I’m at CES 2017 this week, and the best product I’ve seen so far is from a company that specializes in optical solutions for business. When I was briefed on this product last month, I was a tad skeptical because I’ve already seen a number of products in this class and most have either been junk or too expensive for broad adoption. But this all goes to showcase that something like augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) glasses needs to be shown and demonstrated, not talked about in slideware. I got to try ODG’s consumer and business versions, R-8 and R-9, of smartglasses and I was impressed. I was very impressed.
Let’s talk about what these things could be used for and how ODG and Qualcomm may have just changed the trajectory for smartglasses.
The Problem with AR and VR
One of the biggest problems with AR and VR is that the headsets generally are designed to do one or the other, not both. Mixed reality may eventually fix this, but currently, even the prototype mixed reality headsets are extremely expensive, large and heavy. AR is great for business-oriented activity, where what is rendered is ghosted over the things around you and you can use it while moving. VR is great for a vastly deeper experience, generally lending itself to training videos, entertainment and remote viewing but, since you can’t see what is around you, it is very dangerous to use standing up. You can’t do AR with VR headsets; they generally have no way to capture the outside world and occlude your eyesight, and VR with AR headsets gets annoying very quickly because the image is semitransparent.
Finally, solutions like Google Glass tended to stand out and make the user a target for harassment or theft.
ODG AR/VR Glasses
What makes the ODG solution different is that both versions have an HD camera and have semi-transparent lenses on the glasses so they work better than VR headsets for AR and can partially occlude reality to provide a far better VR experience than typical AR classes can provide. Price points are just under $1,000 for the consumer version, which could be used for business, and around $1,800 for the professional version, which many consumers might actually prefer. The differences are that the consumer version has fixed lenses for outside viewing and an 1080P camera, and the business version has magnetic interchangeable lenses (for different outside conditions) and a 4K camera in order to capture far more detail of what the user is seeing. Both use the new Qualcomm 835 Snapdragon platform, which provides impressive performance in a very small package. In addition, this gives them the necessary processing power and positional sensors for both interactive VR and AR. (And, you may want to keep this to yourself, but it makes for the best Pokémon Go solution on the planet.)
The consumer version of the glasses looks a lot like generic male dark glasses, while the business version, due to being thicker, is a tad more obvious. Both are far less obvious than any of the products I’ve yet seen in production.
While these glasses can link to cell phones, they are also standalone, which means you can load content on them and then use them for training, for telepresence, for video conferencing, and to simply watch videos as a standalone solution or connected to a smartphone.
My personal ideal solution is to use the glasses next time I’m in the dentist’s office for my teeth to be cleaned.
Wrapping Up: Setting the Bar
These glasses from ODG set a new bar for AR/VR solutions because they don’t force a choice between AR and VR. They do both, they don’t look embarrassingly bad, they can either stand alone or connect to a smartphone, and they are relatively affordable. When a market is still emerging, having a product that provides choice, to better assure its long-term viability, is an important element we often forget. The ODG R-8 and R-9 glasses are, so far, unique with regard to hitting this new bar and that makes them the most interesting head-mounted display solution I have yet seen.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+