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Smartglasses as smartphones – why your social and privacy concerns may not matter

Many tech companies are investing heavily in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Microsoft has Windows Mixed Reality and HoloLens. Google has Google Glass, Daydream and Cardboard. Apple has ARKit and rumored smartglasses.

Magic Leap's still on the radar, ODG's R-8 and R-9 smartglasses are due this year, and Facebook's 10-year plan for AR and VR is ambitious. Personal computing is transitioning to a more immersive, interactive and natural experience via some form of AR smartglasses.

Facebook's, Microsoft's and ODG's leaders believe smartglasses will eventually replace smartphones.

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This belief isn't expressed in ignorance of the social barriers smartglasses face.

Four-eyes, nerdy no more

There was once a social stigma associated with wearing glasses. The cultural norms of previous generations didn't always see prescription eyewear as stylish. The goggle-sized spectacles that dominate my teenage face in old pictures scream, "nerd." Yes, glasses and nerds were negatively intertwined.

Society has become more accepting of glasses and their wearers over time. The change in how we perceive "nerds" has contributed to that shift. The accomplishments and pop culture status of high profile "geeks" like former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and others have shifted the status of nerds from uncool to cool.

Furthermore, the proliferation of tech and mainstreaming of computer technology has made the role of the "glasses-wearing geek" an important part of helping to keep our tech-dependent world flowing.

Nerds are both needed and cool, and glasses aren't a bad thing anymore. Sometimes even people who don't need glasses, want glasses.

Smart or not I ain't wearing 'em

Despite this progress, the existence of corrective eye-surgery and contact lenses is a testament that some individuals still don't like wearing glasses. And making glasses "smart" won't change that.

This, of course, is observing the issue from today's perspective. Societal norms change. What may be a barrier today may not be as profound a barrier by the time this technology's ready for the mass market. What is considered fashionable changes with each generation. Skinny jeans on a man would have been unappealing in the 80s for instance. Today society accepts them as stylish.

Like sunglasses, stylish non-prescription glasses may be considered chic in the future. Streamlined smartglasses would fit right into that context.

But I already wear glasses

Glasses wearers like myself have a legitimate gripe with smartglasses. Most current examples of smartglasses at this early stage won't accommodate both a person's prescription lenses and this progressive tech.

Google Glass can be clipped to existing glasses, but it's smartphone-dependent. Since it's not an all-in-one mobile computing platform like HoloLens or ODG's smartglasses, Google Glass isn't en route to replace smartphones. Still, HoloLens and other wearables aren't en route to replace prescription glasses either, although the former can be worn over existing specs in some situations. Still, that's no reason to write them off.

Declaring smartglasses a failure at this very early stage because of current barriers is neither forward-looking nor an acknowledgment of the past. People said the automobile would never replace the horse and buggy. Cars were a novelty for the rich.

The overlapping of tech and healthcare, as demonstrated by Apple, may point toward prescription smartglasses.

But with the establishment of necessary infrastructure such as the assembly line and the construction of paved roads that evolved with the automobile's adoption, cars became the dominant mode of transportation.

I believe smartglasses adoption have a long road ahead but will begin in the enterprise, followed by early adopters in the consumer space. Over time the tech will become more affordable and streamlined, and more of the population will likely embrace them. Various OEMs will likely support the industry with smartglasses spanning different price ranges and capabilities.

Over time, and as the technology continues to evolve, partnerships with eyeglass distributors may emerge as the supporting infrastructure that will address the "I-already-wear-glasses" group. Apple's partnerships with major U.S. hospitals with HealthKit have set a precedence for the overlapping of consumer technology and healthcare after all.

As this industry trend continues, smartglasses could become part of the product lines of prescription lens providers like LensCrafters or Opticare.

Big brother and everyone else is watching

The failure of the consumer-focused Google Glass in 2012 was due in part to this camera-equipped wearable's threat to privacy.

In 2017 the same concerns are being raised regarding camera-equipped smartglasses. But, what about five, ten or fifteen years from now when today's children are the world's decision-making adults? Will they care?

As smartglasses make their slow journey through the enterprise and then early adopters on their way to the broad consumer space life will go on and societal norms and concerns about privacy may change. As a forty-something-year-old man, I've witnessed cultural shifts where privacy standards have changed profoundly with the advent of reality shows and social media.

Today's youth are growing up in a world where over two billion people self-report personal demographic information, interests, family connections, hobbies, break-ups, make-ups, fights and more on Facebook. Location-tagged pictures are nonchalantly shared on Instagram and Twitter. Millions of Snapchatters live shackled to their smartphones desperate not to break a "Snapstreak".

