Blair MacIntyre, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who works on AR games, notes that most researchers and companies are focusing on smart phones. “Very few people have been making head-mounted displays [for consumers] since cell phones became powerful,” he says.
However, MacIntyre notes that AR glasses are still more practical than phones in many situations. “Anything tool-oriented—medical, military, maintenance repair—will require head-worn displays,” he says, because people’s hands need to be free to do such tasks. MacIntyre also points out that discovering information about the world using AR would require looking through a device constantly, which is too cumbersome to do with a phone.
For AR glasses to become really popular, MacIntyre says, they will need to get lighter and better looking, and there will need to be worthwhile applications. “No one’s going to pay even $100 if there’s no application,” he says. MacIntyre thinks gaming could be a killer app for AR, and he says business or social media applications may also be popular. The Vuzix glasses are “kind of an intermediate step,” he says. “There won’t be a million people buying them, but I do think it’s a lot closer to what we need than anything else has been.”
Ultimately, it may be practical to incorporate AR into glasses without a builky display, by superimposing an image on a lens using optical components. “Clear glasses are a very old idea that go back to the earliest days of AR,” says Feiner. But it is more difficult to track the image that a person sees, and to accurately superimpose virtual objects on a clear display. Optical displays also have difficulty competing with ambient light.
MacIntyre believes even those who do not normally wear glasses may eventually find AR glasses appealing. “Ten years ago, if I told you that people would wear a big thing on their ear that blinks, no one would imagine that,” he says, referring to Bluetooth headsets. “The value outweighed the lack of aesthetics and the awkwardness.”