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Congratulations… You’ve Won! Now Give Us $1,500

There’s a revolution coming… and you’re it.

The latest move came on Wednesday, when Google (GOOG) unveiled its entry into the burgeoning field of wearable technology.

Once thought of as either pure fantasy or too cumbersome to turn into reality, we’re now talking about a global market that will be worth over $1.5 billion by 2014, according to Juniper Research. That’s almost double this year’s figure.

But let’s boil it down by looking at one of the fastest-growing segments: smart eyewear.

It’s this area that Google has ventured into with Google Glass.

From 2,000 Feet… to the New York Subway… to Your Face

In June 2012, Google held one of its developers’ conferences in San Francisco.

But it wasn’t an ordinary meeting.

The event featured a special video to launch the company’s latest prototype – Project Glass.

The video included skydivers jumping out of an airplane high above the conference.

But it wasn’t an ordinary skydive, either.

The jumpers were wearing the glasses, which streamed live pictures of their experience to the watching audience. Attendees were then offered the chance to pre-order the device for $1,500.

And when Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, recently hopped aboard a New York subway train wearing Google Glass eyewear, it sent the blogosphere into a collective flap that a fresh announcement was imminent.

Sure enough, Google released a YouTube video on Wednesday, showing the capabilities of Google Glass in more detail.

The augmented reality glasses feature an interface in the top right corner, with the user issuing “Okay, Glass…” voice commands to activate various functions. This includes taking unique photos and videos from the user’s perspective, the ability to share the content with others via email and social networks, live chat with others, and pulling up information like weather, flight details and directions.

But getting your hands on Google Glass won’t come quickly, easily… or cheaply.

Wanted: “Bold, Creative Individuals”

In case you think we’re about to see a mass, Apple-esque stampede to the stores, with millions of people suddenly wandering around babbling at their Google Glass devices…

Not so fast.

Google is planning a slow, deliberate rollout, designed to milk every shred of marketing gold from the product.

The company wants 8,000 “developers” to test-drive the glasses before they’re launched onto the mass market.

It’s running an online competition. But there are some catches…

First, you must live in the United States.

You must be a “bold, creative individual.”

You must write a 50-word post on Google+ or Twitter, stating how you’d use the glasses. You can include five photos and a 15-second video, and must use the hashtag “#ifihadglass.”

You’ll be judged on “creativity, compelling use and originality.”

Oh, and Google isn’t just going to give these devices to its band of guinea pigs. All 8,000 “developers” will need to shell out $1,500 (plus tax, people!) to buy them – and then fly to either New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco for a glasses “pick-up experience.”

Talk about an ingenious/unscrupulous (delete as appropriate) piece of free marketing!

I think The Guardian explains the thought process best: “Perhaps concerned that early media reviews of its technology might be harsh, particularly if everything isn’t “perfect,” Google appears to have decided that early buzz about the glasses is likely to be more positive in the hands of diehard fans who have paid handsomely for the privilege of being involved in the testing process.”

Especially given that it’s still unclear just how popular this specific market will actually be, and that Google isn’t the only company with a horse in the smart glasses race…

Google’s Got Glasses Competition

A couple of my colleagues who attended last month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas returned with stories about the buzz over wearable technology and smart glasses at the event.

Google already has smart glasses competition from the likes of…

~ Vuzix (VZX): The company specializes in wearable digital display technology, with its headsets sold to defense and law enforcement organizations, the media and entertainment industries, as well as consumers. The company holds almost 50 patents in the field, in addition to others pending and licensing agreements.

Vuzix has already won 14 Consumer Electronics Show Innovation Awards and at last month’s CES, profiled its Android-powered M100 eyewear – “the world’s first smart ‘hands-free’ display and communications system for on the go data access, paired to their smartphone and connected to the internet,” according to Canada Newswire.

Similar to Google, the device includes a small display in front of the user’s right eye. The wearer can control the functions using buttons on the side of the glasses, or on a Bluetooth-connected smartphone.

Like Google, it can take images and video, and users can answer their phone via the glasses. It can also run GPS, games and augmented reality applications.

CEO Paul Travers tells the BBC that you can “ask” the glasses for specific things, such as, “You like Guinness and you’re in New York City… you could say to your glasses ‘Is there stout around here?’ The app kicks in, the camera feeds out and you see an arrow showing which way to go. Another possibility would be you’re in France, you go into a restaurant and look at the menu and the glasses translate it for you.”

Vuzix is also set to display the M100 at the Mobile World Congress Showstoppers event this Sunday. Travers is bullish: “Following the success of the unveiling of the M100 at CES, Vuzix is delighted to have further enhanced the device’s functionality and showcase it during Showstoppers. We’ve already seen fantastic uptake of the M100 through our developer portal and there are thousands of developers with ideas for creative, fun and useful applications. We believe Vuzix smart glasses will have wide-reaching impact on the way we use mobile connectivity.”

The M100 is due out later this year, and Travers believes wearable smart headsets will eventually replace mobile phones.

There are more specific smart glasses, too…

~ Oakley: Last October, the high-end glasses manufacturer released Airwave. Designed for skiers, the smart goggles are equipped with on-lens technology that shows altitude, speed and GPS that tracks the positions of other skiers.

~ O-synce: In the same vein as Oakley’s ski goggles, O-synce’s Screeneye X is a visor designed for athletes. Recently launched in the United States, the Screeneye X display shows a host of factors, such as distance traveled, heart rate and time splits. The digital data allows users to track their progress and compare it to fellow athletes via social media.

In addition to Google and the companies mentioned above, the tech sector’s big boys are also forging ahead.

For example, Apple (AAPL) patented a smart glasses system in 2008, designed to sync to users’ other Apple devices. But these days, of course, the focus has shifted to increasing speculation over an Apple smartwatch (more on that in a future column).

Sony (SNE) and Microsoft (MSFT) have also applied for smart glasses patents, which would overlay information on the displays.

In terms of mass consumer appeal, though, Google and Vuzix are currently the leading players in the smart glasses area. But it may be that Google’s fortunes with Google Glass will ultimately shape the market.

Bottom line: The migration from smartphones to wearable technology like smart glasses has begun. We’ll keep you posted on developments in this fast-growing field.

Ahead of the tape,

Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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