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Smart Glasses: A Short-lived Fad or the Future?

smart glasses
Posted by Zenobia Chan on 11 December 2019

Have you ever wondered what happened to Google Glass? Announced in 2012, Google’s “glasses” looked promising, positioned at the forefront of partnering technology with the everyday user. But nearly 8 years later, it’s all gone quiet.

The up-and-down development ride of smart glasses is not a new story. In fact, we’ve been through this ride more than you’d think. It’s not just Google who have been pushing Smart Glasses to the market, other companies have attempted it too (with some successes and some failures). 

But after this year’s HK Optical Fair and apparent rise in new technology, the industry is looking promising again. So we ask, is 2020 the year where smart glasses finally make their permanent mark on the eyewear industry? 

What are Smart Glasses? 

For the few of us who might not know about smart glasses, they are essentially an integration between software and your wearable every-day glasses. Smart glasses are able to add information on top of what the wearer sees, change their optical properties, project digital images into the lenses and much more (similar to what wearing a computer screen would be). 

Smart Glasses in the past

With the rise of technology and focus on products, it should only come naturally that companies started exploring wearable eyewear tech. The first smart glass was invented by the Father of the Wearable Computer — Steve Mann. 

In 1978, Steve Mann invented the “Digital Eye Glass”, a wearable eyeglass that was both an electronic camera and television display. From there, the start of the smart eyewear journey began, hand-in-hand with the journey and development of optical head-mounted displays. Here are some other notable advancements:

Timeline of Smart Glasses Developments 

  • 1997: launch of Glasstron by Sony, a portable head-mounted display that included two LCD screens for video and two earphones for audio.
  • 1999: IBM Japan & Olympus Optical demonstrated the PC Eye-Trek, wearable PC with an LCD display. 
  • 2012: Google entered the market with its first variation of smart glasses with their Explorer programme
  • 2013: Chinese search giant Baidu confirmed rumors of Baidu Eye, featuring Mandarin speech recognition and image search.
  • 2015: Tech-giant Microsoft demos HoloLens to the market, a product that was patented since 2011. 
  • 2018: Intel’s Vaunt (probably one of the more successful stories). But eventually pulled out of the market in later 2018. 

smart glasses

Notice a trend? Companies have been trying to develop smart eyewear since the early 1980s, but it seems like with not much luck in keeping them in the market. More than half of these products have ghosted or exited the market in one way or another. 

But why has there been such little success? Are there reasons that businesses are not understanding? Let’s look at Google as an example. 

The rise, fall, and rise again of Google Glass

In 2012, Google announced their newest venture — the Google Glass. The product was a wearable technology that displayed information hands-free (in a smart-phone format). Users could connect and communicate on the internet with voice commands, take pictures, record video and more. Google even partnered with Italian eyewear giant Luxottica, to develop the Glass products. 


Eyewear QC


The initial response was positive, people were excited about a new product, a new push in technology. But ultimately, Google pulled the product out of the market in 2015. 

Speculations as to why Google Glass failed post-launch can be split into a few categories: 

What was wrong with Google Glass?


Many people were concerned about the safety of Google Glass, especially for everyday use. The camera and video recording capabilities meant that people could be taking pictures of you, without you even knowing. This raised lots of privacy concerns and a wealth of ways to exploit the capabilities of Google Glass for privacy invasion ideas. 


Besides safety, lots of people also questioned the legitimate use of a product like Google Glass. Sure it sounded cool, being able to control everything hands-free, but the product technically didn’t solve any problems. There just simply wasn’t much demand for something like this, at least not at the time or in a user-friendly way. 


smart glasses

The physical product itself was not very attractive. It looked kind of awkward, sat on the face funny and some even said it still looked like it was in the prototype stage. To make matters worse, during events and showcases, Google Glass would not work or work very slowly. Solidifying the draft-like opinions users had in their minds. 

Many still make fun on the Google Glass to-date, but most would argue that the product was not a failure, but rather helped catapult the idea forward. So much so, that Google has revised its Glass since (once is 2017 with Enterprise Edition), and now in 2019 we’re getting another re-do, the Enterprise Edition 2. 

The future of smart glasses

Even though smart glasses have had a rough start, they haven’t completely failed, but rather, left a unique mark in the industry. The potential capabilities of these glasses are huge — so it’s no wonder that companies keep trying to develop the product. So much so that even Apple has reportedly begun development on something similar. 

Broader technology  & eyewear

smart glasses

Besides smart glasses, there have been other integrations between technology and eyewear (which seems to have more success). 

  • Virtual reality headwear, Oculus, primarily used for gaming. This headset includes specialised VR displays, positional audio & infrared tracking system. 
  • At HKOF, we mentioned, nuVisions, a technology and eyewear integrated product where users can virtually “try on” eyewear using their virtual eyewear customization software. 
  • Bose created an eyewear product with built-in speakers for an immersive audio experience. 

These are just a few examples to see the applications of integrated eyewear. There have also been numerous examples of integrated eyewear being used in the healthcare industry to improve services. 

So it seems, smart glasses & integrated eyewear are not slowing down for the next few years.


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Zenobia Chan

Zenobia Chan is PEL's General Manager, and has been working in the eyewear industry for over 17 years. She has been involved in the entire supply chain from research and development, to order fulfillment, quality management, auditing and product compliance. She established PEL from scratch and is an annual seminar speaker at the MIDO and Hong Kong Optical Fair.

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