Two of China’s well-known technology companies, Huawei and Baidu, are close to launching their own smart glasses products. Leaked photos of Huawei’s Honor Smart Glasses have emerged over the last few days, and last month we got a glimpse of Baidu Eye.
These developments come in the midst of news about a deterioration of support for Google Glass, particularly among its community of Glass Explorers. I too am a Glass Explorer, having taken a chance at testing and developing for a computer like nothing that has been seen before. However, over the course of the last year it’s gone quiet, there haven’t been any real product updates, and there has been a massive social backlash against the technology, including concerns about privacy.
On the other hand, enterprise applications for Google Glass still hold promise, and the Glass at Work developer program is likely to continue, especially focused on medical and industrial applications. That progress still doesn’t change the fact that the Glass experiment has failed for the most part, and yes let’s call it an experiment, as it was still a beta product.
So why are Huawei and Baidu now pursuing a product category that has largely failed as a commercial concept? For one, they probably believe that they have a better design and improved technology going into their products. Baidu Eye, for example, has no screen in front of the eye, but rather utilizes the smartphone display to interact, saving battery life. The Baidu Eye essentially is an object recognition device, which can detect and identify objects by simply looking at them. With Baidu being the Google of China, one can easily see how it could be monetized through ads, especially in a retail setting. Huawei is rumored to have partnered with Lumus, an Israeli optical manufacturer that has very similar looking DK-40 smart glasses, and also manufactures head-up displays for F-16 fighter jets.
However, I don’t really see how Huawei or Baidu can succeed with these products. One can continue to improve on the battery life, lens technology, and the UI, but it still won’t change the fundamental flaw in Google Glass. In my view, unless the design completely blends into a normal pair of spectacles, or possibly contact lenses, it will be very hard for any smart glasses product to become commercially successful.
Lack of social acceptance is the primary reason for the failure of Google Glass. The placement of the screen just above the right eye makes it awkward in social situations when you are speaking to someone and a notification pops up at the corner of your eye. It is also quite distracting for the other person if they themselves are not wearing Glass. Google did introduce stylish Glass frames that, in some ways, make them look like a normal pair of spectacles, but there is still the prism lens jutting out on the side.
Moreover, in China’s political environment, can you imagine people walking around the street with a camera strapped to their forehead? I doubt it.