Just as Google's withdrawal of Glass has raised doubts about augmented reality, Sony is debuting its own set of electronic glasses, the SmartEyeglass. But it’s a real question whether the gadget will do better than Glass or even if it will seem different enough.
Whereas virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift block a person's view of the real world, augmented reality headsets like those of Sony, Google, and Microsoft overlay images onto the real world to create a mixed reality, serving as hands-free displays. The SmartEyeglass Developer Edition is now available for pre-order in the United Kingdom and Germany for US $840 (£540 or €670), and available for sale in March in 10 countries, including the United States and Japan.
SmartEyeglass, which weighs about 77 grams, is equipped with an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, brightness sensor, and 3-megapixel camera, and it is compatible with the Android operating system. The glasses come with a badge-sized wired controller with a touch sensor, microphone, speaker and the device's battery, which is designed to be worn on clothes and enables a wireless connection to a smartphone. Text, symbols and images are displayed on a see-through 8-bit display in green—monochrome video uses less energy than a full-color display, Sony explained.
Sony is entering the augmented reality arena just as the consumer market for these devices was thrown into question by how Glass is apparently headed into limbo, although industrial and military markets for AR may still be healthy. Microsoft recently unveil a consumer augmented reality headset, the ski-goggle-like HoloLens, but unlike SmartEyeglass and Glass, the HoloLens is not intended to be worn all the time, potentially avoiding the many problems that using augmented reality headsets in public have raised, says Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at technology analyst firm Moor Insights & Strategy.
Although it is difficult to assess how successful the consumer product might be with only the developer version of SmartEyeglass available, "I don't see anything yet that would distinguish it from HoloLens or Glass," Moorhead says. "While Sony has had success building an ecosystem with Playstation, they've had a very hard time doing so in phones, tablets, or wrist wearables."
Charles Q. Choi is a science reporter who contributes regularly to IEEE Spectrum. He has written for Scientific American, The New York Times, Wired, and Science, among others.