Following the commercial success of Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headset, companies are now competing to develop the first augmented reality (AR) glasses geared toward the consumer market.
Augmented reality has been popular in consumer technology for some time, particularly in Instagram and Snapchat filters on smartphones.
However, some companies are now aiming toward a sci-fi vision of Tony Stark’s fictional Iron Man glasses.
There are actually many products on the market that blend a computer screen with reality.
Rather than placing you inside the third dimension, like a VR headset, AR covers the real world with user interface and other graphics on transparent lenses, while also sensing and visualizing the world around you.
So far, AR headphones in the UK have been aimed at enterprise use, with relatively high price points and unfashionable designs.
Meta became the first UK company to launch a pair of eyeglasses with onboard cameras when it teamed up with Ray-Ban last year, which was targeting the consumer retail market.
The wearer can listen to music and take photos and videos with a pair of Ray-Ban stories, which are automatically shared on your smartphone.
Stories are primarily designed for content creation and do not display anything on the wearer’s lens.
EE partners with Nreal for augmented reality glasses
But this week, a company called Nreal, in conjunction with mobile phone company EE, released a pair of augmented reality glasses designed for content consumption.
The headset, which connects to your Android smartphone via a USBC cable, sends your phone’s screen to a 201-inch screen on your lens, wherever you are in the world.
Wearers can either mirror their phone screen directly onto the glasses or use an operating system that enables the user to open and resize multiple windows simultaneously, just like on a PC.
The user can choose to display the screen on a transparent lens or use a plastic blackout screen to create a more cinematic experience.
The glasses work the same way as a TV monitor or a second monitor, except that you carry your TV in an unobtrusive carrying case in your backpack.
The Nreal Air glasses also allow for iMAX-sized video games on the go.
When connected to EE’s ultra-fast 5G network, using Xbox cloud game streaming, or PlayStation’s Remote Play app, wearers can operate their console anywhere they can get a signal.
A new season for consumers
The Air headset represents a new chapter in consumer entertainment.
It costs £399 (less than half of its commercial counterparts), and EE expects there will be no manufacturing or shipping delays in its rollout.
Danny Marshall, Head of Hardware Partnerships at EE, told Sky News:[Nreal] They are actually very selective as to which markets you can buy their products from, in order to make sure they are able to focus the supply…What we need quickly is an understanding of the demand – and that is more of a challenge than the availability of ingredients.”
He noted that many people still don’t actually know that augmented reality powers their Instagram filter, and that the company doesn’t know how long it will take for the wearable technology to be widely adopted.
The next technological step, then, would be for companies to marry Ray-Ban Stories cameras with Nreal’s 1080p display.
“If you look broadly, most of the technology is there… Enhanced information offerings are already available, it’s more about customer adoption.
“Most of the technology is there, just to make it smaller, lighter and easier to wear — the battery is the big one, and the rest is there.”
META Augmented Reality Experience in London
Meta tends to agree.
Meta has announced that it has begun trialling its augmented reality glasses in London, which will capture video and audio, as well as track eye movements.
Speaking to Sky News, Jason Rubin, Vice President of Metaverse Content at Meta, explained the benefits Facebook developers see in augmented reality.
“Augmented reality is great when in real life you are doing things – so I might have augmented reality while walking down the street because I can see cars and other people and at the same time get information like I turned off my phone today but in a much more efficient way.
The perfect device will do both [AR and VR] And it will simply turn into full immersion or letting things go depending on what makes sense at any point – and Mark Zuckerberg recently showed that it happens within Cumbria.”
Although Meta says that this particular model is not a prototype and will never be released to the market, the technology is there.
It is now only a matter of time until it can be scaled down and mass-produced and at a price point, people will buy into it.
Real life is “number one”
Surprisingly, Mr. Robin went on to say that he “would rather be in a room with [his manager] In real life, that’s number one. If I can’t be in a room with him, I’d rather be with him in a virtual space in virtual reality.”
He told Sky News that Meta employees are still operating on a hybrid basis and will likely continue to do so.
“I know the whole company is going to be so happy that we’re getting back together…we’re all wondering what the long-term settling point is for all of this.”
Despite the leaps in virtual reality and augmented reality technology, Mr. Rubin says he doesn’t think immersive glasses will be the only way to access the Metaverse:
“I think that over time, augmented reality will become a bigger and bigger part of our lives…but I think there will be a lot of times when we are not in immersive reality and we will want to use a 2D screen… so screens will last for a long time. Maybe forever.”
What’s clear is that smart wear doesn’t stop at the Fitbit or the Apple Watch.
The race for our faces continues.