Will consumers wear Alexa-enabled AR glasses?

Discussion
Photo: Vuzix
Jan 09, 2018
Matthew Stern

Augmented reality (AR) glasses may finally offer the functionality needed to convince people to wear them — by letting users leverage Amazon.com’s Alexa voice-activated technology.

This year’s CES show will feature the debut of a pair of Alexa-ready AR glasses by Vuzix Corp., according to the Chicago Tribune. Vuzix will initially retail the glasses for $1,000 when releasing them in the second quarter of 2018 (with the eventual goal of cutting that price point in half by 2019). Wearers will be able to speak to Alexa and ask the digital assistant to display images, like maps, on the glasses’ AR readout. The device has been confirmed by Amazon to be the first smart glasses outfitted with Alexa.

Wearables devices have generally been slow to gain traction despite years of industry talk and enthusiasm from early adopters.

While some wearables, like health trackers (most notably Fitbit), initially had an impressive rate of adoption, that rate has tapered significantly. Other wearables, like the Apple Watch, were released to great fanfare but haven’t caught on as some expected.

When it comes to AR glasses in particular, Google’s early entry to the space, Google Glass, was so controversial that it generated backlash against users. More recent entrants to the wired glasses space, like Snapchat’s image- and video-capturing Spectacles, have also failed to catch on.

But there remains a belief in some tech circles that a wearable will likely be the device that moves us away from our smartphones and toward interacting with technology in a more intuitive way. For instance, at last year’s IRCE conference, Imran Asani, principal manager of innovation at Walmart Labs, forecasted AR becoming ubiquitous in the next five years, delivered by smart glasses or a similar device.

Whether Alexa integration can overcome privacy concerns and other problems that have prevented mass smart glasses adoption thus far remains to be seen.

The smart glasses interface isn’t the only place outside the home where third parties are introducing Alexa. Chinese company Anker is releasing a device that will integrate Alexa fully into automobiles, according to The Verge.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Alexa’s voice-activation tech be the feature that spurs the mass adoption of smart glasses? What factors might the success or failure of this product hinge on?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The space left by the much-hyped and not-loved Google Glass is still warm ... Time will tell! "
"If Amazon is really serious about giving users a way to carry Alexa around, then I’d imagine they’ll just take another try at the mobile phone market."
"I remain confident that for smart glasses, it’s not “if” but “when” they’ll be a must have."

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26 Comments on "Will consumers wear Alexa-enabled AR glasses?"


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Art Suriano
BrainTrust

I see smart glasses at first as a novelty that will have traction, but before they become a mass appeal item, manufacturers will have to address two issues: 1.) Most people don’t wear glasses and won’t want to wear them. So perhaps similarly to how the Bluetooth earpiece got smaller and smaller, the same thing may need to happen with smart glasses — making what the consumer wears small so that it does not necessarily appear as wearing glasses. 2.) Many people wear prescription glasses, and smart glasses will have to accommodate prescription eye-wear.

That being said, there are tremendous benefits and conveniences that smart glasses will provide and that will make them appealing to many consumers. In time, I see technology making them better and better to the point that they will become part of everyday life.

Peter Luff
BrainTrust

Art you make some great points; I was certainly going to make the same point about prescription glasses. Perhaps Amazon should partner up with those manufacturers to get the users who already have to wear glasses first. One less barrier to work with.

The only other point I would make is that I worked in VR/AR almost 20 years ago outside of retail for 10 years and it was going to be the next great thing then and despite all that time, it’s still waiting to “cross the chasm.” By all means explore the technology but it could well be one for the long haul, still.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Agreed Peter. It’s impossible to predict the “if and when” of things catching on. Stereo sound was invented years before consumers wanted it and the same with color TV which was available years before the public was interested. And it was years before the public appreciated having email, surfing the net and owning a mobile phone. I remain confident that for smart glasses it’s not “if” but “when” they’ll be a must have. How smart glasses evolve with technology will also be a key factor once they start to attract an audience.

Jon Polin
BrainTrust

The notion of moving “away from our smartphones and toward interacting with technology in a more intuitive way” is a funny one. Have our phones not become an intuitive part of our lives at this point? While I see that it may be odd to use a handheld device for so much more than its original intent – making phone calls – I’m not sure how a pair of glasses is any more intuitive. I think smartphones will remain ubiquitous for quite some time.

