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Google Glass to smart glasses: what it can tell us about future technologies

“We always overestimate the change that will happen in the next two years and underestimate the change that will happen in the next ten.” – Bill Gates.

Predicting the future is easy; predicting when that will happen is the hardest part. While walking through the Selfridges department store near Oxford Street in London last month, I spotted an in-store display that caught my eye, of Snap’s ‘Spectacles’ smart glasses:

One of the emerging “new” trends in technology is “smart glasses”. Just by searching Google for “Smart Glasses”, I found 275 million views.

Break. Bose. Amazon. Alphabet. Meta. Ray Ban. Oakley. Microsoft. Sony. Anker. It seems like every eyewear and consumer electronics company has their own version. Apple has announced that its version of its next smart glasses will be as powerful as a Mac computer and will launch in late 2022.

All of this brought me back to some predictions I made in 2013, all of which were published as an online blog and included in my book Compete Smarter, Not Harder (Wiley, 2013):

Think for a moment about the obsolescence of cell phones – that is, what if we didn’t need phones anymore? Google’s Project Glass – glasses that display via a “heads up” (projected onto/into the glass) displays the weather forecast for the day, which provides the optimal route to get where you want to go most efficiently, which retains your calendar and / or video conferences with the caller appearing on the screen of your glasses – is an example of this. What if we didn’t need a cell phone or smartphone as we know it today, but carried it as a part of us and it did everything we now do with our hands?

…There’s one thing in particular that Google Glass (or any “wearable” like “augmented reality” contact lenses) needs to work – a seamless, super-fast broadband internet connection – the glasses need to work in your home, anywhere. outdoors on the street, in the store, on a rooftop, all seamlessly seamlessly from wireless source to wireless source. …This blog suggests it will be a hit by 2020…”

As this display in Selfridges and the plethora of new smart glasses now hitting the market suggest, we’re only just starting to see them in droves, precisely as I predicted back in 2013. Obviously, though, the timing of this prediction was off, as 2020 has come and gone – and the pandemic is not to blame here.

What about when we start to see this go mainstream in 2022 – and probably won’t fully take off until 2023? Why did it take 2-3 years longer than I predicted in 2013 (ironically, compared to the 10 years noted in the Bill Gates quote that started this article)?

We can learn a lot from this example when thinking about the adoption of other new technologies (e.g. autonomous driving, AR/VR, etc.).

There are three key takeaways for future technology adoption:

  1. Technology and infrastructure support is a necessary condition for success: Twice a year I attend the Yale CEO Summit in New York. Mark Fields, former CEO of Ford, approached me after a talk I gave there in December 2019. He went on for a good 15-20 minutes about how 5G will transform the automotive industry, a fascinating conversation for be on my side of. Likewise, smart glasses (as noted in my 2013 blog post) need seamless, interconnected access to the Internet with sufficient speed and bandwidth. I now have 5G UW on my phone and it also provides Wi-Fi throughout my house. The speed and bandwidth of 5G was not available in its current form in 2013. It is often the supporting infrastructure that determines the success or failure of a new technology.
  2. Software development is a leading indicator. Likewise, the convergence of app technology has made apps and devices significantly more interconnected. Google Maps integrates Waze features, apps like Rome-2-Rio and others integrate transit times to facilitate your best choice of getting from A to B. Yelp and similar apps integrate opening hours and facilitation services. Such integration was not yet well developed in 2013.
  3. Consumer acceptance is key. One of the attendees at the Yale CEO Summit in 2014 was CNBC anchor Kelly Evans. In front of an audience of around 250 business leaders, she was asked what she thought of Google Glass. Her response was that she thought it was too “intrusive”. The moderator then, still in front of the whole audience, turned to me and asked me what I thought of what Kelly had just said. I responded by saying “with all due respect, Kelly, you’re old.” Of course, I didn’t mean literally, but that was his thought.

Google Glass was just ahead of its time – about 10 years ahead. As proof of this, Kelly Evans of all people, posted on CNBC Online in December 2021 that “the iPhone is going” in favor of all things smart glasses!


Written by Dr. William Putsis.


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