Kids and Snapchat streaking.

Self-esteem and self-perception have become intricately intertwined with the likes, reactions, and retweets we get to our latest posts from an audience of "friends" and strangers. We put ourselves on display (via social media and video platforms) at a magnitude never before seen in human history.

Changing of the guard

Children and teenagers don't know of a world that isn't the connected virtual fishbowl it has become. They're oblivious to a reality where cameras don't stare at intimate moments and personal interactions of celebrities and regular people on reality shows.

They're even encouraged to "perform" on this digital stage for a world that is dutifully watching social media and video platforms. This is the new normal.

My generation, in memory of a bygone era, will vocally decry the threat smartglasses pose to privacy. But as this younger generation who has spent their entire lives in "glass houses" comes of age, perhaps privacy won't be as much of a concern. Consider this: as recent as 2009 cell phone cameras were under fire (opens in new tab) for their threat to privacy. Now they're the most celebrated smartphone feature.

Dystopian abuse of Microsoft's AI-driven camera tech is inevitable

The adoption of smartglasses isn't just a matter of evolving technology, but also a changing society. To measure their potential for adoption based upon the current limited infrastructure and what society will accept today is short-sighted.

Considering current social trends and the proliferation of emerging tech into existing industries, smartglasses may find a place of acceptance on the faces of today's children when they're tomorrow's adults 10 or 20 years from now.

The technological progress and inspired technologies we've seen since the first iPhone in 2007, and the social impact smartphones have had, prove that a lot can change socially and technologically in just 10 years. Current concerns about smartglasses simply may not matter tomorrow.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

55 Comments
  • Thanks for reading folks!!! We often acknowledge the social impact of technology. But social conditions also impact the acceptance or rejection of technology. Furthermore, social norms change. What one generation rejects the next may accept. What are your thoughts? LET'S TALK!!!
  • Here's the thing I think might be a stumbling block. The majority of folks who never wear nor have worn glasses, how do you get them to adopt a device to be worn for more hours a day than say sunglasses? For me, I'd LOVE a pair as I fly my GEEK flag honorably. But they'd have to be stylish an they'd have to kill two birds with one stone and that would be to be able to get them with "cheater" glasses diopters e.g., 2.0, 2.5, etc. along with a great variety of lens sizes, widths, and temple lengths. I'd like to see them styled after "Clic-Readers," then we'd have something that is easily taken on or off and is conveniently accessible.
  • I foresee the tech prgressing to the point where the image one sees on the inside of the glasses is actually projected there from something on the earpieces.  The image projected will be able to, through the software running the glasses, have keystone correction, pincushion, and other distortion correction performed in the softwere to accomodate differing glass sizes and shapes/prescriptions.
  • Facebook and MS declare phones dead, glasses are the new future. Interesting Google and Apple aren't saying that. There's no way glasses will USURP phones, no way on gods green earth, niche at best, like smart watches and WP's.
  • Some said there is no way cellphones would ever replace landlines....
    🤔
  • @n m : Oh I've heard that "there is no way this new thing will ever replace that old one" times and times again. 20 years ago, I was arguing with friends that small MP3 players would soon replace their Walkman or MiniDisc players, and even their home CD player within years.
    "Not a chance, only a minority will settle for lower quality audio, and people see real value in the leaflet included in the CD box! Who would want a music collection they cannot store on their shelves?!"... Yeah, see where we are today? When all media moved to digital, I was arguing that since CD players, DVD Video players, PVR, cameras, etc were all quickly shifting to being just dedicated computers with legacy-style form factor and interface but many overlapping features, they would soon be replaced by general-purpose media-centric computers.
    Again "Not a chance, only geeks would do that, people will never replace their VHS, DVD, CD, etc... equipment with a single device!". Then the tablets and TV dongles revolution came.
    The same with the unification of mobile devices, where I found the extra point that carrying and charging a single pocketable device was much easier than separate cell phone, PDA and portable music player...
    The same people who were sure MP3 players would never replace their Walkman were now using iPods, but they still had a strong opinion about the new evolution, "People will never use their phone to listen to music or take pictures, they want clearly defined separate devices with no compromises!"... Tell me, do you still see the majority of people carrying a dumbphone, an MP3 player and a small digital camera nowadays? My new argument is that within years, your smartphone will be replaced by a pair of photochromic-lenses glasses that can do environment mapping and understanding, pupil tracking combined with gestures and voice recognition, and stereoscopic optical mixed reality.
    People watching movies on their 6" smartphone screen in public transports or reading articles, one paragraph at a time, on a tiny display will seem as stuck in the past as those listening to music on their MiniDisc players would be today.
    I know your answer is "Not a chance, only a minority will use head-mounted computers, people will never give up their smartphones!", but I've head that "Nothing ever changes" argument before, and it never really seemed to withand even just a few years of evolution. Google and Apple aren't saying that because they have their head too deep in their current profits from the smartphone business to see clearly. It's not the first time companies with interests vested in the current state of the technology repeat that things won't change. In the mainframe days, companies selling mainframes discarded the personal computers revolution.
    After all, a computer would never interest consumers or even small businesses. "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." (Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943).
     
