Google Glass may be dead and buried (or at least focused squarely on the enterprise market for now), but Google was hardly the only company developing wearable gadgets that could put information on a floating window right in front of your eyes.
Vuzix has been producing wearable display technology for more than 10 years, but now the company is selling its first consumer product that seems to pick up where Google Glass (for consumers) left off.
It’s a set of smart glasses called Vuzix Blade that puts a full color display in front of your face, responds to touch or voice commands, and can pair with a smartphone to display notifications and other information.
Vuzix Blade is now available for purchase… for $1000. That’s a lot of money for a device that mostly presents a new way to interact with your phone. But it could theoretically do much more in the futur.e
The Vuzix Blade smart glasses look like a rather chunky set of spectacles, but they have a touch-sensitive section on the side, motion tracking sensors, a camera that you can use to snap photos or shoot videos, and they can display information on a semi-transparent display so that you can view notifications, weather information, walking directions, or other information overlaidd on your real-world environment.
The glasses run an Android-based operating system called Blade OS and currently support Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, although Google Assistant support is in the works.
While the Vuzix Blade glasses support WiFi and can be used as a standalone device, you can also use Bluetooth to pair the glasses with an iPhone or Android phone to view all of your incoming notifications on the heads-up display.
There’s also an app store that you can use to find and install standalone apps including games, web browsers, or other apps. So if developers jump on the bandwagon, the Blade could get more useful over time — although Engadget’s Nicole Lee says the experience of using a pre-production prototype is still a little frustrating thanks to Bluetooth connection issues and unfinished software (Alexa doesn’t work yet, for instance).
It is nice to see that Vuzix Blade offers support for prescription lenses, and a microSD card slot for additional storage. The glasses charge via a micro USB port, which could be a savvy move that indicates that USB-C isn’t exactly ubiquitous yet… or which could be an indication that these things have been around for a long time.
When Google first announced Glass in 2012, I was cautiously optimistic. The company positioned Glass not as a way to be more connected, so much as a way to spend less time unlocking and staring at your phone. Notifications would grab your attention briefly and quickly as they came in, allowing you to get back to your other tasks in no time.
Six years later, I’m a little more skeptical. I can definitely see how a device like Vuzix Blade could be useful in certain situations. Doctors could have quick access to patient information without carrying around a clipboard. Mechanics, telecommunications workers, and other folks who work with their hands could refer to instruction manuals while using their hands to do the repair work.
But I’m not sure I’d want to see a notification pop up in my field of view every single time a news alert, email messages, SMS, or social media update pops up on my phone. It’d be going off non-stop. Maybe I could spend some time adjusting my notification settings so that only the most important items get through… but maybe I could also just save $1000 and keep unlocking my phone from time to time to see what’s new.
Still, I suppose it’s nice to see a company actually follow through on a promise to release a retail product in this category. We won’t know if there’s a market for this sort of device until consumers have an opportunity to buy them, use them, and decide whether they’re worth the asking price.