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The future of smart glasses: a $2bn industry by 2030?

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Market forecasts and trends that will shape the sector.

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  • Multiple factors, such as cost, privacy concerns and data processing are all limiting the adoption of smart glasses.
  • Specific enterprise applications are likely to represent the most immediate opportunity for growth.
  • New opportunities are being created for tech startups across the wearables sector.
  • Improved technology and systems integration will see an increased number of use cases for smart glasses.
  • Investment by Google, Apple and Amazon suggest there is an appetite to build consumer sales of smart glasses, allowing significant data gathering opportunities for these tech giants.

The market for smart glasses (that provide wearers with additional, computer-generated information) was worth $374m in 2019 according to GlobalData, a business information specialist. GlobalData forecasts that by 2024 revenues will pass $1bn, reaching $2bn by 2030.

Major tech businesses are investing in the technology, and the launch of Amazon Echo Frames and Google’s purchase of smart glasses maker North in June 2020 suggests Big Tech sees potential in the technology as a consumer product.

Meanwhile, the immediate growth is expected to come from the enterprise sector where smart glasses allow for more efficient and socially distanced working, enabling colleagues and systems to share vision, sound and data.

Such an increase in activity in the enterprise and consumer sectors will create opportunities for tech startups across the wearables sector, as well as those involved in edge computing, communication, logistics and cybersecurity.

The following highlights from a recent GlobalData report examine the emerging trends and technologies that are shaping the market.

Facial recognition

Facial recognition technology allows smart glasses to identify or verify an identity by analysing facial contours. There is yet to be a large-scale use of facial recognition in smart glasses due to privacy issues in the consumer market. There are some exceptions, with enterprise-grade smart glasses using facial recognition for specific applications, such as law enforcement.
 

Eye tracking

Eye tracking is a sensor-driven technology that enables the development of a human-to-machine interface by measuring the user’s point of gaze (POG) and eye movement. By directing resources to where the eye is focused, it reduces image quality in the peripheral vision, allowing the makers of smart glasses to improve screen resolution and refresh rates while also providing information to app developers on how their technology is being used. Overall, it creates a much more interactive experience.

While not commonly available, big players in the smart glasses market have already patented eye tracking systems, raising expectations that this feature will soon be available.
 

Controls

Physical control mechanisms vary among brands with touchpads, joysticks and buttons commonly used. Controls include a touchpad on the arm of the glasses, allowing the user to swipe and tap, as well as a ring worn on the index finger that features an integrated joystick.

Most smart glasses also offer integrated virtual assistants such as Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, to allow hands-free control of apps through voice commands.
 

Audio smart glasses

These are primarily headphone-integrated eyewear with no heads-up display. These devices are not only relatively cheap to make, but they also avoid many of the privacy concerns inherent in smart glasses with visual interfaces. Conversational platforms, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, make the devices smarter by enabling two-way voice communication.

Conversational platforms

Although Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant have become standard inclusions for hands-free operability, Apple Siri is set to feature more prominently as Apple begins work on its own smart glasses.
 

Custom silicon

Custom silicon will drive the evolution of smart glasses. Facebook and Apple are developing custom chips for their upcoming smart glasses and it’s expected that investment in custom chips will continue over the next three years, as vendors scramble to identify the right use case and computing capabilities for their glasses.
 

5G

Thanks to its high bandwidth and low latency capabilities, 5G is set to address existing 4G data processing and transmission issues with increased storage capacity and processing power. 5G chipsets will also drive further miniaturisation of components and devices, allowing vendors to bundle more sensors into their devices, making them more versatile. It’s expected that smart glasses will become more widely interoperable with industrial equipment such as drones and medical devices over the next three years.
 

Edge Computing

With limited storage and processing capabilities, smart glasses often rely on smartphone-based companion apps that store data on cloud servers. Owing to cybersecurity concerns and lag times for data exchange between smart glasses and cloud servers, some vendors are now exploring edge computing solutions, where data is processed near its site of origin.

Enterprise adoption

Enterprises across healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing are increasingly using smart glasses for functions such as telemedicine, remote assistance, warehouse management and training. GlobalData expects that the technology’s high cost and relative immaturity, combined with significant privacy concerns, will prevent widespread enterprise adoption of smart glasses for at least the next three years.
 

Consumer adoption

GlobalData estimates that the enterprise smart glasses market is more than four times the size of the consumer market in terms of revenue. Yet competition is set to intensify over the next three years. Apple and Facebook will launch smart glasses, while Google will make a second attempt in the space.
 

Data privacy

Recent data privacy regulations such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Japan’s Act on the Protection of Personal Information (APPI) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) have meant that companies must equip users with features to request, access, correct and suspend their data from privacy centres. Policies are expected to be further refined as smart glasses gain popularity in the market.
 

Privacy by design

The ability of smart glasses to collect audio and visual data can infringe on the privacy of users and those nearby, often without their knowledge. Consequently, EU and worldwide regulators are necessitating the adoption of privacy by design for smart glasses vendors. Expected privacy features include the ability to manually turn off the devices’ microphone and camera. Vendors themselves will attract greater scrutiny from regulators in the coming years, as their devices gain popularity and more data-generating capabilities are added to them.

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