We’ll see AR smartglasses that people want to wear this year - but there’s a huge disconnect between what consumers expect and what the technology can currently deliver.
That’s the verdict of Paul Travers, CEO of Vuzix, who has been in the smartglasses game for 27 years.
The company has just had its strongest quarter in 10 years with its enterprise-focused smartglasses, and one also buoyed by the announcement of its consumer-focused Ultralite reference platform.
With attention focused on the industry ahead of the expected entrance of Apple's mixed-reality headset, as well, it’s a boom time for AR glasses.
"I think this is inevitable that people are going to wear glasses that connect the digital world to the real world. It just seems like the freight train is unstoppable. When you wear a display that gives you the bulk of what you really need off your phone without taking your phone out, that's a pretty powerful toolset," Travers told Wareable in an interview.
“I think you're going to see initial products that people actually will want to wear before this year is up, but they're going to be of simpler capabilities,” he continued.
And Travers believes that AR is finally having the moment in the sun that it deserves.
“Our Q1 is the strongest quarter we've had in a decade. People are starting to embrace this stuff. It's working. It's happening and I think we're finally at a point where you can make glasses that have that sort of fashion-forward look that are useful.”
But Travers warns that we might have to wait for the AR experience to catch up with expectations:
"The first iPhone had like three applications on it. It was very simple in comparison to where we're at today. It won't be overnight; it might be a five-year period of time where experiences get better and more capable.”
“For consumers, it's really hard because they have such high expectations - as we all do, right?"
And Travers believes that the technology we’ve seen to date missed the mark, such as HoloLens and Meta’s Oculus Quest mixed reality products, and simply aren’t what people want.
He also believes Apple is taking its time not to fall into the same trap.
"I believe the reason why Apple backed off a little bit is that Meta came out with their newest glasses, and it fell like a lead balloon a little bit. In some ways, it’s a step forward. But, from the perspective of price, wearability and fashion, it just misses on every mark."
"Microsoft…I'm not sure they're making HoloLens anymore. So the product’s not right. It's that simple. The market's not looking for that."
But Travers also revealed one of the huge secrets to success for the AR industry - waveguide panels - and revealed that it’s an area that Vuzix has invested in heavily.
Mass producing the waveguide panels that reflect the light into the lens to display visuals cheaply is one thing, but enabling people to do that for prescription lenses will be a huge piece of the puzzle.
"These waveguides are the cornerstone to making glasses that people will want to wear. This is what we produce - these are hard to make. The HoloLens has $150-200 apiece, and they've got a pair of them. As I said, we can do these really inexpensively," he said.
"When you get this in the supply chain for the standard eyeglasses industry, you now have what's called a digital video script. It's unheard of now, but that's going to be the beginning of being able to address the eyewear industry as a whole," he said.
It’s going to take some time – but Travers has never been so confident in the AR industry.
“I've been saying someday for 27 years now. Just think about how the iPhone went through 10 years worth of amazing upgrades and changes and improvements, and I think you're going to see that happen in the eyeglass space."
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