  • Exactly!
  • My dad always complain about me holding my Smartphone everytime. For me it is normal.  Similarly people will find wearing smartglasses all the time wierd but not the coming generation.  Talk about me? I am good at adapting new things;")
  • Once those vuzik AR glasses launch...MS will be left in the dust again,  unless they get their heads out of their asses.  They have had the football helmet out for some time.....Now,  its time to make ai a true consumer sized product that you can use and not look like a tosser doing it.
  • Again, completely different experience/applications of use. Not sure why you can't understand that and see why both type of products work differently and have different uses. It's also not without mentioning, the M300/M3000 aren't exactly stylish either.
  • They are both AR devices....And the M3000 are very much "more stylish" than the salad bowl hololens.  Yes...the HL is more powerful but for consumer use...it's crap.  I am stating from a consumer.  I would never own a hololens football helmet...NOR would 99 % of consumers when they can have a sleek pair of glasses do the same thing.
  • And again, I've told you they don't do the same thing. The hololens does more but isn't intended to be worn in the same way products like the m3000 are. Also if you haven't the data to back it up, don't claim 99% of anything will or won't happen.
  • They are both designed to give AR to USERS.  they DO the same thing...please stop fanboying out there axman...
  • Come up with a new comeback. I'm not saying one is better than the other, I'm saying they are different systems. Cars and trus are different, but are still vehicles, consoles and PC are different but they are still computers. I mean, are cellphones the same thing? They give AR to USERS, so do tablets, and PC's. You don't seem to get what Augmented reality actually is.
  • This guy is officially a certified retard. Tries to convince people that wearing glasses is a good thing. I rest my case.
  • I don't particularly see him trying to convice people that wearing glasses is a thing, nor do I see how wearing glasses it automatically a bad thing.
  • Billions of people ALREADY wear some form of glasses, whether for sun protection, style, necessity,,, everyday....
    I don't see why you think the concept of wearing glasses is so far fetched.
  • Are you saying Jason Ward is a retard??? Using that term is offensive on several levels, but leveling it at this particular author makes you the one lacking in intelligence. He knows his tech.  Regardless, how else are you going to go hands-free anytime in the next 100 years?  Someday we might have retinal implants or something, but that won't happen before some type of external eye wear is accepted first.
  • Microsoft will fail because of their weak mobile solution. It will bring down their future ambitions. Smart glasses will be a transitional technology. No one will want to go from using smart phone all the time to using smart glasses all the time. There will be a period of adaption. They will also need to be fashionable and light. So in order to do that you need to offload processing to some nearby device. In this case Apple will have the iPhone. The first solution much like the apple watch will be tethered. And it will make way more sense because there will be times people just want to take the glasses off and use their smartphone. Microsoft won't have that solution. Apple is also a design company. They will make sure their solution looks best and is the lightest. Apple is the richest company in the world and will put everything behind AR. MS can't do that as it is way too spread out as a large company. It needs to honestly split up into different companies.
  • I believe will have that mobile device though it maybe catered towards the enterprise but I do think they will eventually have such a device. Even though I didn't own one but I think the tech in the 950xl showed that Microsoft has the guts to do this and will be a very good device.  
  • Well, I have to agree that this is possible. Being late (or nonexistent) in current markets cam hold you back severally in future markets... The best example of this is Automotive infotainment systems. Because of MS lack of proper efforts to get a viable smartphone to market successfully, they are missing out on being in the car along with iDroid...
    .......
    What I disagree with is the fact that MS CAN'T compete in any emerging market because of their structure.. MS failure of certain products was never because of what they couldn't do, or achieve, rather what they wouldn't do. If MS can make Surface successful with an iPad being extremely popular, they can do anything... It just depends on how MS decides to prioritize. Personally, my opinion is that they have no choice but to pour more resources into every aspect of mobile.. If they don't invest heavily now, the future will see loss.
  • Is Surface successful in comparison with iPad? Does Surface even have 1/10th the sales? With sales dropping and the recent reliability reports, it is tough to make that claim.
