Look past Google Glass: Developers have options in smart eyewear

If the predictions are true, we'll soon be able to see all kinds of things through "smart glasses," such as maps, notifications and maybe even new kinds of mobile games. The only thing we may not be able to see is how big--or how small--the smart glasses market will be for app developers.

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Epson has expanded the developer program for its Moverio BT-200 smart glasses and launched its own apps market to assist in discovery and distribution. (Image source: Epson

While it's Google Glass that has made the cover of Wired magazine and the hot topic at many tech industry conferences, the device is far from the only one of its kind that will offer opportunities for third-party apps. A post on VentureBeat earlier this year, for example, highlighted more than 16 kinds of smart glasses, many of which include SDKs for developers. 

Among the contenders is Epson, which last month announced an expanded Developer Program for its Moverio BT-200 smart glasses, along with a Moverio Apps Market to assist with discovery and distribution. 

Eric Mizufuka, product manager for Epson Moverio, told FierceDeveloper the developer program will not only include a number of free tools to make Moverio apps but third-party SDKs from other organizations focused on augmented reality such as Wikitude and Metaio. 

Catering to a need
Although Moverio may be less known to developers, Mizufuka said Google's efforts with Glass may actually help other firms. 

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Mizufuka

"We think it's an awesome product, and what they've done in terms of viewability for the category is incredible," he said. On the other hand, Epson sees Moverio as a notch above Google Glass because it's designed for 3D effects and the overlay of images. These kinds of differences will have a huge impact on how developers conceive and create wearable computing experiences, he said. 

"You always have to think through the hands-free scenarios. Where do you need your hands?" he asked, pointing to those working in maintenance or manufacturing that might need to see information while working on something.

In fact, it may be easier to identify areas in business where smart glass apps make sense. In a recent Webinar that discussed future trends in mobile computing, Det Ansinn, president and founder of Doylestown, Pa.-based developer Brick Simple, suggested consumer adoption for smart glasses is lagging.  

"There has been some resistance, privacy concerns, cultural issues. Glass was conspicuous in its absence in the Google I/O keynote. There was no one wearing Glass on stage," he pointed out. That may change as alternatives to Google Glass pick up traction, however. "There are more devices coming here that are really going to create platform and development opportunities."

2D, 3D video display
Vuzix wants to be one of those alternatives. The company's smart glasses, which include the Wrap 1200DX and many others, emphasize 2D and 3D video display capabilities and already have customers in the medical and construction industries. That doesn't mean consumers won't eventually find reasons to use the devices as well, according to Dan Cui, Vuzix's vice-president of business development. 

"We don't want to make the mistakes that Google sort of created, which is basically sending stuff into the market with no killer app, nothing that consumers can grab onto," he said. "There's been a lot of pushback within some of the space. Which is unfortunate--we all want to see everyone succeed. There's this notion of 'You're filming me, [with Google Glass]' which is really sort of very trivial when you consider a cell phone is more likely to film you and you not know it than any other device."

Vusix engineer

Vuzix already has construction firms among its customers. (Image source: Vuzix)

Vuzix has already established partnerships with Lenovo overseas and has held hackathons with AT&T and NTT DoCoMo in Japan. As a result, Cui said he expects that smart glasses may not require the giant leap in mobile user experience design that developers might expect. 

"If you think about it, the use of cell phones are an acquired human trait based on technology," he said. "We had to learn to deal with cell phones, to take them out of our pants. Now we walk around pushing buttons in front of us."  

Smart glasses, on the other hand, are "more suited to human nature than a cell phone or a tablet," Cui added.

Even if Epson, Vuzix and others make headway in the smart glasses space, don't count Google out too quickly, said Dave Lorenzini, a developer and founder of the Glassware Foundry based in San Francisco.

"Google's still looking like the 900 lb gorilla here in consumer apps," he said via e-mail. "Even though their product and platform is still evolving, it's crazy powerful and going in the right direction. They also have the power of all the other Google ecosystem services behind it...with mature voice recognition, notifications, collaboration and so many other pieces of the puzzle already in place. (That said), we're just getting started, and there's an incredible amount of potential for everybody at this point."

As the traditional smartphone app stores get more crowded, Epson's Mizufuka said creating apps for smart glasses could be a way for Android developers to stand out.

"Right now it's really hard to differentiate yourself on Google Play," he said. 

Things could change considerably as more homes get equally "smart" with sensors and similar technology, said Cui. Just don't expect people to go overboard. 

"This will become a tool that you'll put on just like if you put on a pair of safety glasses--it will be a tool to help you analyze problems in your home," he  said. "You'll look at your sick kids and see blood pressure, temperature. There are so many different applications. Will it become something you wear all the time? I think that's probably still far away."

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