Smart glasses launched to much fanfare but commensurate disappointment with Google’s initial consumer-focused product line, but, like many such initial products with glitches, the seeds were sown for other developers and end-users to connect and innovate. Enter the enterprises looking for new tools that can improve productivity, a domain in which smart glasses have received significant buzz recently. The devices’ unique form factors and hands-free controls attracted interest from many different industries, ranging from automotive and construction to medical and retail. This end-user interest together with the entrance of a plethora of device developers has created a major battlefield for smart glasses with numerous pilot projects being pursued. The question is, what glasses are the best fit for what enterprise use cases?
By analyzing more than 70 enterprise use cases, we found that these pilot programs can all be boiled down to three core functions. Those for accessing information enable users to pull information like checklists, product info, and notifications from various sources and view it in the head-mounted display (HMD). Sometimes, the visualized information is overlaid on top of the real object to achieve augmented reality (AR). In real-time communication use cases, smart glasses are used to stream live video from point of view and enable discussions with managers, remote experts, or customers. Finally, in documentation applications, smart glasses are used to take pictures and record audio and video clips, and then saved to local or remote storage, where no immediate feedback is needed.
Given the diversity of enterprise use cases and the diversity of technical capabilities in various smart glass devices, it’s not surprising that not all are a good fit to all cases. Based on interviews with end users, major assessment criteria, minimum needs, and their importance for the need of each of the three smart glass functions in enterprise use can be mapped to the technical capabilities for each smart glass device that is on the market or shipping development kits. There are some that can do it all, at a cost, while others miss the mark entirely for any meaningful enterprise deployment. Only five glasses are capable of meeting all the minimum performance requirements of accessing information, real time, and documentation use cases. Applications requiring this complexity include maintenance, repair, and patient examination. In this domain, the ODG R-7 stands out because it is the only self-contained system that does not need a wired controller and the only smart glasses that meets industrial standards for hazardous environments. Daqri could be valuable for niche use in very tough environments with the largest field of view, 360° cameras, and biosensors. However, this comes at a price versus the more affordable Meta-1 or Sony SmartEyeglass, each of which lacks the same functionality for either device input or information output needs but may suffice for many use cases.
In most cases, Google Glass comes up short compared to competing products like Sony SmartEyeglass and ODG R-7. In fact, the only category in which Google Glass looks like a truly viable option is for real-time communication applications. Unfortunately, this is also the category with the highest number of viable competitors, with ten out of the sixteen analyzed smart glasses able to meet the needs of real-time communication applications, like online sales support. In reality, Vuzix is the best fit for online sales support as it is sufficient to meet the need for streaming live video, light enough to wear all day and can be flipped to avoid blocking the view at a relatively low price point.
The good news for end users is that these pilot projects will burn a path for others to follow as product and use case kinks are worked out. In addition, end users can expect commoditization of smart glasses to arrive in the near future as developers announce their next-generation glasses, such as EPSON Moverio BT-2000 and Meta Pro, the field will only become more competitive. Any hint of a high premium regime for smart glass hardware will soon go away, and software and services will again become a critical route for keeping margins high for vendors.