  • I've asked you to stop harassing me time after time. But, you keep replying to my comments, so you are intentionally trying to start trouble. I have no desire in this universe to chat with you about anything ever. I don't reply to your post, so don't reply to mine. I have that right whether you like it, or not. I'm asking you ONCE AGAIN to please stop replying to my comments. I'm asking you to leave me alone, or you will be reported.
  • You made a statement that isn't all that rooted in reality. Surface hasn't been a slam dunk in the slightest. I guess you just don't like being questioned when you are wrong.
  • It bothers you, but I suggest you find someone else to discuss it with, or another way of dealing with it. But, I have told you too many times to stop harassing me. Now, I have reported you, and I'm saying to ignore me entirely, and leave me alone... I will make no more replies to you, rather if you keep trolling, and harassing, me I will take it up with WC staff personally. Please stop, and leave me alone. I don't know how else to explain this to you. Harassment online is illegal. I'm serious. Do not attempt to communicate with me any further. Thanks for your cooperation.
  • I have never said anything even remotely offensive or out of line to you. Merely asking you to clarify your statement. It sounds like you have no justification for it. The Surface has done ok for Microsoft, but it certainly hasn't set the world on fire. It has been losing momentum for a while and recent reports questioning the reliability aren't going to help. Just look at a recent leaked document from Microsoft. https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/14/16142490/microsoft-surface-consumer-r... Those are massive return rates. Certainly doesn't look like a successful product and certainly not a product that compared favorably with the iPad.
  • The Surface did pretty much define the hybrid PC device. Sure, there were others before, but by Microsoft's own intents for their Surface hardware efforts - to showcase what's possible with the OS/hardware and push OEMs to push the envelope - it has been very successful. Also, iPad Pro. 'nuff said.
  • People only see success as a comparison to other things on a monetary level.. That's ignorance. It's even more ignorant when people make comments out of context to the situation at hand.. The iPad was hugely successful for Apple, being the most successful tablet there is, in terms of popularity, and sales. Not sure if any Samsung tablet has ever sold more, but they've been extremely successful as well, thriving in the same market as the iPad.. I say the same for MS's Surface, because being in pretty much the same market as the iPad (take it, or leave it, the Surface is ultimately a tablet) MS has created a product that has defined differentiators, and people are going for it. It's not out selling any other product on the market, and I doubt if MS ever thought it would. But, as it was designed, for it's purpose, Surface, and as a brand, is a success. The Surface brand is of value, it's setting standards, and only products that belong get the name. That's success...
    ....
    Like I said before "If MS can make Surface popular with the iPad being in the market, they can do anything", and they did make Surface "popular". Everyday, at the airport, I see numerous amounts of ultrabooks, about 20 iPads per few hours (mostly minis), and probably 10, or so various Surface devices per few hours.. Kinda weird because I see a ton of people using Surface Books everyday. That actually surprises me, because I didn't think they would sell that well. If you want to really see what devices people are using, outside of stupid articles online, go to the airport. The airport is a showcase of technology...
    So, my perception has been this.. Comparing Surface to iPhones, and Windows Phone to them all,, I used to see about 1 WP device to about every 60 i devices, back when WP had some kinda market.. Today, I see about 10 Surface devices to every 20 i devices of various sorts. Kinda a weird comparison, but you have to understand where I'm coming from.. Either way, Surface is worlds more popular than WP ever was (at least here in the US)... Long story short.. If MS can do that with the Surface brand, they can do more with other products, such as mobile, mixed reality, whatever... MS has the capability, they just don't come with it like we would like them to.
  • I am one of those Surface users you see at the airport! Surface has done ok for Microsoft. I think the biggest contribution was inspiring all the other manufacturers to up their game. I will likely get the new Surface Pro to replace my Pro 3.
  • Wow,  agreed.  But I spend LOTS of time in airports...most of what I see are dells, HP and MAC.  I have seen probably 2 surface products for every 100 of the others.  But there is no denying the surface is a great device.
  • As much as I'd like to say you're wrong, I agree that MS will fail. The weak mobile approach is only part of it, though, as you mentioned. Apple figured out how to be successful not so much because of tech, but because they made tech easy to use and look good. MS can do it, if they choose (like Rodney mentioned with Surface), but the corporate culture will not allow it to happen on any wide spread scale.
  • With MS it's sad.. They have so much wasted potential. It's like watching a child prodigy go the way of the needle.. Lol
  • Upvote for rodney!
  • fanboy downvote for me....crybabies....too funny!
