Last year, veteran smartglasses maker Vuzix told us it was going to start moving towards the consumer space. Until now it's been primarily focused on enterprise, and done well from it. But the Blade 3000 smart sunglasses are for the 'prosumers' - the enthusiasts and early adopters - and hope to pick up where Google Glass left off.
I got to try the new glasses out, and before I'd even put them on the Blade 3000 specs outshone any smartglasses I'd tried before. Even with ODG's latest offering I'd feel silly leaving the house, but squint a little and you could confuse the Blades for a chunky pair of Oakleys.
Put them on and the right lens has a display projected onto it, but anyone looking from the other side will just see some reflected colours. Vuzix is working on binocular technology, which will eventually let it build glasses with two lens projectors, but having one is good enough for carrying out a range of tasks - and using augmented reality apps.
Put them on and you'll see a digital overlay on top of the world in front of you, whether that's displaying an email, a news page, directions to a destination, or even a speedometer. These are all things I got to see in a demo reel, but the possibilities stretch well beyond.
Interacting with the Blade can be done in two ways: things like responding to messages or speaking to Siri can be done with voice. Vuzix says it will let its software speak to smart phone assistants. The rest is done using a touchpad on the right arm that works very similarly to Google Glass. Speaking of which, Vuzix's specs are running Android 5.0, making it easy for developers to build and port apps.
The display is clear and bright too, which isn't something I can say for every other pair of smartglasses I've tried. I was able to watch a short clip of video, and could see myself getting lost in YouTube with these on. But while visibility is good, the display isn't obstructive when you're not focused on it, hopefully meaning they'll be safe for walking or even driving with.
We're told that casual use should get about eight hours of battery life, but "if you're out in the woods chasing Pokemon you're going to have to have a battery pack," said Travers.
So what else will we use them for? Well, for one thing there's a camera above the left lens that will capture photos and 1080p video, and Vuzix CEO Paul Travers says you'll be able to push captured footage straight to social media. I bring this up because it's exactly what Snapchat Specs were about. But for Vuzix's glasses, it's just one of potentially many others, including augmented reality.
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The success of Pokemon Go was not down to new hardware but a new way of using it, and if Vuzix is going to get everyday people wearing its smart specs then the applications will need to be there. Vuzix says developers will be able to push standalone apps directly to the headset, or have phone apps interact with the glasses as an interface. Otherwise you're just going to be walking around with an email reader on your face, and I don't think people want to pay hundreds of dollars for that privilege.
We have the chicken-and-egg problem with AR where we need companies like Vuzix to get developers on board and showcasing just how fantastic smartglasses can be for users.
The Blade 3000 are probably the nicest looking, most comfortable pair of proper smartglasses I've tried - but they'll be nothing without great apps. They'll be available later this year, and Travers says they'll cost under $1000, with intentions to pair with glasses designers to get Vuzix's waveguide tech inside them.
Remember that Vuzix has essentially packed an entire phone into a pair of glasses, but we hope that it can get the price as low as possible, so developers and users can start getting this technology properly off the ground.