Spark

The tech world is after your eyes

Trying to find a new market on...your body.
Snapchat's new sunglasses have a video camera inside.

by Nora Young

One of the things we like to do on Spark is keep track of unfolding tech news and what it might mean to you. Well, your eyes are hot tech real estate these days. Everyone wants you to put on some kind of goggles. Virtual Reality headgear like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, or Google Cardboard have been around for a while now. But lately, there's been a lot of talk about a new range of internet-connected eyewear.

It's a surprising trend. Surprising because the last time there was a huge push in smart eyewear, we got Google Glass, roundly received as dorky, intrusive and creepy. And yet, here we are again.

Snapchat just opened a high profile pop-up store in Manhattan to sell Spectacles, their buzzy sunglasses with a video camera inside. Spectacles lets you shoot first-person video then send it wirelessly to the Snapchat app on your phone.

Wait, if you have your phone, why do you need the glasses? Hands free, I guess. It's been smartly marketed as a "toy", a bit of fun.

Now, Spectacles is just a camera that wirelessly connects to your phone. Some of the other eye gear is more ambitious.

Microsoft's Hololens has been available in North America since the summer, and is just now starting to roll out to other markets. Anyone can buy it, but it's really still aimed at businesses and developers. And you can totally see the business use for something like this: for an architect or designer to share their vision in 3D with a client for instance.

Unlike virtual reality headsets, Hololens offers mixed or augmented reality. You still see the regular world around you but overlaid with holographic images. It avoids the 'where the heck am I?' groping around with your hands feeling you can get using an immersive VR headset.

And there are other experiments in smart glasses. Vue, which is currently raising funds on Kickstarter, are prescription glasses that add other features like fitness tracking, music, and the ability to find out the time by tapping the side of your glasses' arm.

But the titan on the horizon is Apple, which is widely rumoured to be working on a pair of augmented reality glasses. Perhaps bringing style points that Google was unable to manage with Glass.

One reason for all this eyewear action may just be the struggle to find a new market on...your...body. iPhone sales have been dropping this year. Smartwatch sales have dropped too, although some dispute this. And certainly, our love of smartphones suggests we really want to be connected all the time.

One question for these smart devices is how they fit into social norms and etiquette. We saw how Google Glass floundered because something about it just seemed creepy and privacy invading. Snapchat spectacle seems to have solved this problem by only doing ONE thing.

And that transparency may be the key. The very smart Canadian human computer interaction thinker, Bill Buxton, uses the example of the pencil. Why does no one ever complain that someone's "always on their pencil" he asks. Because a pencil is completely transparent about what it's being used for, in a way that a watch, or augmented reality glasses, or even a smartphone really aren't.

Regardless, expect to see a big push in the months ahead to get you to put something smart on your face.

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