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.

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