Much has been made of the impending arrival of smart glasses on the consumer tech market. While we’ve seen a few early examples of what some of these glasses might look like though, we’re still waiting on the true smart glasses revolution. Many expect that in a few years’ time, smart glasses will have become ubiquitous personal devices not unlike our smartphones today — and possibly in place of them. But we’re not at that point yet.
While we wait, it’s worthwhile to consider what some of the final hurdles might be. And as of now, it appears that the following are some of the challenges tech companies still face in designing these devices.
This is more of an overarching challenge, but it may be the biggest one smart glasses developers face. Right now, the issue is that these glasses are being thought of primarily with specific, business-oriented solutions in mind. For instance, we can imagine glasses being useful in supplying medical professionals with important information on the job; people in remote working situations may use these glasses to participate in board meetings virtually, and so on. It’s because of examples like these that Computerworld described smart glasses as being “for business only” for now.
That’s by no means a rule or guarantee — but it does speak to the need for companies behind development to find real, practical reasons for average consumers to adopt smart glasses. If these devices are to achieve the kind of widespread adoption some have forecasted, they need to be more than just business tools or flashy toys. They need to be fit for consumers’ day-to-day lives.
Part of making smart glasses fit for consumers means developing apps that will work with the devices as well. While this won’t be entirely up to the companies that are creating the glasses themselves, it’s still a major challenge. Business of Apps estimated the cost of development for AR apps at roughly $150/hour in North America — and also made note of various aspects of this development process that can take many hours each. Putting it simply, AR app development is costly, and right now there are fewer people who can do it than there are people who can design ordinary apps. The companies behind smart glasses will need to speed up and improve app development, and potentially make it cheaper, if these devices are to be as useful as we hope.
Our look at the Surface Duo recently remarked on Microsoft’s “fanatical commitment to thinness.” The discussion on this topic spoke in part to how internal technological components are being redesigned and advanced to fit into increasingly thin and compact devices. And this is absolutely something that’s going to be relevant as companies continue to develop smart glasses.
The biggest challenge in this regard may ultimately be building in printed circuit boards capable enough to power the electronics of modern smart glasses with limited space. We do know per Altium’s article on PCB board thickness that designs have evolved, such that circuit boards can now be fabricated with compact layers or “rigid-flex” constructions — both of which can make them smaller or better able to fit into tight spaces. But companies working on smart glasses will still need to figure out what designs work best regarding these and other internal components.
One of the most crucial aspects of any future involving widespread smart glasses needs to be total reliability of 5G networks. This, in fact, may be the main reason that we don’t have these glasses already. As was stated in 5G Insider’s update on Apple’s glasses, the product is expected to be ready in 2022 — because that’s when 5G will be “ready.” The bottom line is that if they’re truly to be “smart,” and be as functional as smartphones, these glasses are going to need constant connectivity. That will only be possible to the extent necessary when 5G networks are more widespread and more reliable than they are just yet.
This is not actually a tech challenge, strictly speaking. But it remains the case that companies hoping to release consumer smart glasses will also have to clear the hurdle of making them stylish and appealing, without sacrificing function. This is not a challenge tech companies have faced to date, and while they’ll undoubtedly have the help of style and design experts, it will be no easy task. People tend to be picky about accessories like glasses, and in this case they’ll likely only have a few options to choose from. Those options need to be packed with tech, and need to fit (and look good on) a wide range of people.
The expectation is ultimately that these challenges will be met, and smart glasses will have their takeover. But it’s clear that there’s a lot of work yet to be done.