How will the smartglasses market evolve?

April 27, 2016

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Three scenarios for the how the smartglasses market will evolve as the technology improves.

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The energy and excitement around augmented reality is feverishly high. Many expect smartglasses to rival mobile devices in popularity and to usher in a new reality that blends the physical and digital worlds to create a seamless whole. Who wouldn’t want the day’s weather forecast to appear in their field of view when they open the closet to decide whether to take the light jacket, heavy jacket or the rain jacket? Smartglasses have unparalleled power to provide contextual information at the point of action.

Even though these are early days for the smartglasses market, the technologies that shape them are already evolving, as we have discussed in a series of Technology Forecast articles. Smartglasses are becoming smaller and lighter while improving their performance: higher display quality, larger field of view, natural interaction methods, and so on. Yet, when it comes the vendor landscape, the smartglasses market is still fragmented and flooded. Scores of vendors are providing the hardware and software that comprise the solutions. This raises an important question: how will the smartglasses market evolve? There are three likely scenarios:

One size fits all

In this scenario, a single hardware form factor will serve the majority of the use cases. This is just like the PC or smartphone market, where the same form factor powers a multitude of applications or apps. The hardware serves as the interface, display and processing platform, and apps support the use cases. Should this scenario dominate, one should expect significant consolidation in the ecosystem and see a few vendors thrive in the market. This will provide the largest total addressable market for vendors, although device price points will likely be under pressure to please the widest user base, similar to what we have observed in the PC market. If and when a few vendors start to dominate the smartglasses market, it will be a signal that this scenario is beginning to play out.

Segment-specific platforms

This scenario would be akin to the automotive market. Many cars share the same underlying chassis or platform, but the performance, look, feel and price points are optimized to target particular customer segments. In this scenario, smartglasses form factors are optimized for particular verticals – such as oil and gas, healthcare and manufacturing – and they can be further segmented within the vertical. This means an auditor and a repair technician on the oil field may use the same smartglasses, but with different applications.

Optimizing for verticals also makes it possible to accommodate specific environmental concerns such as dirt, brightness, volatile substances and moisture. For vendors, the total addressable market will be smaller for this scenario when compared to the one size fits all approach, but will likely able to sustain high device price points when the value or return on investments is clearly evident. This scenario is likely if there are significant differences between uses of smartglasses across verticals and user segments, something that is not clear yet.

Task-specific platforms

This scenario is similar to the appliances market where each hardware form factor is optimized for a particular task. So whether the appliance is washing dishes or clothes, it can do that task very well but is not useful for much else. This scenario is likely if smartglasses evolve to fit particular tasks or roles within specific industries, such as a delivery person, warehouse packer, repair technician, or trainer. This scenario will also address niche or specialized tasks such as medical surgery, and additional sectors such as defense.

There is a lot of commonality in how most of us do our work at a desk. However, there is a lot of diversity in how we work away from a desk in the physical world with our hands. This diversity is part of the reason it is unclear which of the above scenarios, or something entirely different, is going to prevail. How enterprises adopt and adapt to integrate smartglasses in their work processes and operations will have a lot to do with the way the market will ultimately construct itself.

What do you expect to see in how smartglasses market will evolve? Are there other options? Share your view in the comments section below.

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Contacts

Chris Curran

Principal and Chief Technologist, PwC US Tel: +1 (214) 754 5055 Email

Anand Rao

Global Artificial Intelligence Lead, PwdC US Tel: +1 (617) 530 4691 Email