With Google giving the public a glimpse of the future of wearable electronics with its Project Glass spectacles, it appears that a world where technology is incorporated into all manner of accessories could soon be upon us.
‘Wearable’ technology has been around since the first wristwatches, but according to analysts, devices worn could be more reminiscent of accessories seen in Back to the Future II than your average Casio.
There are already currently a number of uses for wearable electronics – the US Major League Soccer is about to become the first football organisation to kit out all players with electronic tags, for example – but at the forefront of the public’s imagination is surely Google’s Project Glass, a ‘smartphone for your eyes’.
Google caused a bit of a stir with its Google Glass concept video recently, and is gearing up for a launch of the augmented reality spex in 2014. Earlier this week the firm received approval for one of its patents based on the smart glasses, giving an explanation of how the devices can be unlocked with a roll of the eyes.
The technology certainly appears impressive, and there are a number of potential uses. But are we really happy to wear Google’s glasses when walking down the street without the pointing and laughing, or stumbling into oncoming traffic as we are bombarded with heads up display info for directions to the nearest Subway restaurant?
Wearing glasses without optometrical benefits might be de rigueur for the thick-rimmed faux glasses-wearing hipster community courted in Google’s own concept video – but would we really be comfortable wearing smart glasses to compare prices of Tesco and Sainsbury’s baked beans in the local supermarket?
According to analysts at IMS Research, the market for wearable electronics products such as smart glasses and watches is actually set to boom in the next few years, as the public becomes more used to such devices.
To a certain extent, wearable electronics have already arrived, with 14 million wearable devices shipped in 2011 according to analyst figures, largely due to applications such as fitness monitoring, as well as in in the healthcare sector.
By 2016 however, analysts believe that the appeal will have widened to more mainstream applications, with conservative estimations sizing the total market for wearable electronics, including military applications, at $6 billion.
According to IMS Research analyst Theo Ahadome, the successful introduction of Google’s smart glasses, as well as a rumoured Apple smart watch, could create even more interest in wearable electronics.
Ahadome says that in the lowest estimates for smart glasses sales, which do not factor in any input from the likes of Google, it is predicted that the smart glasses market is set to see 150,000 units of smart glasses a year shipped by 2016.
Factoring in the introduction of Project Glass at an earlier stage and this is likely to increase massively, with shipments expected to be closer to 9 million units as various firms release their own versions, some of whom already have devices in development.
“We have already seen Olympus with a similar product, and once you get the Google product released you will see a cascading effect with other suppliers, which will make the whole market look very different,” Ahadome said, speaking with TechEye.
Such figures are eye-watering at the moment, given that any technology is still very much in development. Ahadome notes that much will have to be done to persuade consumers to use smart glasses for actions which can already be done easily enough on a smartphone.
Compelling uses will come with further development, according to Ahadome. “With a lot of different technologies that have been developed it is always not easy to see the full use immediately,” he said, citing the iPad as one particular instance which had many scratching their heads at first over how it could prove useful.
Once developers start building more applications, the Ahadome believes the Google fanbase will flock as early adopters, leading to mass market appeal.