  • I don't think they ever reach critical mass outside of vertical niche applications. After all, there's a reason they're not in the Star-Trek techverse. That thousand-yard stare *is* socially off putting and will be a tremendously high barrier to overcome.
  • Give my my Geordi La Forge visor now, please!
  • Just because you'd like to see a technology come to fruition doesn't mean it actually will. Weren't wearables the next big tech? 3D TV's? Aren't we supposed to wearing smart clothing by now? Wasn't video chatting going to completely replace phone calls? Maybe these smart goggly things will take off someday, but that's decades away, & by then someone might come up with better, less obtrusive tech.
  • Your comment is kinda irrelevant on a few levels... First Jason's says the "he believes", not "It's inevitable".. If that alone doesn't make your comment counter productive the fact that we already know that nothing predicted for the future is a given definitely does... Are you against idea? Are you against progression? Are you against conceptualization? Are you against personal opinion? What fear in you allows you to dwell on the negative? Why panic about what might not be?.... Wouldn't you rather mankind try, and fail 90% of the time, rather than curl up in a ball, do nothing, and set themselves up for a 100% chance of failure everytime?... I think it might be in your best interest to contribute your ideas for the future, instead of knocking down someone's somewhat very possible ideas based on current, very tangible, technological progress.
  • Hmmm, I guess you're right, I really should've given him bonus points for the Steve Urkel photo. Sorry bro.
  • 😂😂😂😂.. "Editorial", guys.
    Here, take the entire box of Morton salt. That'll hold y'all over for the rest of the Warditorials... Fo life!
  • Sorry, that one's lost on me, the incoherence level was even higher than usual.
  • Honestly, I don't see what's so far fetched about this idea... This augmentation is already being used in the military.. Take the F22 Raptor, for example, with It's augmented reality helmet. Damn, the pilot has a spherical view of the sky around him. If the pilot looks to the floor of the jet he can see the ground outside. That's some slick ****, and they got the idea from kids they brought in during development... The practical uses will always turn into uses for consumer products. Disk brakes came from airplanes. Radio came from the military. Nuclear power plants came from weapon development. Smartphones came from enterprise, pagers as well. Flight simulators, the list goes on, and on.... These glasses could save my life, by giving me a wider field of view on my bike... Not to mention, paired with eye tracking, I could change audio tracks without taking my hand off the handle bars... The "heads up" nature of smartglasses is most definitely the biggest selling point... Wouldn't you rather SEE your world, than be lost in a 5.5" tiny screen with your head to the floor?.. Lol. Smartglasses actually make a good case for themselves, when you lay out the pros and cons... I don't think they will "replace" anything anytime soon, but nobody expected tablets to replace PC's, and now they coexist.. It's all about having more options for your liking in the future.
  • Another 1 up for rodney...agreed 100 percent
  • Hope he shares whatever he's smoking.
  • Lol
  • Has anyone considered that have a radio antenae on your face all the time might be a bad idea. There were reports that cellphones could lead to health issues. however, people started using cellphones differently and now people use phones to text more than they use them to actually talk. So, the phone isn't near our head as much anymore. Now they want to attach the phone to your head. If this happens, we'll have to keep an eye on health issue that may appear a decade later. 
  • That's pretty much false. You're constantly getting bombarded with signals all day every day. Having the antenna doesn't mean anything.
  • I think this was a bigger deal way back in the day when cell signals were still analog.
  • None issue.. Or, not big enough to warrant uproar...
  • Please leave our eyes. We do not need headaches.
  • I personally think they will coexist for decades to come. Some will be uncomfortable with it and some will embrace it. Maybe they will be sold as a unit, just like the Alcatel idol 4s, phone with goggles, however in the not so distant future it will be phone with smart glasses. Over time more and more people will start leaving their phones and making their glasses their primary computing devices. Here is somewhat a little joke. Picture someone wearing smart glasses and going through their social media feeds, from a third person observing they will seem like they are are looking out into the open or space, kind of reminiscent of someone who high on drugs
  • I'm not even sure what use smart glasses will have and I might never know unless they have one eyed versions. I'm almost blind from one eye, so if two eyes are required then I won't know what it is just like watching 3D movies is something I cannot do. 
  • MS better first give me my Edge favorites back before they try to sell me anything ever again.
  • Jason it been so many years that I read you my friend. You are the best. 
  • Thanks for the support vespasianus🙂