Wearable Tech Show: Augmented optimism?

AugmentedReality.org’s Ori Inbar has some bold predictions for AR Smart-glasses.

Smart-glasses have been around for a while – even Dyson was working on them a decade ago. But it’s only since Google Glass that people have really sat up and taken notice. Today the market is full of companies trying to be the King Kong of the AR/Smart-glasses space. But how big do you think the market will be? A few million devices? A few hundred million? What about a billion?

Ori Inbar, CEO of AugmentedReality.org, a non-profit dedicated to promoting the technology, is beyond eager. “The future will be awesome”, he says when speaking at the Wearable Tech Show. His predictions for the market definitely fall within the “optimist” category. His organisation is dedicated to getting one billion AR devices in the hands (and on the faces) of users by 2020. A big ambition? Perhaps, but he and his organisations predict that somewhere between 2020 and 2023, smart-glasses will reach an inflection point where they actually outsell smartphones.

“It took smartphones 10 years to go from zero to one billion,” he says. He even admits that he thinks his prediction that AR could go the same way is “conservative”. His organisation’s report; “Smart-glasses Market: Towards One Billion Shipments” predicts that by the end of this year we’ll see some one million AR/Smart-glasses shipped, next year will see 10 million, that figure will reach 50-100 million by 2018 and within a couple of years of that there’ll be one billion devices shipped.

Inbar says that currently the market is in its large early stages with many players, next year will see the market consolidate – “things will get ugly” – and leaders emerge who will then reach critical mass before the market is ruled by one “800 pound gorilla”. He doesn’t say who this might be, but admits it could possibly be Apple since this company has a habit of entering spaces later than most.

Many may be wondering why they should bother entering the space at all. Answer? Profit. The median price of wearables today is somewhere around the $600 mark, akin to high-end smartphones – but cost just $155 to make, compared to over $200 for an iPhone or Galaxy. With costs for AR/Smart-glasses sure to decrease as the technology becomes more mainstream, the potential profit speaks for itself.

Too late already?

The world of wearable tech is a quick moving one; companies are going from concept to market quicker than ever, but it might already be too late if you haven’t already started to get involved.  While asking electronics makers whether they think they can really afford not to enter this market, Inbar simultaneously tells them it’s already too late to start working on a device and advises them instead to start acquiring targets. Software companies should be working on apps now, with a strong sense of urgency.

Inbar predicts the AR/Smart-glasses market taking off is “inevitable”. “The need to interact is in our bones,” he says, and phones prevent that interaction in a way glasses don’t. As with most technologies, the consumer and enterprise markets have different requirements. Consumers want form; lightweight with a good field of view, while enterprises desire function. Inbar cites the way the BlackBerry conquered the enterprise despite there being more aesthetic phones available.

A billion devices is an ambitious number. Outselling smartphones in the current market is basically unthinkable. It’s easy to see the AR/Smart-glasses market getting bigger and consolidating, and even a few devices becoming a big deal – but even Apple might struggle to flog hundreds of millions of them. While smart-glasses will no doubt find a comfortable home in the enterprise space, the public backlash over Google Glass shows the consumer side might not be ready for Inbar’s optimism yet.


More from IDG Connect at this year’s Wearable Technology Show:

Wearable Tech Show: Optimism, gadgets and potential

Muse: A stylish brain tech challenger

Listicle: Top ten of Wearable Tech Show London

Advice on making wearables, from people who make wearables