I think Apple making “smart” glasses or some type of eyewear is a given. I don’t know if it will be successful. It won’t be this year.
John Gruber at Daring Fireball linked to a tweet by Mark Gurman wearing some AR sunglasses he found at CES. Gurman had good things to say about them. Gruber did not.
My take? Those AR sunglasses look incredibly lame and designed only for men in their 20’s who go snowboarding every weekend. Or like what Doc Ock wears in the Spider-Man comics. But I would never wear those, especially with a cable connected to my phone. These might be okay for a 15 minute gaming session, but not daily usage sunglasses. And if I’m not using these as my daily sunglasses, then I’m probably not buying them. Do you wear sunglasses inside?
But that’s the biggest problem with making eyewear: it’s incredibly personal. You might love this style of sunglasses, but I don’t. For a product like a pair of sunglasses to realistically sell, a company needs to make — at a minimum — five or ten styles of sunglasses, for men and for women, and they all need to look amazing. It needs to be a difficult decision deciding which pair I want to buy, not which pair I’m settling for.
Weight and battery are essential in a portable technology product, but these refinements come with time as the engineers reiterate on the device. To reiterate well, it helps to have people using it, so version 1.0 needs to be nice enough to sell broadly, and Apple being Apple, they’ll at least attempt to make styles that appeal to men and styles that appeal to women. One-style-fits-both isn’t going to cut it with glasses, and Apple knows this.
And while style is incredibly important to get right, so is functionality. I think if Apple wants to be successful in the smart glasses arena, they should look at what made the iPhone so successful in 2007. The iPhone had no way to copy and paste, it had no App Store, no Game Center, no multitasking, no control center, no built-in flashlight, no crazy three finger gestures. What it had were the essentials of a smartphone at the time, like Exchange email syncing, SMS texting, and a contact list. Where it shined was how it improved text entry and usability with the touch keyboard. What wowed the audience when Steve Jobs first demoed the device was how he used his finger — just his finger! — to scroll down a list of music tracks, and how, when he scrolled to the top of the list it kind of bounced a little bit. What astounded was the pinching-and-zooming of photos. It was the simple, smart, and slick UI elements on a 3.5-inch screen that sold those first million iPhones.
Smart glasses has the same potential. Make it look good, then give it one job, and let it do that job incredibly well. And you might sell a few.