If we were to chat back in the 1990s and you were to ask me what Smart Glasses were, I’d guess they would have something to do with light (like they would dim in sunlight), with focus (so you’d only need one pair for both reading and distance) or both—making glasses Smart should have something to do with what glasses do. But then Google came out with Google Glass, and not only did we get the name “Glasshole,” we started to think about Smart Glasses like they were a monitor, not better glasses.
I think that was the same core evolutionary mistake that 3D glasses made. They didn’t start by making glasses better even though the passive ones were pretty good dark glasses, and the active ones could have used the electronic shutter feature to dim light when out in the sun automatically. I believe that if you want to make a “Smart” anything, you need to first focus on its core function and then add other features. A Smart Car is still a car, a Smartphone is still a phone, and Smart Lights are still lights first. But Smart Glasses, up until now, weren’t glasses at all in that they neither shaded your eyes from the sun nor addressed the typical problems that glasses address.
A brand new company called Pixieray is about to change that and may very well be on the critical path to a product that will eventually evolve to replace the Smartphone, likely in the 2027-2030 timeframe.
Let’s talk about how I get there.
Pixieray is a relatively new startup funded to $4.4M with independent investors, a VC, and some Angel investors. They are at the seed round and expect to have a finished product in about two years; I think that isn’t very nice and believe they are more likely to have the final product in 2-4 years. I think they can use the technology in 2 years, but I expect it will take them up to 2 more to clear regulatory hurdles for a device that you might wear while driving, affecting your eyesight.
The initial glasses will do what Smart Glasses always should have done and replace your typical reading and driving glasses with glasses that fully take over-focusing at any distance. These glasses will work similarly to how your camera works on your Smartphone but by putting the lens in front of your face, not a camera and display.
While, initially, they won’t have a dark glasses function, the ability to auto darkening lenses electronically has been around for years (I have two pairs of glasses like this), and I think they’ll find it necessary to add that feature to appeal to the target market.
TimeLine To Head-Mounted Displays
As I noted, I expect it will be around 2005 when they have the initial version of their product sorted and priced where most of the initial target audience could afford to buy them. Then it will likely take another three years to think through how to safely add data to the mix so you can do things like heads-up navigation, facial recognition with names, alerts for danger, refine the overall design, and give them all-day battery life.
Now, they’ll need a strong partner at this point, and there is some risk that the company that owns the current glasses market, Luxottica, may swoop in and buy them because, if successful, Smartglasses won’t just take out Smartphones. They’ll likely displace all but the inexpensive glasses lines over time. Luxottica is under an anti-trust cloud that could slow their interest. Still, if they see Pixieray as a legitimate threat, they will try to buy them or shut them down, materially impacting this timeline. However, we should still see some form of Smart Glasses that replace regular glasses and form an AR display for, or replace, the Smartphone (we’ll likely see both efforts much like we have standalone and tethered VR and AR headsets today).
I, along with others, believe the likely replacement for the Smartphone will be some Smart Glasses. To make these glasses work, they will need to embrace what glasses do first then add the electronic display functions we were introduced to with Google Glass. By mid-decade, Pixieray, which appears to be the most exciting company in the lead at the moment, should be able to automate core glasses features like focus and lens darkening for sunlight. It will take another five years to reduce the product and add data though we could see initial, costly units that do both as early as 2026.
Head-mounted displays have already shown up, but they have been less than the market disruptors we expected without the core glasses features, and most of these products aren’t attractive when worn. It will take the better part of a decade to get Smartglasses to where they need to replace the Smartphone. Now it’s a race to see who gets there first. Pixieray may be in the lead, but the race is on, and the big players have yet to enter the field.