Do you like wearing glasses?
You may already wear them. You may occasionally wear them, like sunglasses or reading glasses. Or, like me, you may no longer wear them.
I wore prescription glasses for a few years but never got on with them. I didn’t like how they felt. I was forever forgetting them. I was worried about losing or breaking them. If I was hot they would keep sliding down my nose. I tried contact lenses, which were better but also caused irritation and discomfort, and were a hassle. So in the end I went for laser eye surgery and never looked back.
But as someone working in the immersive technology space, I have long been aware that my glasses-free lifestyle may be under threat.
Amongst technologists there is a near-universal vision for the future that positions glasses as the centrepiece of immersive living, itself now seen as an inevitability rather than a prediction.
(For more on that, see Kevin Kelly’s must-read primer on the ‘Mirrorworld’ in WIRED Magzine: https://www.wired.com/story/mirrorworld-ar-next-big-tech-platform/)
The ‘wearables’ arms race has been underway for many years, and the majority is focused on glasses — or at least objects you can wear on your head. Augmented reality is, surprisingly for many, a decades-old concept, with mid-late 20th century AR hardware almost exclusively taking the form of unsexily-monikered ‘Head Mounted Displays’.
Then came the smartphone with its evolving array of cameras, and the focus shifted, at least in the short-term. The industry now had a viable means of delivering AR experiences that was free of many of the issues dogging wearables — some technical such as field-of-view, some aesthetic (the primary stumbling block for Google Glass), some commercial (a Magic Leap One headset starts at well over $2000), but mostly about distribution; there are 3.3 BILLION smartphones in the world (at the last count) not including AR-enabled tablets and other devices.
Smartphones remain the most democratic and effective hardware for AR, but are seen as a stepping stone in the natural evolution of Kelly’s ‘Mirrorworld’; the best we have today, but edging ever closer to obsolescence once AR glasses reach maturity and take over.
So how long have we got before it’s glasses all the way?
The indications are that it’s not far away. Every digital expo puts its immersive wearables front-and-centre, as a vision of the tantalisingly-near future. Magic Leap, Microsoft’s HoloLens and even Google Glass are aimed primarily at the enterprise landscape from warehouses to operating theatres to battlefields, where looks aren’t as important as function. North, Vuzix, Nreal, Bose, Amazon, Snap and many others are exploring a more fashion-led, consumer-focused approach.
But the biggest excitement is continuing to build around Apple’s long-anticipated AR glasses launch (latest best guess: sometime next year). The theory is that if Apple does what Apple always does (come late to market but blow everyone else away with unassailable form AND function), then that will be the tipping point: a ‘normalised’ lifestyle choice that opens up mass, globalised access to immersive living.
As someone working in immersive technology this is incredibly exciting. As someone who has gone to relatively extreme lengths to avoid wearing glasses (actual lasers shooting into my eyeballs), I am left wondering if I’m the only one with a mild sense of unease as we move towards a world where we all have to wear them in order to be a part of modern society, or if others feel it too?
Either way, it’s coming. So we’d better get used to it.
This article originally appeared on Medium.
Alex is Chief Strategy Officer at Arcade. They make augmented reality experiences that are all about creating connections for people: to place, to stories, to emotions and to each other. Visit arcade.ltd or contact Alex on email@example.com.