are now 14 months later and the M100 only just went in production – but at this stage it still has no voice or gesture recognition… And it has a shipping time of several months – at least our model took that time to arrive at our door…. How long will it take before those ‘next-gen’ see-through devices will be general available ?

“What’s ugly and techy and lives on your face?”

And last but not least: those ‘see-through’ glasses are (even) more disputable than Google Glass from an aesthetic point of view, due to the fact that the display prisms are integrated in the center of the lens in a very “indiscreet” way. In their CES 2014 coverage, Cnet makes a joke out of it:

“What’s ugly and techy and lives on your face? One of the five pairs of smartglasses we saw at CES 2014.”

Will consumers – and professionals – be prepared to wear 1st generation clunky glasses that make them look ‘nerdy’?

Or will they wait until this display technology is mature enough to produce a compact & invisible lens display system?

“Plain” Android GUI with no SDK

Another difference with Google Glass is the lack of customised GUI & developer’s SDK (Software Development Kit). Google invested heavily in adapting the interface of Glass (cfr. “time cards”, voice recognition, touchpad gestures, eye winking,…) and providing developers with specific tools (Mirror API & more recently ‘Glass Development Kit’). Most of the new CES 2014 models offer a standard ‘Android box’ for which developers have to use the basic Android SDK. At least in the prototypes that were presented last week.

Based on our in-house hands-on experience with Glass – both as a user and as a developer – we know how important that customised GUI & SDK is. We don’t see how the newcomers will be able to compete to Glass, without investing in customised GUI & SDK.

So in our honest opinion, Google Glass ‘is not dead yet’: Glass has an advantage to the competition of a least one year. The newcomers are offering an interesting offering with some new exciting features – but they haven’t won the battle yet!