Amazon bets on smart glasses in wearables market shift

As a pioneering product category in wearable tech, smartwatches made a lot of sense. Many people wear a watch and it’s often a fashion a statement as much as it is a utilitarian time-keeper. People don’t really need a reason to wear a watch, and it’s not contingent on any medical or biological factors.

This isn’t generally the case with glasses, lensless hipster frames aside. Millions of people wear glasses out of necessity and millions more don’t have perfect vision. It’s been estimated that around 60 percent of people in developed countries wear glasses, contact lenses or had corrective surgery. Vision Council of America estimates 75 percent of American adults use vision correction and 60 percent wear sunglasses while outside. So the potential market for smart glasses is huge.

In this context, it makes sense that glasses would be the next frontier for wearables. After Google Glass flopped, people have been more skeptical about this product category. Attention shifted to other wearables such as smart footwear and so-called hearables. Entrepreneurs were still hard at work on smart glasses, though, and consumers are already starting to see the payoff.

Snap’s picture- and video-taking Spectacles are one of the more popular tech-infused glasses on the market today. Sunglasses makers like Oakley are getting in on the action now, too, with smart sunglasses catering to athletes. Oakley’s Radar Pace glasses for runners has a built-in fitness trainer that gives users real-time updates.

Communicating to users through audio seems to be a natural fit for glasses, in which audio devices can be hidden in the frames. This is the route taken by the crowdfunded Vue smart glasses (pictured above) and now Amazon is reportedly looking to do the same by sending audio out via bone conduction.

Oakley has the right idea with the Radar Pace glasses since most wearables owners are interested in fitness tracking. (Source: eMarketer)

This is a perfect fit for Amazon, which already owns Alexa, perhaps the world’s most ubiquitous smart assistant that can be found in everything from refrigerators to security systems.

Smart glasses could be a big bet for Amazon, but it seems to fit with the company’s current goal of getting Alexa into everything. Since people might not see as much value in a smartwatch assistant, this makes sense for the company’s first wearable. Amazon has tried conventional hardware products before with its Fire smartphone and tablets. The smartphone bombed and the tablets have succeeded only as cheap alternatives to the iPad.

Smart glasses are also uniquely positioned to take advantage of the impending augmented reality boom. Many companies are in a race to capitalize on AR, and it’s not just coming from the US. The expected tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft are all competing in this area, of course, but so is China’s Alibaba, Tencent and Cheetah Mobile. WeChat is used by pretty much everyone with an internet connection in China, and China has proven to be an incredible innovator and consumer of AR and VR technology.

Though Amazon’s own glasses might not be AR focused, the company might heighten competition in the smart glasses space. Microsoft, Google and others likely all want their own products on as many faces as possible. After all, how often to people change glasses?

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