It appears the future is meant to be lived outside in the sun, at least according to the companies making new wearable technology devices.
In 2018, Snap Inc. released the second version of its camera-enabled sunglasses called Spectacles. The second generation added water resistance and tweaked the look ever-so-slightly; this was enough to make them incredibly useful at replacing a GoPro-type camera. The same year, Apple refined its watch making it slimmer and a more powerful health device — able to detect abnormal heart rates through an ECG.
In 2019, Bose officially released its audio sunglasses; regular looking frames with slightly thicker stems which have speakers to propel sound into the wearer’s ears and appear silent for anyone else around.
“We felt sunglasses were a natural form factor to showcase the unique value proposition of open ear audio,” says Mehul Trivedi, director of Bose Frames. “They allow customers to bring their music and audio content to a variety of outdoor activities without isolating themselves from the world and people around them.”
Wearable technology is usually thought of in overly futuristic terms. A wrist-based-screen, embedded into an arm, or framed wire on around your head projecting images on to the world in front of you, for example. Instead, the first really good and compelling wearable technology comes in the form of normally sized wrist watches and typical sunglasses — all of which are extremely useful, practical and pretty good looking.
Bose Frames and the integrated technology have been in development for around five years now. While Levi’s sensor-lined jean jacket might still be years off from commonplace, sunglasses and watches are here now.
The future of augmented reality
Once companies can get people to not only use their products, but wear them on their bodies, the next step seems to be building an augmented platform for them.
Bose Frames are a great example of the multi-layered approach the audio company has for its sunglasses. The initial appeal is a pair of glasses with speakers built in to listen to your music or audio of choice. The next level for the device is allowing developers to add usefulness in ways the listener probably never expected.
“Unlike other augmented reality platforms, Bose AR doesn’t try to change what you see or place objects in your sightline,” says Trivedi. “Instead, we use sensors in the glasses and GPS information from your smartphone to superimpose a layer of audio that can deliver content that is contextually relevant without the distraction of another screen. We want to deliver an experience that can keep you connected with your digital world without taking you out of your physical one.”
In case that’s not clear enough, that means Bose Frames could be used for practical things like a personal assistant whispering information only for your ears. Think about it like this: Instead of aimlessly wondering the Coachella music festival from one stage and area to the next you could be getting walking directions spoken to you based on the bands you favorited in the app, while wearing Bose Frames. You could also be told in your ear what band was playing if you walked up in the middle of a set. This would happen without having earbuds in your ears and closed off from other people.
Bose has been trying to encourage some apps and services for its audio platform and some of the first ones include Aira, Golfshot, Traverse and NaviGuide AR. These range from assisted guidance for the blind and audio city tours to a virtual caddy in your ear handing out tips as your swing your ways through a wide variety of golf courses.
The phone will remain king of AR for now
Peter Rojas, a partner at Betaworks Ventures has a more pragmatic view of augmented reality apps and wearables. He has run several of the investing company’s camps around new technologies and thinks the phone will be key as a gateway augmented device for the foreseeable future — through face filters and the like.
“I wouldn’t underestimate how important TikTok is going to be as a venue for sharing AR-enhanced videos given how creators on there are constantly trying to outdo each other,” says Rojas. “Even four or five years from now I still believe smartphone AR will be predominate, but we’ll finally be at a place where consumer AR glasses will offer a decent enough experience that they’ll be worth wearing.”
Snap Inc. continues to push AR forward through its Snapchat app and would be a candidate to produce its own AR-enabled glasses.
As wearable technology devices gain a sense of fashion and become more commonplace on our bodies, most will likely add or be capable of augmenting a person’s reality. There is a natural connection between devices that are on your face or ears and being able to add to the information taken in through those sensory inputs.
“The key to any of this stuff is context and whether the interface we use reduces the friction to doing what we want at the time and place we want to do it,” adds Rojas. “Wearables can do that in a variety of ways, whether that’s a watch that enables us to more quickly read and/or respond to a notification or a pair of voice assistant-enabled headphones. AR-based solutions, whether they’re audio or visual in nature, have to be similarly good at reducing friction or they won’t work.”