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Are AR glasses destined to replace smartphones?

Could big tech be correct in its assumption that AR (augmented reality) glasses will help us live in the moment and eventually replace smartphones?

The evolution of our digital world began with a future vision and a long list of predictions that some struggled to believe. For example, seven years ago, Wired predicted that a smartphone could soon be the only computer in your life.

Yet, in 2022, 2.7 billion deskless workers worldwide, who represent 80% of the global workforce, don't need a computer. Moreover, the rise of digital nomads means that even office workers can leave their desks and work from anywhere where there is a fast wi-fi connection.

Preparing for the arrival of AR 2.0

Smartwatches helped many wean themselves off continuously reaching for their smartphone. However, for the second year running, sales of smartphones have declined, with each phone launch becoming less exciting than the last. As a result, users are finding it difficult to justify the need to upgrade to expensive new Apple and Android devices with slightly better cameras.

The infamous unveiling of the iPhone in 2007 was the last big moment of innovation in this space as Microsoft's Steve Ballmer ridiculed and laughed at the replacement of a keyboard with a touchscreen. But where do we go from here? As the lines between our online and physical world begin to disappear, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and all the usual suspects in big tech are all racing to replace smartphones with AR glasses.

Whereas VR locks users into an immersive world by strapping a clunky headset to their faces, AR allows users to overlay information into the real world. The concept is seen as a way to upgrade our field of vision with real-time directions, offers, and highly-rated restaurants or shops instead of creating an entirely new virtual realm to extend the shopping experience.

By tearing down the barriers between online and offline, shoppers could seamlessly visit a brick-and-mortar store in an actual dressing room after previously browsing the shop's entire inventory online. All while receiving real-time feedback from a friend who could be located anywhere in the world. The sales pitch amplifies your daily surroundings and makes them more interactive.

In the workplace, Webex Hologram is already leveraging augmented reality (AR) to bridge the gap between virtual and in-person collaboration. For example, rather than seeing an avatar of your colleague, it provides a real-time, photorealistic holographic of your co-worker inside the office with you.

Learning from the lessons of our AR past

It's important to remember what happened when Google Glass first arrived in 2013. Then, the world wasn't ready for what it deemed as intrusive technology, and early adopting tech fans who paid out $1,500 were called 'Glassholes' by privacy-concerned citizens.

The world wasn't ready for AR glasses a decade ago, but has this now changed? Whether big tech will find a way of enhancing our experiences without drifting into creepy territory remains unclear. But a recent conversation between Joe Rogan and Mark Zuckerberg suggested that a small piece of black tape would be enough to navigate around Meta's Ray Ban style AR Glasses.

In the same interview, Zuckerberg passionately spoke about a use case of being able to scroll through emails while talking to friends without the need to look down at your phone. But Zuckerberg's face quickly dropped when Rogan pointed out how this would make the other person feel when their friend is not fully present in the conversation. So, ultimately, there is no point in replacing smartphones with glasses if we are trapped in the same dopamine feedback loops.

We still have a long wait until big tech all releases a pair of AR glasses that resemble Wayfarer sunglasses. There will also be an even lengthier period before they become affordable enough to make stream adoption a reality. To begin with, we can expect the first generation of glasses to be merely an extension of our smartphones. But as technology continues to get smaller, it would be a natural progression for everything to fit into the AR glasses and remove the need for the smartphone.

In 2022, society has become obsessed with staring at a screen for hours at a time. A decade from now, many believe we will evolve towards a new digital landscape where we replace our phones, tablets, and televisions with smart glasses that look like a pair of traditional ray-bans. At this moment, we will reflect on our journey from keyboards and buttons to touchscreens to completely removing any friction.

Whether we are racing toward a transformational change where this vision of an AR smartphone-free world will come to fruition or if it will achieve the same fate as 3D television is purely speculation. But maybe Steve Jobs said it best when he advised, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."

Let's hope that the future does not involve more zoning out or selectively blocking out our reality. That really would be a missed opportunity for meaningful change.

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Gene Yanenko
Gene Yanenko
prefix 1 month ago
As a user or AR and VR glasses I don't see them replacing smartphones any time in the near future. They will be more of an additional accessory like smartwatches for the time being. Even though I'm wearing my Nreal Air glasses right now they're good for only some things. Games and media consumption are great with them as well as having a remote desktop in your pocket but certain things are not as good. I don't browse web sites or read books on them often, it's a lot more convenient on a handheld device such as a smartphone or a tablet. Text entry and selection is very touch and go even with several different controller devices. Even with gesture enabled bracelets it would still be a pain to use compared to a smartphone. If they were stand alone the battery would also be a major issue that I don't see a quick resolution to. They will definitely have a place along with all my other devices because they definitely have some user for which they're perfect such as media, games, navigation, media creation, HUD interfaces akin to a live version of Google Lens and as aids for people with certain disabilities but not as a replacement for a hand held touch screen. Some tech like a neurolink or another similar device can possibly be a game charger in that respect even if only as a input device but that's quite a few years away from general acceptance and need to prove to be safe and functional in the real world first. So in the near term I wouldn't exist them to replace hand held devices completely but slowly becoming ubiquitous the same way smartwatches have become.
prefix 1 month ago
Remember the old IBM ad showing a person trading stocks while sitting in Venice just by looking at his glasses? What use will be the most popular will just depend on who winds up wearing them.
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