Charles Dimov
Guest

The iPod wasn’t the first to market but it revolutionized the world. So too, it seems that AR (glass technology) is inevitable. Eventually we will get it. Even though Google did not succeed, Amazon might. With Alexa voice making inroads, it sets the ground for widespread adoption of the add-on product — AR. In this regard, Google would be very smart (they are) to re-introduce Google Glass v2.0. It does need a re-branding, though.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This is not what I would call imperative functionality in a pair of glasses but it may take off in five years. The younger generations of today will enjoy the “cool” factor while the older generations say “do I really need this?” And the young shall inherit the earth, tomorrow.

Seth Nagle
BrainTrust

YES! If the user can easily bring up command prompts by just saying a few words without issue and not having to repeat or yell this tech could catch on quickly. However if the glasses are big, bulky and off fleek it could severely slow down the user adoption rate.

Although people love convenience people also care about their style and one of the big issues with Google Glass and Snap Spectacles was that they just looked goofy.

Jennifer McDermott
Guest

I’m skeptical, at least for its stickiness in the near future. The space left by the much-hyped and not-loved Google Glass is still warm. Wearable tech is on the rise, sure, but the Fitbit et. al is not as intrusive as a pair of glasses.

Time will tell!

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

There’s something fundamentally odd about us talking to our glasses as we walk through the streets. But then, there’s something fundamentally odd about our marriages to our phones, too. Who knows? I hope not.

Al McClain
Staff

Odd indeed, Paula. But, I remember the first time I noticed someone on their phone talking while standing at a urinal in an airport men’s room. Now, for better or worse, people use their phone’s literally everywhere. I imagine the talking glasses thing will happen, but not everyone will use them and they will get integrated into the mainstream so that we won’t pay much attention to people asking Alexa questions as they walk down the street. Side note: How annoying will this get for people named Alexa?

Max Goldberg
Guest

Consumers will adopt wearables, like ALexa-ready glasses, when they find that the products serve a productive niche at an affordable price. So far, these products have been nice-to- have, but not must-have, items.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

AR glasses or headsets ask for a big commitment for incremental gain.

My career is built on innovating new technologies, so I’m all for tech that enhances UX. That said, I don’t believe Alexa is going to impact AR any more meaningfully than any other brand has. The glasses require a significant lifestyle change that most people are not prepared to make in anything other than an anecdotal way. It’s the same as Microsoft’s (public) vision for HoloLens where they have everyone walking down the street wearing a headset.

Alexa exists to sell products on/from Amazon and nothing else. Alexa Skills (3 percent utilization rate) and all the assistive features are subterfuge to hide that fact. So without a truly killer app (unlikely), the glasses will have little real value ad for consumers. Google and Snap have found that out — not to mention the previous incarnation of this, the Fire Phone.

Phil Chang
BrainTrust
Phil Chang
Retail Influencer, Speaker and Consultant
1 year 8 months ago

I’m always enthusiastic about new ways to leverage technology. I believe that we’re currently bumping into the maturity of the smartphone format — with the power of chipsets and phones, why hasn’t traveling with tech become easier? Why do I still need to carry a laptop on a plane? Why do I need to type to interface with my phone/laptop, etc.?

I’m not sure if glasses is the right answer, but we need to continue to test. AR plays a huge part in retail moving forward and visual inputs are so underutilized that perhaps this makes sense! I can’t wait for the next wave of tech to change the way we do things!

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

First the very term “augmented reality” is odd to say the least. Most of us don’t handle good old everyday reality very well at all. That means the “augmented” version will become an escape from the reality that really matters. Trouble is that escape route won’t really take you anywhere. And I thought we’d already tried this glasses thing.

We’re trying to get Apple to limit the time kids spend on their iPhones. Why? Because kids are not learning to deal with the realities of their lives … like the need for conversation, relationships, physical presence and just plain thinking for yourself.

I apply the same thought to “artificial intelligence.” Is there anyone out there who wouldn’t agree that this country could use a little old-fashioned god-given intelligence right now?

And yes I’m getting old.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

I still can’t get past the danger and distraction of this concept. Yes, it sounds good for a minute but what is to stop someone from using the device while driving? Isn’t this just as distracting as texting while driving? For my 2 cents.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I have had the dubious pleasure of working on this very problem, i.e., AR glasses. All erudite discussions aside, research reveals that the single largest factor behind the failure of Google Glass was … not that people didn’t wear glasses, not that they felt odd freezing in place while absorbing some new bit of data, not that they refused to adopt to technology (satisfaction rates were high among early adopters) — it was style. Yes, style was the big stumbling block. Users reported disliking, “looking like a nerd or a dork,” or some variation, in staggering numbers.

