Sony announces SmartGlasses, joins Google and Microsoft in augmented reality market

Sony announced last week that it will release Android-compatible ‘smart glasses’ in March. Called, perhaps unsurprisingly, SmartGlasses, the augmented reality head gear is being released as a developer edition for $840, which is about half of what Google was selling Glass for.

Sony SmartGlasses

Google has pulled Glass from production, and handed the project to Nest’s  Tony Fadell, who is generally considered the godfather of the iPod (see Google Glass isn’t dead, it’s going to be Nestified). My bet is that he’ll relaunch with something that is more industrial, more enterprisey, and less controversial.

Sony is also joining Microsoft in the smart glasses game. Microsoft announced its holographic head gear, Hololens, in January. Hololens is not intended for persistent use, but is more likely to be used for a specific activity for a short time, like holographic manipulation of rendered objects for gaming or design.

Microsoft Hololens

Sony’s device is unlike Google Glass: low resolution monochrome imagery is overlaid on the glasses’ interior lens, not projected onto the users eye. The lenses are 85% transparent, so the wearer’s surroundings are quite visible. Also, the glasses’ information is controlled by an external controller that includes microphone, speakers and NFC. The device has bluetooth and Wifi connectivity, and can link with smartphone for GPS data. There is also a 3 megapixel camera, accelerometer and gyroscope.

Sony’s obviously hoping to attract developers to build applications for the device, and grow the market for its use. This is not the company’s first smart glass effort. The company demoed the ‘SmartEyeglass Attach!’ prototype at CES, a model that is more like Google Glass in design, with a OLED microdisplay.

I still believe strongly that there is a huge market for AR smart glasses in the business setting, for many disciplines, like medical, security, military, manufacturing, field engineering, construction, etc. One sign of that is the proliferation of devices, and Microsoft Sony’s newest entries are more proof of that.

What can we expect from Google Glass in the enterprise

When we talk about application of technology in business we often tend to focus on office work, but the activities on the manufacturing floor, field engineering, and the warehouse are just as ripe for innovation as marketing, sales, and financial functions. Wearables — especially smart glasses — like Google Glass and the recently announced Epson Moverio BT-200 — are poised to radically change the work of these out-of-the-office disciplines.

This week, Google announced the first five Glass Certified Partners, and looking at what they intend to roll-out is pretty mind-blowing.

APX Labs makes Skylight, which is ‘the leading business software for Glass’ according to the company. The platform supports a number of applications that bring real-time data from enterprise applications, and the means for workers to interact with those applications — and through them to other people.

Here’s a screenshot from a video at their site, representing a real-time message (at the bottom right) appearing in the glasses of a field engineer. To the left  you see a schedule of events (‘Incoming Port 12’, etc.), as well as a tally of other workers presence status.

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And in another screenshot, a medical application is shown:

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A third shows a military application, including facial recognition of belligerents.

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I don’t even have to add much commentary to get the message across: For a large swath of workers, augmented reality — a la Google Glass — is about to become a game changer. Their work lives are going to be massively disrupted, and the nature of work for many will be propelled into the 21st century and out of the 19th.

I intend to start a series on wearables, interviewing people with deep insights into what they mean for the enterprise, starting this week. More to follow. But what is already clear is that we are at the very early stages of something as revolutionary as the internet, or PCs.

Berg Insight: 8.3M wearable devices were sold in 2012

The number of wearables sold globally nearly tripled between 2011 and 2012, but the market is still tiny when compared to smartphones. Berg, however, predicts 64 million wearable device shipments in 2017.