New Wearable Tech, New Problems

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 5/7/2014 | 55 comments

Sara Peters
There's a new player in the wearable technology market. While it has a new attitude and a new business plan, it also seems to have new problems that may cause it to miss the mark and the market.

Yesterday Epson announced the commercial availability of its Moverio BT-200 smart glasses. The Moverios are absolutely the principal competitor to Google Glass, but they're aimed squarely at the business market, not the consumer market.

One of my main quarrels with wearable technology of all kinds, and Google Glass in particular, is that it's usually hideous. Google has been addressing that fashion problem by teaming up with top designers to create glasses that look good, but as I've said before, I still wouldn't be caught dead in them.

Epson is simply avoiding the style problem by creating glasses that are meant to be worn someplace where you don't need to look your best -- like a factory or a lab. From the press release:

    [Augmented reality] smart glasses can improve worker efficiency in vertical markets such as healthcare, logistics, field service, energy, manufacturing, education, retail, and more. Developers such as APX Labs and Metaio are already working with Epson and enterprises to incorporate the Moverio BT-200 smart glasses’ “see-through” augmented reality technology to allow for use cases such as retail and wholesale supply chain tracking, surgical training for doctors in the operating room, and remote field service support for complex repair assistance.

By ignoring the consumer market, Epson is smartly both avoiding one of wearables' biggest problems and differentiating itself from Google. Further, while Google Glass's $1,500 price tag is suitable for a luxury item, the Moverio BT-200's $700 price is a bit easier to get past a CFO. Unfortunately, the Moverio glasses have a different problem: They need to be plugged in -- not to a wall outlet, thankfully, but they do need to be plugged into an Android phone.

On its own that's not a dreadful inconvenience. Workers can clip their phones to their belts or slip one in a pocket. If Epson modified the Moverios so that they could communicate with phones via Bluetooth, that would eliminate the need for annoying wires. However, the phone isn't just used to power the glasses. It's used to operate the glasses' features. In other words, you still need your hands.

It's a bit of a stretch to consider these glasses solely "wearable," because to use them you still need to carry a handheld mobile device. Since you'll need to operate them with your fingers, it will still be messy to try to use the glasses when you're a mechanic covered in grease or a surgeon covered in blood. Still, if you are a mechanic or a surgeon, and being covered in grease and blood isn't going to stop you from using computer equipment, then the Moverio glasses might be far preferable to a laptop, tablet, or projector.

Further, industries could take advantage of the Android connection by building custom apps for the Moverios. Nevertheless, it seems that at the moment, the fashionable smart glasses fall short on fashion and the useful smart glasses fall short on utility.

How might your organization use smart glasses for business purposes? Does the smaller price point make the Moverios more attractive to your company than Google Glass? Is the need to control the glasses with an Android device less of a hassle than I imagine? Let us know in the comments below.

View Comments: Oldest First | Newest First | Threaded View
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Nicky48   New Wearable Tech, New Problems   5/7/2014 5:39:03 PM
Smart watch over Smart glasses
I am so looking forward to an Apple smart watch. I will totally skip the glasses though.

They might be a fad for a while but not for long - at least that's my prediction. 
zerox203   New Wearable Tech, New Problems   5/7/2014 8:25:24 PM
Re: New Wearable Tech, New Problems
agreed on all counts, Sara. I am skeptical that if someone handed me these glasses, scott-free, and asked me to wear them and use them for work, whether or not I would really get much use out of them. Slap the $700 price tag on top of it, and you can be sure I'll be staying very far away from the Moverio BT-200. Like Google glass, I'm very keen on the novelty, and very willing to accept that the lackluster quality of these early offerings may be necessary first steps on the road to the sci-fi future we all want to imagine.

Nevertheless, it almost feels like the wearable computing trend has already come and gone without making much of a splash. Now, to be fair, that's all talking about personal use - maybe, as Moverio is hoping, there's a whole other enterprise market to tap into... somehow, though, I doubt it. Will the $700 price tag be enticing to CFOs? Well, think of all the CFOs you know... doesn't sound right, does it? Curt wrote last month that Shelby Motors uses just 1-2 tablets on their factory floor - I think that's evidence right there that the age of the smart glass might still be a ways off.
soozyg   New Wearable Tech, New Problems   5/8/2014 9:26:36 AM
Re: Smart watch over Smart glasses
They might be a fad for a while but not for long

I agree. We will probably talk about both the consumer and the B2B glasses for a long time, then they will finally be produced, a few rich people and corporations will buy them for a year or two, many flaws will be discovered causing limited usability, and then no one will talk about them again.
soozyg   New Wearable Tech, New Problems   5/8/2014 9:28:52 AM
being covered in grease and blood isn't going to stop you from using computer equipment,

I don't think it's a mess issue; if such an expensive instrument got anything on it--liquid, dust, vapor--it would probably make the glasses malfunction.
Zaius   New Wearable Tech, New Problems   5/9/2014 12:13:20 AM
Re: liquids
At first we need to get the wearable things right. After that we might think about the elements and their effects.
Susan Fourtané   New Wearable Tech, New Problems   5/9/2014 5:31:54 AM
Not ready for the market

I don't see much convenience in usability here. Epson seems to have launched a product that was not ready yet.

Google Glass comes to the market soon next month, if I remeber well. Google Glass comes with a price tag of $600.

It is already being used in helathcare by surgeons who don't need to put their bloody hands on the device while wearing Glass. 

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SaneIT   New Wearable Tech, New Problems   5/9/2014 7:28:21 AM
New solutions
"the Moverio glasses have a different problem: They need to be plugged in -- not to a wall outlet, thankfully, but they do need to be plugged into an Android phone."


I don't see this as a huge problem.  As a first generation device I don't mind at all that it would be a "display" and use an Android device as i's computing power.  In my eyes this is a smart move.  I would like to see a wireless connection in the next generation of the glasses though.  I see smart phones becoming good enough to be used as the processor, memory and storage space for a desktop so why not just have different interfaces for the display like this pair of glasses.

soozyg   New Wearable Tech, New Problems   5/9/2014 8:24:10 AM
Re: liquids
Ah, see, I don't think we'll ever get it right with the glasses. I think there will always be issues, as there always are with any computer system.
Pedro Gonzales   New Wearable Tech, New Problems   5/9/2014 9:35:46 AM
Re: New solutions
I agree. for a first generation device it still has many things to improve but i think it is going in the right direction.  May be as people get it and they get more feedback they will be able to resolve some of this issues.
Damian Romano   New Wearable Tech, New Problems   5/9/2014 10:17:13 AM
Potential solutions.
The only business case I can currently see for google glasses is perhaps attending webinars from anywhere. Instead of having a need to fire-up and stare into a laptop or any other device, this would make sense. I envision those people riding the subway and watching a presentation. 
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