Google is offering Google Glass to select members of the public again. Previously, the company has limited users of the device to people focused on the tech industry. It only gave out the product via special releases. Now the theory is that Google is responding to competition from Samsung’s Gear Glass, expected out in September, but Samsung is not the only other company in the market.
Initially released to Google employees, the product slowly trickled down through celebrities and industry, beginning with preorders for the first Explorer Edition at the Google/IO conference in June of 2012. Google’s second run of the Explorer program offers consumers the opportunity to join the company in developing the Glass product. What that really amounts to is signing up for an Alpha or Beta build of the final device. The price is also an issue, since it is feasible to purchase a stellar computer for the Google Glass going price of $1500. There have been some accusations of price gouging since an evaluative company released a statement that quoted the cost construction of the new gadget at under $200. This assessment excluded costs for engineering, licenses, and software development, so the debate on exactly how much Google is over charging early adopters rages on. One could argue that Google Glass is still a techie toy too new and expensive for the majority of consumers. But with competition looming, Google may be attempting to get ahead of the rush.
Samsung has been working on a smart glass competitor, titled the Gear Glass. It will use their Tizen operating system, already put to the test in their Gear Fit and Fit 2 bands. It remains to be seen how and if Gear Glass will interact with the Galaxy Gear, the Samsung smart watch that debuted in September of 2013, or the rest of the Gear line. The Samsung smart glass even features one earpiece for music or phone calls in the right ear. A Korean journal broke the story that Samsung plans to bring the new product to market as early as September of this year to show off at the IFA event in Berlin.
Speculation abounds regarding the quality of Samsung’s Glass product versus competitor and compatriot Google’s. Google has been working on smart glasses since April of 2012, while Samsung’s announcement came sometime at the beginning of this year. Further, industry rumor has it that the Samsung offering will be more readily available, possibly in stores, though both companies are providing products that could be considered still in development. Time will tell whether the more conservative approach will win out in the long run against Google Glass’ growing competition in the wearables market.
Epson has a working pair of smart glasses. They do not have the clever branding typical of Google, but neither do they suffer from accusations of price-bloat, coming in at $700. Called the Moverio BT-200, the product offers augmented reality rather than focusing purely on its strengths as a mobile pc or smartphone extension. In layman’s terms, the Moverio operates over the full field of vision and can tell a user about the item in front of him or her by overlaying information on the visual field. Google Glass, on the other hand relays info via the small projector on the right lens, pulling the user’s eyes away from the world around them.
Vuzix offers similar features to Google’s Glass, but instead of a clear display theirs is a miniature color LCD, like a tiny TV for one eye. It has been developed as a standalone device with a 1GHz OMAP4430 processor, 1GB of RAM and 4GB of storage, though little information is available about how successfully the device maintains its independence.
Sony too has a smart glass toy called simply the SmartEyeGlass. It has a separate controller, which means a wire dangling inconveniently from frames of those consumers that want to jump on the bandwagon early. With a slimmer list of features and at such an early stage of development it is not yet a direct threat to the Google Glass or other less well-known competitors Moverio or M100, but it is on the horizon. Other tech giants Microsoft and LG have also filed patents integral to wearable smart technologies.
With the Gear Glass, SmartEyeGlass, and the rumors of LG’s G Glass and Microsoft’s MS Glass, the smart accessory marketplace is becoming increasingly crowded. Sales of the first wearable devices were slow, but Gear Fit and Fit 2 sold well. Ernst and Young growth estimates for the market over the next four to five years are impressive. May 14th saw the Wearable Flexible Technologies World Conference in China. Reports about revelations at the event should start streaming in soon. Ultimately, developer support will play a huge part in the success of the new hardware, and any word along that front may affect the way consumers decide to buy. All that is clear is that Google Glass has some steep competition on its hands in a market it once pioneered.
By Aliya Tyus-Barnwell