The fact is AR has a bright present — and presumably future — in a variety of applications from training college football players and keeping infantry troops from getting killed, to industrial training and medical procedures. So voice activation — and more importantly perhaps a link to the Amazon network — may be nice, but you have to get over the vanity hurdle first. Now AR by Armani enabled by Alexa? That may be a winner.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust
Mohamed Amer
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
1 year 8 months ago

Voice User Interfaces (VUIs) is the future direction of interaction by consumers in a computing environment. From initiating searches to accessing any data or making purchases, VUIs will be part of our lifestyles. Layering augmented reality will enhance how we experience products, places and people. The only question is how long it’ll take to fully meld VUIs, wearables and AR together to enrich consumers’ lifestyles.

Desiring to leverage Alexa’s branding and highly successful adoption, Amazon knows that more than any other characteristic, the consumer is highly mobile. The company is looking for ways to integrate Alexa into the daily fiber of everything a consumer does — at home, in the office, in the car, everywhere. Whether or not the Alexa glasses will catch on is not as important as Amazon’s continued innovations into making Alexa-like VUIs more sticky than Google’s search as well as becoming the new fulcrum for social-based commerce.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

The world is waiting for more wearable tech. Smartwatches are now fairly ubiquitous, but that took some time to happen. The same will be true for widespread adoption of other wearables. They have to be convenient, perform a useful function that replaces using another device and look cool.

Dan Raftery
Guest

Mass adoption of any leading edge technology has only happened after the technology matures. In today’s hyper-drive world, I’d guess that the adoption rate goal is much lower.

Tom Erskine
BrainTrust
1 year 8 months ago

If Amazon is really serious about giving users a way to carry Alexa around, then I’d imagine they’ll just take another try at the mobile phone market. As many have already mentioned, the heads up display approach of glasses has already proven to be a tough nut to crack with the exception of specialized jobs.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Alexa is not the magic technology that will make AR glasses work. The biggest problem with Google Glass was the weight, size and comfort of the glasses for the user. Alexa will make the interface easier but will not solve the aesthetics and weight issues. At the Consumer Electronic Show going on this week, there are many voice activated digital assistants being shown including Alexa —
this market will grow rapidly. It is another step to turn this capability into a glasses form factor a user would wear for a complete day.

Joan Treistman
BrainTrust

I can see that Alexa voice activation will be adopted in an automobile. But it’s hard for me to foresee the interaction occurring on the street and in other public places. Others have listed drawbacks of smart glasses. I’m just skeptical about the attraction of conversations with other voice activated sources where privacy may be a concern for the user or the passerby.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Without knowing more about why 1.0 didn’t work out, it’s hard to make meaningful predictions about subsequent versions. Was the problem minor glitches that can be worked out or is it something inherent, like the inevitably limited functionality or having one’s lenses turned into a “screen” (though can it really be any worse than staring down at an actual screen constantly)? My wild guess is it’s the latter, and we’ll be asking this question repeatedly … until it becomes the 8-track of the 2000s.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Because it’s “yet another device,” I don’t think it will be become widespread unless the capabilities (and value) are significantly greater than our phones.

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
1 year 8 months ago

Random thoughts …

Augmented reality is a wireless headphone wanting for an iTune’s/app store. They are this generations PDAs wanting for a cool set of eyeglass frames.

Steve’s enabling of the .99 cent download, thanks to his media connection, and the benefits of the Next development library, might be analogous enablers worth considering in processing the unreal tech term: Augmented Reality.

Bezos may have the power of Steve in driving the creation of the back-end content that makes this device really useful. (I deleted a long string of possibilities since who knows what the real innovations, aka Spotify, Instagram, etc. might be once the base content is there.)

Enabling the creation of usable AR content is the first step in ubiquity — but that content won’t be created without an audience. Once again, tech prognosticators are challenged by the chickens and the eggs.

End of randomness.

Afterthought: Perhaps integrating Amazon reviews to the shopper’s (AR) experience might be the existing content Bezos could tap to help folks find what’s best for them at the shelf.

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

No, Alexa voice-activation will not spur the mass adoption of smart glasses.

All technology has a similar path or funnel to mass adoption. It begins with the early adopters championing the technology and advantages over the status quo — which is not happening.

Consumers lack a compelling reason to wear smart glasses for work or leisure. Also, unlike other technologies that can be shared, or demonstrated, by users to their friends or colleagues, the nature of glasses is one that can’t be shared. If smart glasses are able to leapfrog the early adopter then it will succeed, but until that happens it will be a non-essential addition to smartphone technology.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The space left by the much-hyped and not-loved Google Glass is still warm ... Time will tell! "
"If Amazon is really serious about giving users a way to carry Alexa around, then I’d imagine they’ll just take another try at the mobile phone market."
"I remain confident that for smart glasses, it’s not “if” but “when” they’ll be a must have."

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