Let’s be clear about one thing from the start: The AR glasses pictured above are not a currently-available product by Microsoft. The mockup was created by an independent designer. Nevertheless, the fake Microsoft Holo Glasses are a notable design concept for consumer-facing AR glasses – One that helps us think: what will it take for consumers to buy AR smart glasses and wear them?
In short: AR glasses need to be fashion-first and help us connect with the world around us.
The (Fake) Holo Glasses Design Concept
The designer noted above envisions the Holo Glasses as a device that would miniaturize existing HoloLens 2 functions into a form factor that consumers are willing to wear out in public.
Cameras would take care of object and spatial tracking, and lenses in front of the eye would reflect images into your retina. Sound would be conveyed through bone-conducting ends in the frame. This would deliver audio directly to the wearer without needing to wear earphones, which would be a good choice for most-of-day use.
I wonder whether spatial audio can be achieved via bone conduction, but even if not, consumers can probably pair their wireless earbuds – which are increasingly spatial-audio enabled – via bluetooth.
Even if this was a genuine Microsoft design, you wouldn’t be able to buy these AR glasses next week, and not even next year. There are multiple technical hurdles to overcome, such as creating holograms bright enough for outside use, battery life, and processing power (5G will help for the latter).
And once you are able to get all of those functions into a pair of AR glasses, they will be the size and weight of the HoloLens 2. That device is the size and weight that it is for a reason. And it will take years for the underlying technology to slim down to something that looks like the above concept. Even Apple – rumored to be working on AR glasses – can’t defy the laws of physics.
This speaks to the difference between reality and concept. But even if the design above is only a concept – and one that originates outside the halls of Microsoft – it’s still a valuable thought exercise to consider how such a device would be perceived by consumers.
Technology Meets Fashion
Even if it’s only a concept, I like the fashion-forward attitude of the (fake) Holo Glasses. One of the most intriguing features would be the ability to snap on a variety of fashionable magnetic frames to an AR core device (seen here). This would enable consumers to find their own particular style of glasses, easily switch between indoor (clear) and outdoor (tinted) glasses, and to even accommodate prescription lenses.
These types of modular glasses (without AR) are currently being popularized by smaller direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands, and it seems like a good strategy to fuse technology with fashion.
Apple faces a similar problem with the Apple Watch. Apple tries to infuse fashion and personal style into their watches through digital displays (which are just not the same as mechanical ones) and swappable bands. However, consumers usually don’t buy a watch because of its cool band, and I am personally still holding out on buying an Apple Watch because I think I would miss the traditional mechanic face.
The swappable frames for Microsoft Holo Glasses would employ a similar approach, just better: Consumers buy glasses for their visual aesthetics, and the magnetic frames of Holo Glasses would provide a solution for fashion-oriented consumers that maximizes similarity to the established status quo. The sides of the glasses would be on the larger side, but that’s okay for sunglasses and can be well integrated into fashion-forward design trends.
Should Microsoft Build Them?
I think these glasses would be super cool to have. However, designer Sarang Sheth thinks that Microsoft would be unlikely to pursue this concept. He writes:
“Unfortunately though, the very idea of Microsoft making such a device seems rather unlikely. It would require creating a separate OS channel, renewed hardware efforts, but most importantly, it would bring little value to the company. Google and Apple have a vast ecosystem of products and services to offer through their devices — Maps, Mail, Messages, Social Networking, etc. Microsoft has none, creating little impetus for the company to spend that kind of capital and effort to build out a range of AR headsets. It’s fun to imagine, though, what such Holo Glasses would look like! Maybe this concept will help prime us for what Apple plans on launching in the next couple of years!”
This assessment seems to be rather pessimistic. In fact, I don’t agree, for the following reasons:
- Microsoft has a reality OS for the Hololens, and bringing this over to consumer markets shouldn’t be that difficult.
- Miniaturization for consumer markets would also benefit their enterprise markets, allowing Microsoft to move from engineering and design workflows into managerial workflows, which are Microsoft’s bread and butter (Excel was its killer app).
- Microsoft has a platform for AR, called Azure, that offers spatial AR support via spatial anchors (i.e., geo-locating content). Spatial AR is going to be the next AR, and glasses are the perfect form factor for this. Microsoft also recently acquired Activision Blizzard, which is clearly meant to beef up its entertainment and virtual assets capabilities.
- Yes, it would require “renewed hardware efforts”, but Microsoft also created XBox. Let’s not forget about that.
- Regarding Sarang’s point that “Google and Apple have a vast ecosystem of products and services to offer through their devices — Maps, Mail, Messages, Social Networking”, but not Microsoft: Neither Google nor Apple has social media networks to speak of, and neither have HTC, Sony, or HP.
- Nevertheless, these companies will happily sell you VR goggles (and sometimes soon, I bet, AR glasses).
- One thing that Microsoft has is Mail, as well as office collaboration solutions (e.g., Teams)! Again, I see an opportunity here to move AR glasses from the design studio and factory floor to the managerial suite.
- Microsoft also has Maps (via Bing). I have no clue whether their maps are any good, but I am optimistic that they can muscle their way into a decent product.
Looking over these counter-points, I vehemently disagree that there is “little impetus for the company to spend that kind of capital and effort to build out a range of AR headsets”.
In fact, Microsoft seems rather well positioned for the consumer spatial AR market due to its Azure platform, XBox track record, and Activision Blizzard acquisition.
I say Microsoft should build it, and I am sure they are exploring this space.
Would Consumers Buy Them?
The probably biggest problem of AR glasses lies on the technology side: Creating AR glasses that meet consumer expectations regarding form factor, wearability, and capabilities is a massive engineering problem, as noted earlier. This is not my area of expertise, but from the discussions I follow (The AR Show is an excellent source for this type of info), this is a problem we will eventually overcome.
Social acceptance is a whole other issue that needs to be addressed. This is where Google Glass failed ten years ago.
Design is crucial for things we wear on our heads because our heads are prime real estate for expressing our identities. AR glasses therefore must be fashion-forward, even more so than smartwatches need to be.
Honestly, I think these (fake) Holo Glasses would fit the bill:
The external and (I imagine) unauthorized design concept goes a long way in making AR glasses interesting for fashion-oriented consumer audiences: The swappable frames would offer myriad options for creating (and alternating between) your personal style(s) because an entire cottage industry of companies will spring up to supply you with frames. Anything from mass-produced neon frames to hand-crafted rosewood ones… as long as you can imagine it, someone will build it. We have seen the same with Apple Watch bands, and with iPhone cases/skins before that.
Audio without having to wear earphones would furthermore reduce the barriers to using these glasses. After all, one of the main appeals of AR smart glasses is that we stop isolating ourselves from our environment because we direct our gaze in front of us, rather than down into our smartphones. Bone-conducting audio keeps our ears free for conversations, thus allowing us to orient ourselves toward the environment around us.
Overall, what we see in this rogue design concept are some really good choices that would increase the appeal of AR smart glasses for a fashion-oriented consumer audience. And if Microsoft was actually pursuing this, it would have the capabilities and incentives to jump into the consumer market for AR smart glasses.
Again, let’s be clear that this design concept does not come from Microsoft itself. However, it helps us imagine what would be needed in a pair of AR glasses to be accepted by consumers. Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Snap, and a host of other companies are working on their prototypes as we speak, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these choices appear in their official releases as well.
It might not be genuine, but we can still learn something from this design concept: Any viable concept for AR glasses should be designed as a fashion statement (e.g., swappable frames) that enables consumers to interface with the real world around them (e.g., bone-conducting audio, spatial AR platforms).